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What Tesla and Trump Have in Common

Charlene Li
Tesla-Trump

Disclosure/disclaimer: I have placed an order for the Tesla Model 3. I am a registered Independent and this post is not an endorsement of Trump.  

Other than beginning with the letter “T”, there’s something that both of these brands have in common.

They both created movements.

This was essential because both of these brands have disruptive, audacious ambitions. For Tesla and Elon Musk, it was taking on the established automotive industry by creating an electric car company from scratch. This April, it accepted 325,000 orders for the Model 3 in one week.

For Trump, it was taking on the political establishment and running for President with no political experience. Today, he will accept the Republican nomination for President. Regardless of where you sit on the political spectrum, you have to acknowledge Trump’s ability to galvanize a base.

With such disruptive ambitions, no ordinary leadership would suffice. Elon Musk and Donald Trump had to do more than just lead. They had to create a movement. Here's how they did it -- and what organizations eager to disrupt their industries need to master.  

  • Create and repeat a simple, compelling vision over and over again. It’s clear what Tesla does — it builds electric cars with super smarts inside. And Trump is all about a simple message, “Make America Great Again”. More importantly, everything that each organization does is centered on this simple premise, repeating it again and again. What makes them both so compelling is that they truly do understand their customers and constituents, and know just how to tap into their needs and wants, their hopes and fears.
  • Patiently build the movement over time. Movements aren’t made overnight. They are built person by person, believer by believer. Tesla started making high end sports cars. Trump built his reputation and brand over decades. When the time came to go mainstream, the foundation had already been laid. These are movements are years in the making, not created in an ad campaign over six weeks.
  • Turn the Faithful into Advocates. Have you ever met a Tesla owner? They LOVE their cars, will take you for a spin in it, and insist that you consider it for your next car. Have you ever met a Trump supporter? True believers, even in the face of high disapproval ratings and setbacks, will tell you why they love and believe in Trump — and give you a button to wear. To be a movement, your followers can’t be passive bystanders. They need to be activists for you, and are willing to spend their social capital.
  • Trade off speed for perfection. Movements require momentum, and few movements are perfect as a result. But there is a resilience in the relationship between the organization and its followers that forgives and overlooks mistakes. Tesla launched its autopilot feature with multiple disclaimers. But when that autopilot failure resulted in a death, Tesla followers stood by the company, unfazed. The Trump campaign has been plagued by a steady stream of misteps as its skeletal organization is stretched to the limits. But this has done little to dampen the enthusiasm of Trump supporters. To build a movement, you will need to move fast, and have confidence in the relationship with your followers  that when things go wrong, they will stand by you.

If you and your organization have the audacity to think big and want to break out, start thinking about how you’ll create a movement. You can’t be disruptive and drive exponential growth on your own — you’ll need to enlist the help of everyone in your ecosystem to be with and behind you every step of the way.