In these 30 seconds, President John F. Kennedy visioned the original moonshot. Today it’s the job of the Director of Google X, (fortuitously named) Astro Teller, to keep developing these out-of-this-world ideas…and shoot down plenty of spaceships along the way.
So, asks the Wall Street Journal, “How do [these] big ideas get turned into reality?” How does Connor come up with interesting blog topics, fortnight after fortnight?!
Well, Astro Teller and I have got three straightforward rules:
There has to be some huge problem with the world that we can name and say that we’re excited about going to tackle.
Then there has to be a radical proposed solution for solving that problem.
And there has to be some specific set of technologies which look really hard, that if we could get working, would enable that radical proposed solution.
Beyond that, one significant piece of advice that Teller shares with digital entrepreneurs is to “Fall in love with the problem…not the technology.” Too often, projects become derailed when a specific way of getting things done is unable to meet the original objective. For a team of young entrepreneurs and their tech startup, this can spell ruin – unless they stay focused on innovate ways to the problem they set out conquer.
Even just this week, Facebook execs speaking at a Wall Street Journal conference shared insight into the recent growing pains that Facebook has experienced as it attempts to cement itself as a media company rather than just a technology platform. Over the years Facebook has come to realize that if it hopes to survive then it must continually strive to address a larger need and not just serve as a platform for sharing users’ statuses and photos. As they’ve made this pivot, the technology and services that Facebook provides have grown significantly, in tandem with their user base.
This problem is prevalent enough in the tech community that it even gets played out in the hit HBO show, Silicon Valley.
The scrappy startup team is constantly bombarded with technical or business challenges that strip them of all of their progress. But more often than not, their young founder Richard Hendriks manages to reset and helps steer them toward developing their video-compression service, Pied Piper.
When they started out, though, Facebook and Pied Piper were hardly the stuff-of-dreams that Astro Teller and his team are constantly developing. This team grapples with large questions: Can we build a wearable computer? (Google Glass.) How can we bring the internet to billions of people in rural parts of the world?(Project Loon.) How can we stop more than a million people from dying in traffic accidents each year?(Google’s Self-Driving Car.) Can we reduce environmental waste by reimagining the way we ship conduct international shipping?(SPOILER: for this last one they tried—and failed—to build a lighter than air floating cargo ship.)
What’s Teller’s secret to tackling some of the World’s largest and most complex problems? “Run at all the hardest parts of the problem first. Get excited and cheer, ‘Hey! How are we going to kill our project today?’” By not being afraid to fail, you will begin by developing solutions to difficult challenges. Teller has found that these advances will still have tremendous impact, even if the project is unfeasible on the whole. And beyond that, you are spared countless amounts of time and money on the initial phases of a project that would’ve left you entirely empty handed. (I highly recommend his tremendous TED Talk on celebrating failure and the way it has helped Google develop incredible projects.)
Curiously enough, though, a prime opportunity for applying all of this advice—which Teller is harnessing to develop some of the most fascinating projects imaginable, from Google’s self-driving car to a WiFi network made of balloons—is in one of the most boring industries imaginable: insurance.
An article posted on Forbes this summer touted small business insurance as the “next frontier of digital disruption.” Ironically, it seems, the best thing to protect young, growing companies may be another young company. BCG and Morgan Stanley estimate that by 2020, Millennials and members of Gen-X will own over 60% of small businesses in the US. And today, these small businesses are already looking for simpler ways to get insured and understand their coverage. 38% of small businesses owners said they would already prefer to buy their insurance online if they were restarting their business right now.
The article shares a laundry list of challenges that large insurance companies will have to overcome if they hope to capitalize on this industry. It also notes that “Going digital may be expensive and painful at first, but in the long run, it will save time, cut costs and allow insurers to better tap the dynamic and growing opportunities.” I think Teller would agree with you and I in saying that these challenges would make an excellent place to start, and might just end up disrupting that entire industry.
So your parents may have taught you that it doesn’t pay to make a mountain out of a molehill. But, if you embrace moonshots and start with the toughest part of the problem, you might just wind up on the summit of a mountainous accomplishment.