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No. we aren’t just talking about Elon Musk and his ability to build great businesses in totally disconnected industries (Tesla, SpaceX, The Boring Company, Open AI, Neuralink)
But there are many entrepreneurs, product leaders who successfully transitioned from one industry to another one and still manage to create a successful business.
From hardcore IP-driven telecom to foodtech. From the FMCG industry to AI-led tech business?
Without any ‘real’ domain experience.
After all, the traditional wisdom tells us that one needs domain background to successfully scale.
The lateral shift can only be explained by ..well, lateral example.
What’s common between Aamir Khan, Robert De Niro and Marlo Brando?
Aamir Khan can be a student, a police officer, a professional wrestler in different films.
Similarly, Robert De Niro ends up playing so many different roles (Taxi Driver to Raging Bull)
Technically speaking, they both are method actors (and not spontaneous actors).
That is, they both have trained themselves to do what the script needs them to.
What’s method acting?
Method acting is a technique or type of acting in which an actor aspires to encourage sincere and emotionally expressive performances by fully inhabiting the role of the character. It is an emotion-oriented technique instead of classical acting that is primarily action-based [via]
What does this really mean?
Method acting involves getting into the skin of the character and living that life, feel the ‘soul’ of the character.
- For Taxi Driver, De Niro worked 12-hour shifts and would pick up passengers in New York City during breaks on set.
- For Dangal, Aamir khan went through multiple body transformations. For a certain portion of the film, he had to build a physique of a professional wrestler and for the rest of the film he had to look convincing enough to pull off the role of a 52 year old man from Haryana (source).
- It’d be a joke if I don’t mention Heath Ledger here. For Joker movie, he literally locked himself in his apartment for an entire month (of course, a lot happened to him due to the movie).
But then, what’s method acting got to do with building businesses?
Just the way, method actors get to the skin of the character and live that role, many founders and product leaders have the ability to get into the skin of the business and importantly, understand the food chain of the industry.
What’s the food chain?
Simply put, understanding the different entities in that industry, their inter-dependencies, the relationship between them, the ‘governing’ authority, how money flows between entities, and everything else needed to run the industry (external vendors, govt etc).
And of course, understanding inefficiencies which can be plugged (and which can’t be) is where innovation happens.
Great entrepreneurs and leaders understand the food chain way better than others (even the incumbents).
How do I understand food chain better than the others?
- By honing the ability to ask the right questions.
- By being curious about industries.
- By observing flow of money and information in the system (sans judgement).
- By taking action (and not tweeting about it).
And this is the essence of building successful products across different industries. This is where Elon Musk shines.
And I am not talking about first principle thinking – it is the effect of doing all the above. You (=world – Elon) do not start your thinking process with the first principle. Living with derivative ideas, understanding the food chain and inefficiencies is the way to go.
PS: I have taught Product Management to more than 300 professionals across 8 countries, over the last 3 years. I have now productized the learning into this beautiful experience called FWD App. Check it out.