In 1962, during a speech at Rice University, US President John F. Kennedy captured the world’s imagination proclaiming that: “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” This was to become enshrined in history as the first “moonshot goal”.

Kennedy moonshot goal

He continued to add: “We choose this goal not because they are easy, but because it is hard. Because this goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills.”

Shortly after, the term moonshot entered the dictionary, defined as a difficult or expensive task, the outcome of which is expected to have great significance.

Thanks in part to Google, moonshots or moonshot goals have seen a recent surge in the corporate world.

Why you need a moonshot goal

In a 2013 interview with WIRED, Larry Page, Google’s Cofounder and CEO, said: “I live by the gospel of 10x. A 10% improvement means that you’re doing the same thing as everybody else. You probably won’t fail spectacularly, but you are guaranteed not to succeed wildly.”.

This mentality is at the heart of Google X, which is responsible for ‘moonshot projects’ like the driverless car. Page explains that 1,000% improvement requires a completely different approach towards problems, exploring the limits of what’s technically possible, and guaranteeing everyone will have a lot more fun in the process.

Entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Elon Musk (Tesla, SpaceX) share a similar ideology.

Moonshots, if ambitious, also have the ability to attract and retain great talent. Think of Kennedy’s speech again, who wouldn’t want to work on landing a man on the moon? Elon Musk’s SpaceX is working on enabling people to live on other planets.

Talented people want to be part of an exciting journey. With millennials taking up an increasingly bigger share of the workforce (75% by 2025), this becomes all the more relevant as they care more about purpose than pay.

It’s your turn now

You don’t need moonshot goals all over the organization. You only need one (unless you’re more of a conglomerate, like Google is these days).

Moonshot goals are part of a future-back approach to strategy, where most strategic-planning processes take a present-forward approach. A good future-back strategy can go well beyond the typical 3 year planning horizons. Therefore, the best place to put it is in your mission and vision. This is also where Google, Amazon and SpaceX hide their moonshots.

At Perdoo we never talk about mission (or vision), simply because there is too much confusion (even amongst executives) about what a good mission and vision is. Instead, we always talk about “the ultimate goal” or “the ultimate OKR”. Your mission translates to the ultimate Objective and your vision will become one of the Key Result to the ultimate Objective.

Crafting a good moonshot

According to Harvard Business Review, a good moonshot has 3 ingredients:

  1. It inspires
    Kennedy’s goal clearly raises the spirit. And there is a reason why almost everyone knows the exciting things Google, Amazon and SpaceX are working on.
  2. It is credible
    A moonshot is not a ridiculous target. Absurd goals that lack credibility won’t motivate people to actually make it happen. Yes, it must be a moonshot. But it must also have a reasonable chance of success.
  3. It is imaginative
    A moonshot must offer a meaningful break from the past. The route towards achieving it can consist of incremental changes, sometimes called roofshots. Yet the moonshot itself should not be an obvious extrapolation of what’s happening today.

No matter how you do it, or where you put it, make sure that your moonshot goal “will serve to organize and measure the best of your employees’ energies and skills”. And most importantly: make sure each and every employee knows which moon you’re shooting for.