Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Driving Out of Gas (TEDx Follow -up)

As a follow-up to TEDx Tel Aviv, I spent part of my afternoon in the BetterPlace electric car visitor center outside of Tel Aviv. The facility is in the last standing oil tank left at Pi Glilot, which was the storage area for gasoline in central Israel. Apparently someone figured out that having such a facility adjacent to your largest population center isn't terribly bright. The petrol was moved out. BetterPlace managed to salvage one tank and convert it into a beautiful visitor center.

We were hosted by founder and CEO Shai Agassi himself, who spent over an hour answering our questions. I was so late to my next meeting that I missed it, not just out of respect (Agassi was late to his next meeting too), but because I was completely blown away by Agassi's generosity and devotion. The answers to the questions were jaw-dropping beyond all expectation.

I took the time out for this, not just because I like to mix with smart people, but because I truly care about this issue. I have had visions of overhauling transportation since I was 11 years old. I've thought about transportation deeply and often, though I haven't taken the time to make it a central part of my life.

I had a lot of questions, but I didn't ask any. I still have them. I am concerned about what's next, what we do to stop paving our earth with parking lots and freeways, how we cure traffic, and stop bashing into one another. I have a lot of questions, but I didn't ask them because they became instantaneously irrelevant to the conversation.

The conversation took place in the context of the singular, compelling vision of eliminating gasoline. The conversation lived inside the clarity with which Agassi has considered, research and planned how to make that vision a reality.

I have to make a confession here. Often, when I see or meet someone doing great things, I think to myself "I could do that." Sometimes I even think "I could do that better." I know, you never think that to yourself. You also never think "How the heck did he get that job?" or "He might be famous, but he's kind of a jerk." I know you never think those things. But people like myself, with big egos or big jealousy syndromes, sometimes think those thoughts.

But today I found myself, really, truly in awe listening to Agassi. I mean, this guy, he has a vision. He is out to end oil dependence. He is out to replace the gasoline industry. But that's not the main thing. Lots of people have vision.

This guy truly has the leadership and business skills, the audacity and modesty to pull it off. That's impressive. Very, very impressive, and very, very rare. But even that's not not the main thing.

What's fundamentally unique about Agassi, is that, on top of all those things, he has the ability to think, plan and execute at the level of the entire ecosystem. I should say "ecosystems", because the more you ask, the more you hear that Shai Agassi has thoroughly researched, questioned, analyzed, and created ecosystems. Not just one ecosystem. Multiple ecosystems.

He has considered the economic ecosystem of how people purchase cars and the lifecycle of automobile value to consumers. He has considered the entire ecosystem of where we get our energy now, how it could potentially be garnered, and how it needs to be delivered. He understands the entire car industry from manufacturing to distribution. He understands the ecosystem of introducing new technology. He understands his competitive environment and has multiple potential scenarios played out in his head.

Agassi has thought deeply, researched thoroughly, and asked the right questions. Come to think of it, he's asked the wrong questions, too. He's thought about it all.

The result is that at BetterPlace, absolutely everything is thoroughly researched and planned. Everything is considered from how the price of oil is determined; how to avoid impacting the power grid; how to build an outdoor charging station that will never electrocute anyone in any kind of weather.

The group of TEDx refugees asked intelligent questions. Every question got a thorough answer that showed depth of thought from macro to micro , from economic to engineering, and from basic human behavior to basic physics.

No words can describe the thoroughness with which this one man has thought through all the aspects of his business. No less astounding is his ability to articulate all of this with clarity and purpose. Yet even more indescribable is Agassi's humility and humanness. You are in the presence of a human being, not an idol or a figurehead.

One of the final questions was about tension between Agassi and his investors. Here, again, he gave a thoughtful answer on multiple levels. On the micro level, Agassi shared personal stories of trust between himself and Idan Ofer. On the macro level he spoke about how our society vilifies public figures and seeks scandal rather than inspiration. Agassi spoke of the loss of our perception of our leaders as heroes and our loss of trust in the human spirit.

In short, he spoke like a hero, whether you choose to believe that such things still exist or not.


Unknown said...

You share my thoughts about him. I watched every presentation he gave, even those more inofficial ones not linked on the official site. I really think this guy is a hero, I would love to get more insights in his believes and opinions about other stuff too...

Falstaff said...

"You are in the presence of a human being, not an idol or a figurehead."

Glad to hear it. Then why write a sickeningly fawning article more appropriate to the fan site of a boy band?

Rebecca Rachmany said...

Exactly. Why be anyone's fan? Because that's what empowers people to deliver on their vision. You know, I don't believe what comes out of someone's mouth because I like the person. Rather, I choose to believe (and promote) the things that speak of the future I desire.