Moonshot Thinking is an approach to innovation, and it can be applied to business or any other discipline where you target at least 10X goals. That shifts the mindset, and it empowers a team of people to look for unconventional solutions, thus starting from first principles, by leveraging on fast-paced experimentation.
Approach to Moonshot Thinking
In the literal sense, President John F. Kennedy invented moonshot thinking in 1962 when he challenged an entire nation to set an incredibly audacious goal of sending man to the moon in fewer than 10 years. Many decades later, Astro Teller, director of X (formerly Google X), presented moonshot thinking as a philosophy for radically approaching any problem. Moonshots require us to aim for a 10x gain versus a more typical incremental 10 percent improvement. This bold approach can be broken down into three key steps:
- Identify a huge problem that affects the entire organization: Many companies could quickly identify women and women of color in senior management. According to McKinsey’s Women in the Workplace 2020 study, for the sixth year in a row, women continued to fall behind in moving into first-level management positions. According to the study, for every 100 men promoted into a managerial position, only 85 women were promoted—and this gap was even larger for women of color.
- Identify a big, bold, seemingly impossible goal: In the case of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), consider taking broad aim at diversity (for example, “We will achieve gender and racial parity at all levels of the organization, including our board of directors, by 2030.”). Your colleagues may jump to why this cannot be done at all levels or within the timeframe, but this is not the point. Moonshots are not designed as feasible goals; the point is to push the collective mindset beyond the gravitational pull of small incremental changes.
- Craft breakthrough new approaches to tackle the challenge: When it comes to driving increased diversity, it is imperative to start with data. Invest in a thorough collection and analysis of everything impacting representation, including recruiting sources, hiring processes, and promotion practices. Enact sweeping changes to talent acquisition, sponsorship, and performance review practices to include a much more diverse talent pool from which to draw.
Steps To Apply Moonshot Thinking
- Step 1: Unleash Creativity: One of the first steps to creating a company with a moonshot thinking mentality is allowing teams to have free rein over their creativity without limits and restrictions. The most important thing is that all members of a team can freely express their ideas, opinions, and concerns without fear of being judged, criticized, or censored. With this mentality, you can obtain numerous proposals and then determine which one should become a project.
- Step 2: Having a Multi-Disciplinary Team: Another important step to apply moonshot thinking in a company is to have teams formed by people with different skills and expertise. This allows team members to evaluate the same objective from different points of view and approach it in different ways. It is also important to have access to the right tools and technology to bring the vision to life.
- Step 3: Limits Are Always Important: Applying this type of methodology or philosophy in a company also has its risks. As we have already mentioned, in some companies and in some contexts, mistakes come at a high price. This means that limits such as the maximum amount of money to invest in the project and how much money the company is willing to use must be established beforehand.
- Step 4: Setting Challenging Objectives: In a project in which the objective is very ambitious and almost impossible to achieve, it is very likely that there will be mistakes and not everything will go as planned. The important thing, however, is how progress is made along the way and the learning that comes from it.
Moonshot Thinking Framework
So what is the methodology of Moonshot Thinking? While there is no blueprint or methodology to carry it out, but there are many tools and frameworks that could help us develop moonshots.
The Singular University and Esade framework and focuses on 5 big steps:
- Moonshot Thinking. Although it is the first step, it is the basis of everything. We must “reset” our Operating System and start thinking exponentially.
- Moonshot Launch. A journey of “unlearning” about the impact of exponential technologies where tools such as pre-morten or hacker mindset.
- Moonshot landing. There is no methodology for this… You just have to read and experiment a lot, see what works and what does not.
- Transform yourself.
- Transform your company.
The last two points are more related to a change of skills and personal mindset, which can then be taken to a company for a cultural shift.
Examples of Moonshot Thinking
Nowadays there are many projects that have radically changed the way we consume, behave, communicate… Companies like Airbnb, Netflix or Uber are great exponents in their category and they are frequently mentioned when it comes to Exponential or Moonshot Thinking. Some examples are:
- SpaceX: “Make humans a multiplanetary species”. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy will be the world’s most powerful functioning rocket when it lifts off later this year.
- Google’s self-driving car: “Make an autonomously-driven vehicle”. Google’s self-driving car prototype is electronically powered and equipped with the sensors and software to navigate and operate the car. Google self-driving cars have already driven 2 million miles on public roads.
- Made In Space: “Make everything in space be made in space”. Made In Spaceput the first 3D printer on the International Space Station in 2014. Now, they’re building Archinaut, an autonomous manufacturing platform that can build and assemble large-scale structures in orbit (picture antennas in space that are larger than a football stadium, providing internet to everyone on earth).
There are countless examples: Blue Origin by Jeff Bezos or Virgin Galactic in the space world; JUST or Impossible Foods in the gastronomy universe (trying to eliminate animal suffering); and of course all projects related to the Singularity University.
Advantages of Moonshot Thinking
Moonshot thinking refers to an approach of choosing a huge, seemingly insurmountable problem and proposing a radical solution to that problem using disruptive technology. The idea is not to look for small, incremental improvements, but to aim for a huge improvement or, even better, solve the problem completely. This kind of new-age thinking benefits business and other disciplines in the following ways:
- It empowers people to look for unconventional solutions with a high probability of success.
- Teams can use fast-paced experimentation to continuously learn and improve.
- The organization looks past established ways of doing things and assumes that everything is possible.
- It removes the fear of failure and helps teams focus on success.