Thursday, January 11, 2018

Moonshot thinking to unleash innovation

Before you say, yeah, right, but moonshot thinking is a waste of time, take a look at this slide below.

While moonshot thinking only gets 10% of the Company's budget, it is responsible for generating 70% of the revenue in the long run.

Yes, Moonshot projects are, by their very nature, hard to quantify, but Dr. Pablo Rodriguez demonstrates that these projects are nevertheless crucial to an organization's growth. 

It's worth trying to solve those crucial but seemingly impossible problems, especially ones that may only come to a head 5 or 10 years from now. You could transform your Company or even yourself!

We played a great exercise where we were asked to count the number of red balls on this slide in 10 seconds. Quite a few got the correct answer - 10. However, when Dr. Pablo Rodriguez asked us to tell us how many green balls there were, no one answered right. There were fewer of them and they were larger.  

This demonstrates the danger of over-focus. By being so intent on solving one problem, you may completely miss solving a much greater, more significant, and simple solution. Many scientific discoveries were made 'by accident', so counting the green balls, when the exercise measured the red.


A good example is when Sir Alexander Flemming invented Penicillin, the first antibiotic. He made this discovery when testing bacteria. However, if He hadn't been experimenting, he would not have made this 'mistake' that changed the world and the face of medicine.

One sometimes finds, what one is not looking for. When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn't plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world's first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.

— Alexander Fleming

One of my marketing professors at Northeastern University has demonstrated this issue with a paper looking at how over-reliance on marketing dashboards can hinder creativity and innovation within this function.

The problems Alpha has solved, whether for improving performance at Telefonica, radically changing health habits across the globe, or bringing power to underdeveloped regions, all required phenomenal, high-performing, cross-functional teams. 

I asked Pablo how he selected his teams; his answer surprised me. I thought he would say that He chose the most talented individuals. But He said that He picked those who had the greatest passion for solving problems. 

If you think you might be that person, Alpha is hiring right now. They are owned by Telefonica but, despite having Telefonica's CEO José María Álvarez-Pallete López, on their board, they are fully independent of it.

Pablo has worked as an entrepreneur, at various start-ups in Silicon Valley, and in Academia. He showed the curve of an idea, where Academia often can do best in advancing innovation at the very early stages. In a later stage, it could be a start-up. Dr Rodriguez's projects sit in the middle of that, between Academia and start-ups. 

He makes a great point that in the 20th Century, the government primarily initiated innovation; The creation of the internet, the human genome project, and yes, of course, NASA pioneering the first men to the moon were all government-backed missions. 

But now, far more innovation is driven by corporations. This can come in many forms; Alpha, an innovative organization owned by Telefonica; or a Start-up like Cloudlock, founded by one of my classmates in the MBA Programme at Northeastern University Business School, and bought last year by Cisco for $293 Million 

This was a brilliant lecture, as good as the one I attended on Venture Capital. I thoroughly commend Professor Milan Vojnovic and Dr Pablo Rodriguez.

If you are still sceptical about Moonshot thinking after reading this, I want to leave you with a great quote about it from one of the founders and CEO of Google:


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