18 May 2015

The Business of Creative Thinking: The Key to Solving Social Problems

Visionary entrepreneur Elon Musk announced on the 1st of May at the launch of the Tesla ‘Powerwall’ that he expects to "fundamentally change the way the world uses energy". The ‘Powerwall’ is a sleek suitcase-sized lithium-ion battery designed for homeowners to store energy. Musk proposes that in conjunction with solar cells, the technology has the potential to usurp the need for fossil fuels to drive sustainable growth in the developing world. Musk talks a big game, but as the brains behind Paypal, Solar City, Hyperloop, SpaceX and Tesla Motors, his pedigree throws weight behind his audacious rhetoric.

Although undersupply is undoubtedly a calculated strategy to stoke interest and publicity, Tesla have booked $800m in first week sales for the ‘Powerwall’ and have sold out until mid-2016.

I took particular interest in Tesla’s shift into the energy market as I spent the summer interning at the Resources and Energy Division of NSW Trade & Investment as part of the Business School’s Industry Placement Program (IPP). My primary role in the department was to develop a research paper on the ‘New and Emerging Resources Industry in NSW’.

I can’t simply accept that a battery can fundamentally change the way the world uses energy overnight, but there is certainly considerable momentum building towards renewable energy technologies becoming cost competitive with traditional fossil fuels. My IPP experience was immensely challenging, but it was also a thoroughly rewarding experience. Authoring a research paper has been a much needed leg-up in the competitive graduate job application process.

I was also fortunate enough to have travelled to India in July 2014 with the 40K Group as part of the Business School's Community Placement Program (CPP). In alignment with Musk’s business philosophy, my CPP experience tested the hypothesis that for-profit ventures can act as an agent to drive sustainable social change. After undertaking a thought provoking unit on social entrepreneurship, I worked in Bangalore with a team of nine tertiary students from various academic backgrounds to develop a clothing line for sale in the Australian market. Ultimately, the business is now fully functional and our products can be purchased at the 40K Online Marketplace.
I would highly recommend going on the 40K Globe Program and if you are interested in getting involved, watch the video below and apply at the 40K Globe website.

Musk has already achieved many great things, but it is his attitude to selecting his colleagues that differentiates him from the rest. As he puts it, "The problem is that at a lot of big companies, process becomes a substitute for thinking. You're encouraged to behave like a little gear in a complex machine. Frankly, it allows you to keep people who aren't that smart, who aren't that creative."

Whilst consciously sounding like a billboard, my CPP and IPP experiences have genuinely taught me far more than any classroom based subject ever could. Working in a rural village in Bangalore was an insightful contrast to working in the heart of Sydney’s CBD, yet both experiences were tremendously worthwhile for various reasons. I was taken out of my comfort zone, made many new friends and developed skills that have made me confident of achieving a successful transition into the professional world. 

Andy Burgess
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School

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