Thursday, January 11, 2018

Moonshot thinking to unleash innovation

Before you say, yeah, right, but moonshot thinking is by its very nature, hard to quantify and only useful in very remote instances, take a look at this slide below; though Moonshot thinking only gets 10% of the Company budget, it is responsible for generating 70% of the revenue (This is taking a long-term view, over years, rather than over the short-term range of standard financial quarters):

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 now to tell us how many green balls there were, no one got the answer 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 that you may completely miss solving a much greater, more significant and simple one! Over 50% of scientific discoveries were made by accident; so in effect, counting the green balls, when the exercise was to count the red.

A good example is when Sir Alexander Flemming invented Penicillin, the first antibiotic. He made this discovery by accident. However, if He hadn't been experimenting, he would not have made this 'mistake'.


Clearly, the problems Alpha has solved, whether for improving performance at Telefonica, radically changing health habits across the globe, or bringing power to underdeveloped regions of the world, 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 or educated individuals. But He said that He selected those who had an absolute passion for solving these problems. 

If you think you might be that person, Alpha is hiring right now. They are fully 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, as well as in Academia. He showed the curve of an idea, where at the very early stages, often Academia can do best in advancing innovation. 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, it was the government that 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, and in the future, most innovation is driven by corporations. This can come in many forms; Alpha, an innovative organisation owned by Telefonica; or a Start-up, like Cloudlock, founded by one of my colleagues 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:

Go to my website.

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