Moonshot Thinking: The Boldest Innovation Venture

moonshot thinking

We hear about innovations every day now. From the Tesla Cybertruck to Loon’s global internet balloons, what was once thought to exist only in science fiction is now read in your monthly tech magazines. The most groundbreaking and fast approaching inventions are termed ‘moonshot’ innovations.

Moonshot Thinking: origin and meaning.

As you may have imagined, this term originated from NASA’s Apollo 11 mission, the very first, successful moonshot. It refers to the rapid development of a radical idea, much like those witnessed in the 60s space race. Moonshots have therefore followed a similar pattern.

These are projects that have never been attempted before, the research is limited and incomprehensive. While some results are inspiring, there are many methods of innovation an organization may utilize. 

Most organizations follow the typical 10% rule. This is usually applied to projects that have a real and attainable goal. The objective is to maintain research and development progress in line with a 10% growth. In each annual report, if you have increased your growth by this or more, you’re well in the green. 

Conversely, a moonshot strives for a 10× growth, which, effectively speaking, is a 1000% growth. 

Roofshot innovation: ambitious projects with a moderated risk

However, there is a middle ground between complete moonshot and conventional growth margins. This is termed a roofshot innovation, it entails a more reasonable, yet substantial, growth of about 30%

It may appear that moonshots are the epitome of innovation, you may think more organizations should be striving for moonshots above all else. However, while exceptional when executed right, a moonshot is a risky endeavor.

A 10% growth is usually undertaken on a slow but consistent model of innovation. You can expect many trials and errors, as well as many changes in direction. The same can also be said about roofshots, although it may entail a stronger and more dedicated work ethic, combined with novel techniques.

Moonshots are risky

Moonshots are far more unstable. The initial investment is usually higher, and the gamble you take is more unpredictable. The biggest problem with moonshots is the difficulty in anticipating their trajectory.

A 10× growth cannot be witnessed in a single year, so often times a moonshot will spend years in development before a proper assessment can be made. If the ideas and methodology are sound, innovators will find an exponential return. But, if there are flaws or unforeseen hindrances, innovators may find themselves in an awkward position where the alternatives become increasingly limited.

It is important to orient yourself with moonshot thinking. These projects should not, and never are, taken on without all due caution. The best possible researchers in every relevant field are recruited, and extensive plans are proposed before a moonshot is engaged. 

But no matter how hard you try, moonshots are always going to be risky. The most secure plan of action that many companies utilize when they decide to go after a moonshot is limiting their investments. Your main projects should always be roofshots. They are not only more manageable and stable but also indicative of a higher return than conventional projects.

When to think about a moonshot

Moonshots, on the other hand, should only be undertaken with the stipulation of restricted funding, only accounting for a small proportion of your available investments. Be prepared for the moonshot to fail and willing to absorb the damages. 

Don’t let these precautions put you off, moonshots can bring in the biggest returns and afford you many versatile innovations along the way. They are fulfilling in their own right and, if undertaken with caution, will present your organization with many opportunities. 

Just take a look at some of these moonshots currently in development

X Development, formerly known as Google X, is a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., the company that owns Google. They are a well-known private research and development firm, started in 2010 to develop Google’s self-driving car. This organization differs from other companies because it focuses on moonshots exclusively.

The company structure works by pursuing promising moonshots when these moonshots have acquired enough research and development data, they graduate and become subsidiaries of Alphabet Inc. themselves. 

This structure is only manageable because of the resources available to Alphabet Inc., but you may use their examples to take a closer look at some moonshot projects. 

Google Glass is an excellent example of this. It is spectacles fitted with equipment that allowed the user to see an augmented reality type display. Its core design features being its handless display, and natural movements or speech interface.

Although its beta testing was mostly considered unsuccessful, the project’s wide scope and niche utility have made it an intriguing phenomenon to a market of potential buyers. 

Other projects, like the aforementioned Loon, has global implications and has already graduated to the subsidiary and field-testing stages of development. Its core objective was to provide internet access to remote locations through a series of balloons suspended in the atmosphere.

Should it launch in the future, it will change the fundamental operations of modern internet providers, a massive industry, and potentially dominate the market. 

As you can see from these examples, a moonshot only works by fundamentally restructuring an entire industry or technology. Or even creating a new one.

One of the most promising moonshots at the moment are self-driving taxis that can transport passengers independent of human operation. This innovation restructures every sector of the taxi industry by cutting out one of the most fundamental components, the driver. 

Investing in a Moonshot: what you should know

If you are considering investing in the development of a moonshot, there are a few things you should consider. Expect to see no returns, if any at all, in the first few stages of development.

Pick a daring innovation, the only way you will see a worthwhile return is if it can make a significant impact on existing industries, but also pick an innovation where you have a solid idea of its future. 

Lastly, don’t dedicate your entire organization to moonshots. While this may seem profitable from afar, it is risky, unstable, and not recommended. 

Proceed with caution, but don’t be afraid once you decide to undertake these risks. Go forward with a good head on your shoulders and reasonable expectations, you may fail, but you may also exceed beyond your wildest expectations. 

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