“We choose to go to the moon in this decade. Not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.” A famous quote of President John F. Kennedy that kickstarted the run on the moon for the American nation. When he launched this ballsy statement, the Space program was barely able to get a small dog or testosterone crazy astronaut a few meters in orbit. Still, it rallied a whole nation behind a vision, an idea… and on July 20th 1969 Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, just in time to deliver on Kennedy’s statement on time. More than 250.000 people made that happen.
I’ve been a big fan of moonshot-management ever since. Way too often managers at all levels try to fix things. An incredible amount of smart highly paid top hot shot time is invested in fixing things, in getting stuff ‘up to the next level’ – in other words: mostly wasted. Taking a step back, and concentrating on the destination instead of the journey or the vehicle guarantees better thinking. Tessla and Edison did not concentrate on making a better candle. They focused on light, and came up with lamps. Ford did not waste any time on finding a faster horse, or lighter carriage, but build an automobile.
Google has its own Area51 dedicated to moonshot thinking. Google X is the silent think-thank that came up with Google Glass, Google’s self-driving car, and soon: a worldwide web of internet-distributing hot air balloons. It’s led by Dr. Astro Teller. He currently oversees Google[x], Google’s moonshot factory for building magical, seemingly impossible ideas that through science and technology can be brought to reality. “Here is the surprising truth” said Teller last week @canneslions: “It’s often easier to make something 10 times better than it is to make it 10 percent better. Because when you’re working to make things 10 percent better, you inevitably focus on the existing tools and assumptions, and on building on top of an existing solution that many people have already spent a lot of time thinking about. Such incremental progress is driven by extra effort, extra money, and extra resources. It’s tempting to feel improving things this way means we’re being good soldiers, with the grit and perseverance to continue where others may have failed — but most of the time we find ourselves stuck in the same old slog. But when you aim for a 10x gain, you lean instead on bravery and creativity — the kind that, literally and metaphorically, can put a man on the moon.”
We should do it more often: throttle back on the execution, throttle back on the day to day that keeps our best people deeply entrenched in the sticky mud of deliver-on-time-on-promise-on-budget. What is our moonshot? What do we want to achieve? Where do we see our client in four years? What does an ideal agency look like in 2017?
Grab that moonshot, that far-away idea. Believe in it. Nurture it. Retro engineer your way back to today: your path is set. Larry Page says: “If you’re not doing some things that are crazy, then you’re clearly doing the wrong things”. Find a big problem, aim for a radical solution, now go create the science and technology to make it happen. Kennedy proved it: it’s not that difficult :-).