It was inspirational. Even as critics stated it would never happen and was a waste of money, millions of Americans felt a surge of excitement, pride and determination. Millions around the world were similarly inspired. And when Neil Armstrong duly set foot on the moon eight years later, Kennedy was vindicated, albeit posthumously. Mankind as a whole benefited immensely. And a new concept was born. The moonshot.
Moonshots are radical answers to real problems
Little wonder the concept of shooting for the moon has a particular resonance in business. Where risk-taking is rewarded, and ambition is indispensable. Astro Teller’s official title at Google X is ‘Captain of Moonshots’. His team at the so-called ‘Moonshot Factory’ defines moonshots as ‘radical answers to real problems’. And according to Astro, this kind of approach ‘requires bravery that borders on absurdity’! Nevertheless, while a moonshot is ambitious, exploratory and ground-breaking, it is always achievable, at least in theory. It might seem absurd but it is never stupid. That’s why moonshots are exciting rather than laughable. I love Moonshots. They are so much fun to develop. They are inspirational. They connect and align a team. And they are catalytic for the whole company. Most importantly they mean being open to failure. And that is one of the most important ingredients for successful innovation.
Moonshots bring focus and exceptional returns
People often talk about the great benefits moonshots can have in terms of innovation and creativity, especially in a technological context. But more than that, I think that moonshots have the ability to provide great focus. It’s a lot like mountain climbing. When you’re aiming for a seemingly impossible peak, you should start to plan your route from that peak – and then you work your way back. To put it in another way: a crystal clear long-term view provides laser focus for the short term. Last but not least, moonshots can bring exceptional returns. True, when you focus on incremental improvements, you probably won’t fail spectacularly. But you most certainly won’t win spectacularly either. As Astro Teller puts it: ‘Aiming for something that is 10 times better vs 10% better is 100 times more worth it… but never 100 times harder.’
Moonshots are hard, yes! But as Nelson Mandela said after the fall of apartheid, ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done’. Moonshots are not about smart answers but much more about asking the rights questions. Moonshots are also not born over night. We have to practice our moonshot-muscle. Understand that our biggest problems are often our biggest opportunities. It is about believing that anything is possible and continue to shoot for the moon. Again. And again. Surprise yourself and those around you. And even if you fail, celebrate what you have learned. Because you will be so much closer and more ready for your next moonshot.
P.S.: some of my favorite moonshots:
“bridge the Digital Divide by 2027, making Internet access available and affordable for everyone” (OneWeb)
“make humans a multiplanetary species” (SpaceX)
“100-percent renewable energy system for the State of California and then the world” (Safe Energy Project)
“adding 50 healthy years to every human life” (StartUp Health)
I’d love to hear your Moonshots! please share them with me