If you haven’t seen Elon Musk’s starting address At USC Marshall School of Business, watch it now – there’s a wealth of tips for promising business leaders that apply across industries. (Yes, it’s been a few years ago, but I think it’s important to revisit some of those essential lessons – especially in New Years Reflection mode.)
No matter what you think of Musk as a person, he wrote down a key piece of advice that is relevant to each of us:
Improve your concentration by focusing on the signal, not the noise.
“A lot of businesses are confused,” he said. “They spend money on things that don’t actually improve the product.”
There are two key points here that deserve to be explored.
First, think of the “product” as anything you work on, big or small.
From writing update emails to preparing for an investor presentation, ask yourself: what does the best version look like? What is the outcome I want? Then work backwards, building steps that allow you to improve your “product”.
Second, practice distinguishing signal from noise.
Signals are those events, comments, experiences, and observations that can improve you, your employees, your product, or your business as a whole. Noise is what we confusedly identify as a signal, but is really just a pressure to follow the crowd or bow down to the demands of others.
In short, the signal brings you closer to achieving your goals. The noise drives you away or stops you dead.
To avoid getting lost in a sea of noise, ask yourself before making a decision, taking action, or expressing a thought / opinion: does this bring me closer or align with my (s)? Goals ?
Granted, finding the line between noise and signal can be difficult. This is why it is so important to have friends, colleagues and trusted advisors to consult. If you’re not sure what impact specific actions or words will have, take them to those who understand your goals and can offer a measure of objectivity.
This fits perfectly with another of Musk’s exhortations, delivered during his opening speech: “Attract great people – [people] you really respect. “
It’s that simple. Identify the right signals and the best people and success will be very achievable.