January 02, 2018

Elon Musk in the Wizard of Oz

Book: Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance

While in college studying for my degree, I took a couple classes on design, prototyping, and building interfaces. One topic or phrase that often came up in the early lessons on prototyping and design was the idea of “Wizard of Oz.grb” In short terms, this means that you prototype an app or design without actually making it fully work. This could be as simple as a powerpoint presentation where you “tapped” on certain areas of the slide that made it “look” like you were interacting with an app, but in reality, you were just advancing to the next slide. Or it could be a bit more intense - instead of creating a full-fledged mobile application, it could be easier to prototype in HTML and CSS to make it look like you had a fully functioning app. Prototypes in this stage are often used to attract customers, gain feedback, and look for improvements.

In Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future, I learned that Elon Musk and Tesla also used similar practices for the Model S sedan. Ashlee Vance states that at a press event in March of 2009, the car that was shown (from a difference), was “Wizard of Oz”-ed to “remind people that Teslas had a credible plan to make electric cars more mainstream…” Bruce Leak, a Tesla owner at the event said in regards to the body panels and the hood that “they could just slide…right off” This car is a perfect example of prototyping and showcasing an early version of a product even though “the sedan barely held together.”

When building the next app then, maybe it is better to have early prototypes that don’t function fully to gain the valuable feedback or gain some momentum before the launch. Who knows, maybe it will take years to make it to market like the Model S did, but with that much feedback and refinement, it could also be a success like the Model S.