Moonshots. They’re the ‘giant leaps for mankind’ that we’re so used to hearing about. We are in a climate crisis. If there’s ever a time for a giant leap, it’s now.
The internet, televisions and cars. Amazon, the iPhone and Facebook. Solar panels. One thing all of these innovations, now so embedded in human life, have in common is that they all seemed impossible. But they weren’t. When it comes to the climate crisis, we’re standing somewhere near the bottom of a seemingly impossible mountain. Its scale is daunting, and we know that it will take a momentous transformation of our economies and lifestyles to prevent the worst from happening. This is not necessarily bad news. The sheer magnitude of the problem, according to moonshot thinking, is actively advantageous. The gap between where we are now and where we need to be? That’s just more room to leap into. That’s because, according to Google X’s Astro Teller, it’s easier to make something 10x better than 10% better. The reasoning behind this is flawless:
“when you’re working to make things 10 percent better, you inevitably focus on the existing tools and assumptions, and on building on top of an existing solution that many people have already spent a lot of time thinking about…But when you aim for a 10x gain, you lean instead on bravery and creativity — the kind that, literally and metaphorically, can put a man on the moon”
Moonshot thinking and collective intelligence: how to solve the climate crisis
When we think of the pioneers of world-changing innovations, we tend to think of individuals. Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Bill Gates. Slightly off-the-wall, perhaps egotistical mad geniuses going it alone. That’s not the case. Instead, it’s Steve Jobs et al.; Elon Musk et al. Astro Teller (the ‘Captain of Moonshots’) himself stresses the importance of a diverse team in creating and driving forward innovations. A certain magic happens when people, each bringing knowledge from their individual experiences and expertise, come together. They contribute information and challenge each other; ideas bounce between people and build something greater than the sum of their parts. This isn’t corporate-training spiel, this is scientific fact. Diversity of opinion leads to more creative solutions. Moonshots don’t rely on a single, brilliant mind but on collective intelligence.
The Climate Venture Collective is the ideal environment to inspire and nurture moonshot thinking. That’s because the idea of collective intelligence is inbuilt, fundamental to its makeup. If there’s ever a place for a spark to fly, that one idea that could be a game-changer in solving the climate crisis, it’s here. For a reminder of who we are and how we work, check out our explainer here.
Just Crazy Enough
Moonshots are not as unrealistic as they first appear. There’s no suggestion that literally everything is possible. However, there’s no way to know what is and isn’t possible without setting your sights beyond what is already visible around you. Sometimes a big idea is a little too crazy, and will fail. It’s still worth doing, if only to find this out. When it comes to the climate crisis, there’s far more harm in not doing anything at all. Sometimes, however, an idea is just crazy enough to work, shifting our perceptions of what is possible. Here’s Astro Teller’s recipe for a moonshot:
- A huge problem in the world that affects millions or billions of people
- A radical, sci-fi sounding solution that may seem impossible today
- A technology breakthrough that gives us a glimmer of hope that the solution could be possible in the next 5–10 years
When it works, boy is it worth it. A prime example is Richard Branson. Quoting Sir Richard might be a cliche, but there’s no denying his success. This success, it seems, is borne out of his sheer audacity:
“You’ve got to think different, uninhibited like a child, never give up, have an ambition that you really care about, take more risks, be ingenious, make a bigger difference to people’s lives, have incredible fun, but also play to win.”
The man doesn’t have his own island by accident.
The 10x and the power in passion
Moonshots are cool, there’s no denying it. They have a cool name. Finding inspiration through adversity, dreaming the impossible dream, it’s all the stuff of Hollywood movies. The fact is, aiming for small, incremental 10% improvements just doesn’t inspire the same fire-in-the-belly enthusiasm that the 10x hail-mary does. And it’s the 10x that we need to solve the climate crisis. It’s certainly the case that small changes can make a big difference, and each person’s actions (be it simply cutting down on driving or recycling correctly) absolutely have an impact. But to truly turn the tide, we also need systemic overhaul. An entire rethink. We need to stoke that fire in our bellies and find a way forward even when it looks out of reach.
So, creation of a circular, sustainable economy? Net-Zero carbon emissions? Restoration of nature? Solving the climate crisis? They sound big, they sound scary. But they’re not impossible. They’re deliciously, inspiringly improbable.
Watch this space for updates on the CVC’s own Moonshot Factory.