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Moonshots: make it 10 times better, by failing early, hard and often

We choose to go to the moon in this decade. Not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.” JFK

A famous quote from President John F. Kennedy that kick-started 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 a testosterone crazy astronaut a few meters into 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.

Moonshot management

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 a lighter carriage, but built an automobile.

Google X: Area51 for geeks

Google has its own Area51 solely dedicated to moonshot thinking: Google X is the silent think-tank that came up with Google Glass, Google’s self-driving car, and a worldwide web of internet-distributing hot air balloons.

Astro Teller: Captain of Moonshots

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: 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.” Astro Teller

The art of failing often, hard and fast

Astro Teller (nomen est omen) believes failing hard, fast and often is important. It allows learning, creates data to re-adjust to, and delivers a mental kick for doing the right thing.

“If you do not fail at first, your ambition was simply not high and hard enough. You make a ton of progress by making a ton of mistakes. The longer you work on something, the more you don’t really want to know what the world is going to tell you. The longer you put off that learning you will unconsciously put off that news because it is disheartening to hear that what you have been working on is not working.” Astro Teller

Throttle back, aim for 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? Do have the nerve and the vision to tell clients where they need to be in 5 years? What does an ideal agency look like in 2020?

Cojones

Grab that moonshot, that far-away idea. Believe in it. Nurture it. Retro engineer your way back to today: your path is set.

If you’re not doing some things that are crazy, then you’re clearly doing the wrong things”. Larry Page

Find a big problem, aim for a radical solution, and now go create the science and technology to make it happen. Kennedy proved it: it’s not that difficult. Just ballsy :-).

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