From education to employment

If Moon-shot Thinking Is The Answer, What’s The Question?

Paul Mudd

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, magic, and power in it. Begin it now” Johann Wolfgang van Goethe

What’s Going On?

Stories begin where they begin for a reason.

So, how do you sculpt an elephant from a block of marble?

The answer of course is simpler than you might think. You chip away everything that is not elephant!

Archimedes wrote, “Find me a place to stand and I will move the world.”

Nonetheless, the single biggest challenge we now face as we navigate beyond this pandemic is not finding that place to stand, but choosing where we should now go, and how this can best be achieved.

And this will require boldness, courage, and the ‘insight’ & ‘foresight’ to chip away everything that is superfluous to the decisions we make. The world has been in the grip of a krisis (original Greek spelling) and, “Come to the point at which change must come.

Rahm Emanuel, when he was President Obama’s chief of staff famously said, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste… It’s an opportunity to do things you thought you could not do.”

Now after nearly two years of a global pandemic, with wide-reaching and local consequences alike, how we act and the things that we now choose to do will not be because they are easy, it will be because they are hard, and they are necessary.

‘Moon-Shot Thinking’ is not about making a 1% or even a 10% improvement, it’s improving things tenfold (or 10x).

The planes we fly in, the refrigerators in our kitchens, laptops, vaccines, and medicines are all the progeny of ‘Moon-Shot Thinking’, and once these were just big ideas and impossible dreams.

Aiming for that 10x causes a radical re-framing of the problem at hand and triggers a series of behavioural changes that are key to making the big ‘Moon-Shot’ idea a reality.

If you approach a problem believing that rather than just improving things, you can solve it, ingenuity and creativity are unleashed and mindsets shift.

Because as Albert Einstein pointed out, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

As A Child Does

Do you remember being a child?

And being curious, questioning, with an unshakeable belief that you could be and achieve anything?

A pre-school child asks on average 28 questions every hour, when they get to school though that very quickly falls to just two.

So many of us just stop asking questions and far too early on in our lives!

‘Moon-Shot Thinking’ is about retaining, or rediscovering, that child-like curiosity and inquisitiveness, and a radical openness to trying what seems impossible.

To asking those questions and challenging the unchallengeable.

It’s allowing our passion to light a spark, both in ourselves and in others, which sets our ideas aflame.

It’s being unstoppable in the face of adversity. It is being ordinarily extraordinary and having the power of the human spirit 10x.

That human spirit and endeavour, which incidentally has taken us over the past 300 years from the steam-powered pump of the Industrial revolution to the Moon.

The Future Is here

The Novacene is now upon us and poised to turbo-charge all that’s gone before, and in the next few years if all that someone describes to you does not sound like science fiction, they will most likely not be telling you the whole story, regardless of where they’ve begun.

The seabird took more than 50 million years to evolve from its lizard ancestor. Today’s airliners progressed from string-bag bi-planes in a mere 100 years.

The telephone took 50 years to reach 50 million users, the iPad four years to reach the same number, whilst Pokeman Go achieved it in just 19 days!

And before COVID most organisations and businesses across the world would have viewed the shift to homeworking as not just untenable, but also impossible. Few would have contemplated it without putting in place a major change programme of at least 12 – 18 months to test the proposition and manage the transition. Yet when the chips were down many achieved the switch and made it happen in days, not weeks.

Whilst another impact of the current pandemic has been to fast-track answers to questions that have long been asked by the scientific and medical establishments, and this has already led to a dramatic shortening of traditional timelines between research and treatment for patients, including the production of new vaccines.

The Value Of Pi

It only took the first 15 digits of Pi for NASA’a scientists to launch and land those first Moon rockets. Our phones now have more computing power than what was available to these pioneers.

Whilst to calculate the circumference of the entire visible universe – An area with the radius of some 46 billion light years, you only need the first 40 digits of Pi.

But we can now calculate the value of Pi to over 3.4 trillion places.

This is the ingenuity of humankind writ large, and in the wake of this pandemic there is a powerful, pent-up desire for change.

We have perhaps a once in a century opportunity to make a lasting transformative change in many areas, and we should also be aware that what now lies in the past, once lay in the future.

Things are not hopeless, and we should celebrate and exercise our learned hopefulness, coupled with a bounded optimism.

If the elephant is our ideas, how then do we craft the marble?

To grasp and understand this is crucial, and will require the fierce heat and depth of our ingenuity, endeavour, and humanity?

It will also require that we are able to work with both the grain of small ideas and the big ideas and the degrees in between, to find the steps, or if you like stairs, that connect and have the courage, agility, energy and will to climb them.

Einstein also said that everything is created twice, “Once in thought, and again in action.”

The time and conditions are now right for both thought and action, and it is the whole system we need to transform!

So, Time To Boldly Go

To achieve this transformation, we also need to change the language and re-write the narrative.

Have you ever wondered why the words that opened each of the 79 episodes of the original 1960’s series of Star Trek, remain so salient and continue to resonate through the years with such power and agency?

Those three words, “To boldly go…” are an almost perfect soundbite.

They speak to our emotions.

They are not about reason or thought. They have what Ralph Waldo Emerson would describe as the power to persuade and compel.

They are a visceral charge and call to action.

So, as we now ideate to re-write our story with bold optimism and an unshakeable belief that yes, we can achieve the impossible, do we look to the moon & the stars?

Or do we look closer to home for the answers?

The Milky Way is one of an estimated 2 trillion galaxies & the universe Is around 13.82 billion years old.

And in our universe and on planet earth, much may seem random, but perhaps its more aptly termed as stochastic – And any apparent randomness can be analysed and to some degree understood, even if it cannot be predicted precisely.

So, let’s assume with certainty that everything we choose to do is worth doing, no matter how it turns out, and park the idea of merely being aspirational.

We must be bolder.

Because it is now time to think not with smarts, but with boldness, conviction and courage as we mine the terrain around us for the raw materials to chip away at, and reveal a new landscape of possibilities, with a new architecture of thinking, and a new and thrilling kind of meaning.

This is not the time to play it safe and set goals we already know are achievable.

But here courageous goals do not even cut it – Instead, let’s set some Courageous targets.

That well-worn acronym, SMART, describes targets that are by definition and necessity limiting — They lack ambition because invariably they focus on status and achievement — They are independent, self-serving and of themselves.

On the other hand, Courageous targets, or Moon-shot targets even, are wildly ambitious, but focus on meaning and are driven by purpose and a fierce intensity, that like William Blake’s ‘Tyger’, doth burn bright.

They’re interdependent, vital, inspirational rather than aspirational, imaginative, exciting, and frankly they can be out of this world. They are also the product of #leadingboldly which is the very leadership we now need.

And they also require the spark of ingenuity, and the passion of a Firecracker to ignite them.

Future Present

Alvin Toffler predicted in his 1970’s book, ‘Future Shock’, that people who were illiterate in the future, would not be those who could not read or write. It would be those who could not, “Learn, unlearn and relearn.”

Context is everything, but for me to ‘unlearn’ and ‘relearn’ suggests unlearning being the product of fixed, inflexible, reasonable thinking, and relearning to be the actions of a curious, enquiring, vital person who believes they can be and achieve anything!

A person who thinks those big ideas along with the small ideas and can navigate the steps, or stairs, in between.

A person who burns brightly because they have done what Guy Kawasaki advocates in his 1999 manifesto for world-changing innovation, ‘Rules for Revolutionaries’, and dumped their idols!

Which is to cast off old habits, and ways of thinking, doing, and being.

So, do as Guy says and dump them!

And as it’s that time of year, as well as being a time where we need to go in directions we have never considered, what kind of firework will you be?

A courageous Catherine Wheel.

A persistent Roman Candle.

A questioning Fountain.

A passionate Firecracker.

Or a far-reaching, Moon-shot Rocket!

If we consider something is impossible, or out of our reach, we will not be bothered or motivated to do something about it.

However, now is the time to be bothered and motivated enough. To exercise our agency and chose to be questioning, bold, persistent, courageous, and far-reaching.

To reach for that 10x improvement and settle for nothing less as we retain a laser-like focus, coupled with an iron will to keep the thing the thing and not become distracted.

Alpha & Omega

Focus on keeping the thing the thing and stripping away all that’s extraneous and energy sapping.

Cultivate these post-pandemic attitudes, mindsets, and skills both in yourself and in those you lead, which include agility & adaptability, critical thinking & problem solving, curiosity & imagination, visioning & goal setting, and whole system responsibility.

Embrace a passionate communitarianism and act with ingenious boldness.

Remember as the Harvard Psychologist Dan Gilbert tells us, “Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished”.

There is no better time to accept your imperfections and your “Golden Cracks.” than right here and now!

And understand that vulnerability creates a stronger connection, whilst a sense of humility is integral to bold and courageous leadership.

In his 2001 ground-breaking book, ‘From Good To Great’, Jim Collins wrote of the great leaders he’d observed who demonstrated modesty, led quietly, and knew what they didn’t want.

These leaders also looked out of the window to credit others for success and looked in the mirror to apportion responsibility when things didn’t go to plan

Without self-awareness and the humility that comes from it we cannot ask all the questions that need asking, and know what to harvest, and what to preserve.

And in any strategy we now make we must also choose what to leave out – Perhaps using these four ‘Cartesian Questions’ as our compass and our North Star:

  1. What will happen if We do?
  2. What will happen if We don’t?
  3. What won’t happen if We do? &
  4. What won’t happen if We don’t?

“To see the world in a grain of sand, And heaven in a wildflower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.” – William Blake, ‘Auguries of Innocence’

Paul Mudd is a Trusted Adviser, Leadership Provocateur, Savvy Thinker, International Keynote Speaker, Best Selling Mindfulness Author, Global Well Being & Well Doing Influencer, Co-Founder and Director of the Mudd Partnership and Co-creator of the new tMP Hexagon Leadership & Coaching programme #ThinkHexagon © 2021.

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