How and Why to create a Moonshot

(This was originally posted on LinkedIn on July 4, 2017)

“We choose to go to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

What better day to talk about a JFK quote than 4th of July?

In the Rice Moon speech in 1961, John F. Kennedy said that, as Outer Space is the next frontier, we (the US) should be a leader in that frontier because of it’s scientific and psychological potential to do so, and because of the inherent challenge involved in the huge endeavour. This idea has driven the people of various backgrounds who live in the US there to invent, push boundaries, excel, and progress for the last 56 years.

While I am from the US, I now live in London, where I see the same amount of scientific and psychological potential to do hard things like push boundaries into new physical and mental frontiers. Not just in the institutions; people push boundaries too. Every day I see people commute in to work on bikes and even running…in the rain!

People, including those I work with at BrightTALK, run, swim, bike or take fitness classes during lunchtime. Why do we do this? Because we know we can, we like to, and even more, because we know we must.

This isn’t new to the British. In fact, the end of Kennedy’s speech, he quotes the British explorer George Mallory who, when was asked why he wanted to climb Everest, said, “Because it is there.”

The US went about back-engineering their technology to fit the goal of getting to the moon decades sooner than originally anticipated. They had to ask new questions and re-think how to achieve something because the big goal did not fit into the current model of thinking. And, they made it happen in 1959. Some call a bold idea like this a “moonshot”.

If this idea Kennedy posed – to take on an extremely audacious goal because it can and should be done – can work for a country, why can’t it work for a person?

Today, lets create our own personal moonshots, not because it is easy, but because it is hard, because it can happen, and because it should happen.

It needs to be a big challenge. Big enough that, upon first glance, does seem immediately impossible. In 2015, I competed in a half-Ironman race, comprised of a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, and 13.1 mile run. In the last 6 miles of the run, I remember thinking “this is so painful, I can’t imagine how people complete a full Ironman!” Immediately, that put a huge mental barrier between me and the completion of a 140.7-mile full Ironman. But people do it every weekend – people who were once much less fit than I am, but decided to set the goal for themselves. They are driven by something – a “Why?”.

Defining that “Why?” is where a moonshot begins. 

When you start to challenge yourself, you stretch yourself, and you will run into a barrier. To take down that barrier requires a mindset shift. This is a binary shift: off to on. No to Yes. Can’t to can. When you make this switch, it reduces your excuses. 

Having a moonshot inherently reduces your excuses. You will go from from “I don’t run” to “I run”, from “I can’t swim” to “I swim”, from “I’ve never been a biker” to “I bike”. It will also be the catalyst to go from who you once were to who you want to be. The “you” of 5 years ago will not be the “you” of 5 years from now, because you have the choice to decide who you are and who you want to be. While you do not have a choice of who you were, you can change your perspective on it.

How to design & execute your own moonshot:

I’ve put this into a 4-step process: 1) “Why?” 2) Mindset 3) Reverse engineer 4) Launch

1) “Why?”

Why are you creating a moonshot? Healthy, family, humanity & legacy drives many people to achieve moonshots. Google has a moonshot factory who’s mission is “to invent and launch ‘moonshot’ technologies that we hope could someday make the world a radically better place.” For an institution, this vague yet audacious mission is ideal. For Individuals, a more specific mission should be defined. Define yours, write it down, and keep it visible to you. A slightly irrational date is necessary to determine how quickly you need to move to achieve your moonshot. Kennedy gave the entire country less than 10 years to achieve something that was originally planned to take generations. Challenge yourself and write it down.

2) Mindset: Flip the Switch

Achieving a moonshot starts with the mindset: “this can be done”. It may not be profitable and it may take longer than you expect, but it can be done. Take, for example, the movie Avatar. It was originated in 1994, was put on the shelf because the technology wasn’t ready, but 15 years later was the highest grossing movie ever. The lesson here: you’ll never fail if you never give up.

If you want to start running every day, start eating healthier, or start to become more educated a subject, this is an extremely simple mantra to start down that path:

Tell yourself “this is something I do”. Repeat 15 times every morning and evening. Your subconscious will respond positively – it doesn’t have a choice, because you’ve made the decision for it.

3) Reverse engineer

Think about the reality and logistics of making it happen. Figure out what “tools” you need to get the job done. Do you need to nerd out and put this into a Gantt chart (no shame in a Gantt chart)? Make it – it will help you keep on track, efficient, and closer to your goal. Make daily progress, even if it is one step.

4) Launching your moonshot:

Decide to move, and start. These happen almost simultaneously. But once you decide, things have a way of working out.

After you have made the first decision, keep up the momentum by making it extremely easy to move. Buy a physical calendar and cross off how many days you’ve repeated your increment of progress – don’t break the chain. Make it 20 seconds easier to overcome the first barrier every day.

Once you decide to start moving in one direction, keep going in that direction until there comes a obstacle that you need to go through, and go through it. You may find that the obstacle pushes your plans back a bit – fine. Remember your “why?” and keep going – that is why the “why?” is there.

Now, lock yourself in:

If there is a way to confirm you’ll be at least entered into a situation whereby you can achieve the goal, lock yourself in. Entering an ironman? Register for the race, for a smaller race as a built-up, or go and buy a bike. Joining a cause? Create a get-together group and set a schedule to meet once a week. Commit to making it happen. If you have to pay, either with hard currency or personal capital (reputation & expectations of others) it will make the goal more likely to happen.

My moonshot:

A round-trip journey from the earth to the moon is 477,800 miles. I’m going to YOU people to be a part of this “round-trip journey”. Whether you bike, run, walk, row, or  swim, join our group and track your distances using Strava, a free app, and your distances will be added up to contribute to The BrightTALK Moonshot Challenge, which supports Cascaid, the UK Charity devoted to furthering cancer research. We can, and we should solve this problem.

Entry is £20 / $25, and you can start immediately by first donating here. The challenge ends on Dec 4th. 180 days. Go!

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