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Joulez - Issue #2: Elon Musk, Failure and The 'You' in Youtility



December 28 · Issue #2 · View online

Joulez is a curation of articles, tech, books, and company microanalysis to make you smarter about innovation in (and around) the utility industry.

Elon Musk made good on his promise to deliver the world’s largest Li-ion battery unit to the Australian government. In record time too, 63 days after signing the agreement. The 100MW battery farm has enough storage capacity to power more than 30,000 homes. Most thought he wouldn’t get it done, his track record with Tesla delays suggested so. But the nature of trying and failing is that, at some point(s), you get it right. Musk is taking the venture capital model - many attempts with the expectation of failure but the successful attempts make up for the losses incurred by failures - being applied to running a business. Jeff Bezos calls it a ‘truncated outcome distribution’ and he uses a baseball analogy
“when you swing no matter how well you connect with the ball, the most runs you can get is four. In business, every once in a while, when you step up to the plate, you can score 1,000 runs. This long-tailed distribution of returns is why it’s important to be bold. Big winners pay for so many experiments”
And it is exactly why, in a twitter exchange with the Governor of Puerto Rico right after Hurricane Maria, Elon Musk suggested Tesla would come in and provide distributed power to bring electricity back to PR. 
To Elon, it was a chance to swing again. The worst that would have happened is that Tesla would have failed to bring power back to PR. We’re several months out and 50% of PR is still without power, so the downside reputational risk would have been minimal. Sometimes, we just need to realize that for innovation to truly kick in we need to embrace the possibility of some downside risk. Especially because the rewards, when we succeed, propel us to greater heights (as an industry). So, what are you doing to try, and possibly fail today?
  1. Article: I got serious flak from a few thousand Musketeers (diehard fans of Musk) who did not like that I was suggesting Elon Musk might be setting himself up for failure in trying to disrupt the utility industry using the same model that got the industry to where it is now. 
  2. Book: To truly change the nature of the utility industry will require everyone, old and new employees, to start to think like ethnographers. Only then will we deliver products and services that serve customers needs. While not a book on ethnography, Kevin Kelly’s ‘The Inevitable’ lays out the trends and underlying human needs that will determine the main technologies that get built in our future. 
  3. Article: while Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies defy the laws of gravity, the view is that Blockchain (the underlying distributed ledger) will be the true innovation. Here I share a possible Blockchain use case from my time working in a 1000MW CCGT plant.
  4. Interesting startup: Blade provides a Blockchain Payments Platform as a Service. Blade’s platform-as-a-service powers cross-entity payments, connecting companies, banks and merchants in unprecedented ways. Blade presents an opportunity for entities that are not by themselves in the business of cryptocurrency to focus their efforts on the customer engagement or interaction opportunity, with the underlying platform from Blade. This use case is still early but other industries (especially fintech) is doing some good work. Learn more at UtilityRadar.
This issue sponsored by
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2018 is shaping up to be an interesting year. I’ll continue to share insights to aid your success in this fast-changing industry of ours. Please share the newsletter with colleagues.
Until next month/year,
Seyi Fabode
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