Even as businesses know they need to innovate, they face a troublesome conundrum: Innovation means purposely venturing into what isn't familiar. Since we like what we know, because it is the familiar that turns down our internal stress thermostats, we rebel, sticking to what's necessary or what's always worked until the threat of competitors wakes us up.

But what if innovation wasn't responsive? What if you purposely tried to tackle "impossible" projects as a proactive way to initiate change?

Reaching for "moonshots"

Written by management consultant Lisa Goldman and Versaic COO and CFO Kate Purmal, The Moonshot Effect: Disrupting Business as Usual asks you to reflect on the U.S. moon landing of 1969. The event serves as a metaphor for the idea that, with the proper combination of intense focus, deadline and a desire to break expectations, people can turn even seemingly "impossible" concepts into reality. It encourages you to accept that, just as NASA scientists and mathematicians embraced what was difficult to win the space race, you can tackle what's challenging to stay fresh, relevant and competitive in your given market.

What qualifies as a moonshot project varies based on your company and situation. For example, there's a big difference between approaching an idea with $1 million in funding and 50 engineers and approaching an idea with $1,000 and 2 engineers. Time available is another big element.

Notedly, the concept of moonshot projects isn't limited to business. A good example is the cancer moonshot initiative of former Vice President Joe Biden, the intents of which are to boost the commitment to cancer research and to eradicate the disease. You also might apply the idea to your everyday life. How might you completely move out of your apartment or house in 6 hours or host a party on a budget of just $20, for example?

Know what you're signing up for

Moonshot projects can be beneficial for innovation in that they

  • Force employees to get to the point and prioritize individual tasks better
  • Encourage economy
  • Foster clear, effective communication
  • Allow employees to experiment with specific methods or resources prior to fuller commitments
  • Get workers comfortable with learning and transitioning from setbacks, reducing the fear of failure or judgment
  • Reveal unexpected strengths or weaknesses of individual workers, teams or the company as a whole

On the other hand, initiating moonshot projects can take resources away from other, more reliable projects. Losses can be significant. For example, in Q2 of 2016, Google lost $859 million on moonshot work. Some employees also might start to lose faith in themselves and their abilities if too many moonshot projects fail in a row. They might start to question your leadership if they feel like you repeatedly waste their resources and time.

From idea to working model

By definition, moonshot projects have a higher degree of risk and, subsequently, deserve some caution. But constantly pushing against previously constructed walls and making experimentation a regular part of business operations gives companies a viable, realistic way to stop merely talking about innovation and move into tangible, quantifiable results. The Moonshot Effect is valuable in this regard because it teaches entrepreneurs and business leaders how to take moonshot projects from the drawing board to implementation, offering tips and principles that up the odds of success. Make it the next book on your "Must Read" list and you might entirely redefine your place as an industry, community or family leader.

Published on: Feb 6, 2017