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“Beyond the very extreme of fatigue and distress, we may find amounts of ease and power we never dreamed ourselves to own; sources of strength never taxed at all because we never push through the obstruction.”- William James
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”- George Bernard Shaw
“If you always do what you‘ve always done, you‘ll always get what you‘ve always got.” Henry Ford
In my current job, a lot of my time is spent discussing and exploring the potential of design thinking and creative problem-solving. We live in a complex and ever-changing world and many are beginning to support the idea (as I do) that design thinking is one of our most valuable resources for facing the future challenges of our world. As Einstein says “we can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking that created them”, and design is a different way of thinking.
Late last year I was lucky enough to attend a major event on the global design calendar, the Global Design Forum in London. The event was billed as “one day to set the global agenda for design” and I was incredibly excited at the prospect of hearing from some of the world’s most creative minds about how we can harness design to solve complex global challenges.
I expected different ways of thinking. But I was disappointed to find that most of the speakers perpetuated the role of design in supporting the wealthy and privileged rather than considering the wider value to the rest of society.
Then, late in the day, Dr. Astro Teller delivered just the kind of presentation I was waiting to hear.
With a name like that, he already had my attention but on top of having a cool name, Dr. Astro Teller also has a very cool job. He is the ‘Captain of Moonshots’ at Google(X), a secret experimental arm of Google responsible for developing new innovations like Google Glass and the Google Driverless Car.
Dr. Astro began his presentation with the audacious claim that:
It’s easier to make something 10 times better than it is to make something 10% better.
To make something 10% better, he argued, you have to be better than anyone who has ever gone before you. To make something 10 times better you just need to think differently.
So a ‘moonshot’ is an audacious attempt to solve a problem with a radically different way of thinking. And this kind of thinking values creativity over intelligence.
It’s a paradox: the more impossible the goal, the more likely we are to achieve it. I love paradoxes :)
I’ll explain why this paradox works, but first…
Does it work?
Dr. Astro (I can’t help but sing the Astro Boy theme when I say his name), gives a few examples of social moonshots like Gandhi’s Salt March or the struggle for civil rights in the United States in this article for Wired. But I’ll share one that I came across this week.
Meet Alex Day. Alex is an independent musician based in the UK. In late 2011 he knew that he wanted “to be a successful musician in the UK with a Top Five single in the charts”, but had no idea how to get there. He had just read ‘The Four Hour Work Week’ and was inspired by Tim Ferriss’ idea of setting unrealistic goals, so he decided to take a giant moonshot.
Alex’s goal was to have the UK number 1 single at Christmas 2011. Given that every artist and record label in the world is dreaming or vying for this ultimate position, Alex’s goal was certainly unrealistic and seemingly impossible.
However, within 8 weeks, his single “Forever Yours” was #4 in the UK on Christmas Day (sending Coldplay down to #5) and giving him a Guinness World Record for the highest-charting single ever by an unsigned artist. He achieved this by “hacking the music industry” by thinking differently.
So the moonshot works.
But why does it work?
- Most people are busy, fiercely competing for the realistic goals. There is simply less competition when it comes to unrealistic goals,
- Unrealistic goals are far more exciting than realistic ones and therefore we are inherently more motivated to pursue the unrealistic ones than the “safe” ones,
- Unrealistic and impossible goals can’t be achieved by one person. The sheer magnitude of these goals means we need to elicit a broad network of supporters. Point 2 explains why people want to jump onboard an impossible goal. It’s an adrenalin rush we can all share! Check out Brodie’s great post on Matt Madeiro this week as another great example of this.
So, I’m writing this post this week because I am just about to take on a personal moonshot of my own.
In 2010 on my last day after a month living in Madrid, I went for a big run circumnavigating the city. I experienced such an amazing sense of freedom and exploration that day and in the middle of my run a dream appeared in my mind to one day run the New York Marathon.
I’ve enjoyed running at various points in my life as I love the feeling of freedom and empowerment that I experience knowing that I am relying solely on my body to conquer the earth! I imagine that running through Central Park to complete a marathon would be the ultimate expression of that feeling for me.
So, since 2011 I’ve gradually been chipping away at this dream.
In 2011 I trained for and ran my first 10km race as part of the Bridge to Brisbane.
In 2012 I trained for and ran my first half marathon as part of the Gold Coast Half Marathon.
And in one week I’m about to start training for my first ever marathon, the Gold Coast Marathon in July.
My plan is to then run the New York Marathon in 2014.
The only problem is, a few months ago I found out how difficult it is to get in to the New York Marathon. It’s the most popular marathon in the world and so there are some pretty tight restrictions on gaining entry to compete. You can either apply via ballot, which can take up to five years to get entry (I don’t want to wait) or you can pay (a lot) to join a tour group and sign up as part of a running group (I don’t want to pay).
Or…you can gain entry with a qualifying time.
In 2011 I ran the 10km race in 43 minutes
In 2012 I ran the half marathon in 93 minutes.
Based on these performances my expected marathon time would be 3:13.
The New York Marathon qualifying time is 2:45.
Based on my past record, training patterns and performances, this would seem impossible for me to achieve. And so that’s my goal and I’m taking a moonshot! To attempt to achieve this goal, I need to do things differently.
So instead of training the same way I have in the past, I’m experimenting with a completely new way of training using (you guessed it) Tim Ferriss’ program from the Four Hour Body for ‘Ultra Endurance’. I’m also eliciting a network of support to help me re-think my diet, the way I run (using video analysis) and how I train.
I don’t necessarily expect that I will achieve this time but I know that by setting myself a seemingly impossible target I’m opening myself up to a whole new set of possibilities and experiences that I wouldn’t have had to confront if I just trained the way I always had. And that’s what excites me!
I start on Monday.
So, why not join me with a moonshot of your own?
- What’s a dream that you’ve always had but have quickly dismissed because it seemed ‘impossible’? How might you look at that dream in the context of some of the other moonshots discussed in this article?
- Can you think of examples in your life where you’ve been inspired by others who’ve made audacious decisions or set crazy goals? Ask yourself why you can’t be one of these people!
Til next week, be unrealistic and Be Awesome!