Taking Moonshots - the hidden benefits of doing big things

I began running last week... not sure exactly what I was thinking but I'm beyond reasoning at this point. I hate running. Primarily it's because my results-driven, purpose-focused mind has trouble wrapping itself around running with no destination. You're not running away from anything or to anything, you're just... running. In circles. Can't do it.

But I know the benefits:

  • running produces endorphins
  • running burns calories
  • running strengthens your muscles
  • running builds endurance
  • running expands your lung capacity
  • running exercises your heart

...I know. I want to love running and that's pretty much the sole force that keeps me slipping on my shoes, and making it down to the end of the driveway every dark, cold night to begin my run.

In running, I've learned, it's a mental game more than it is a physical one. Many people, despite what they convince themselves of, are in shape enough to run much further than they had in mind. Let's say, each evening, they set out to run 3 miles. A decent run to be sure. At the end of that third mile, they come in wheezing, legs cramping and head dizzy. In that moment they convince themselves that three miles is the outer stretches of their limits. They gave it all they had and still came back half-dead. However, put that person in a situation where they must run ten miles and all of the sudden, the first three are just a warm up. It's the perspective that shapes their body's reaction to the physical limits.

I'm not awesome enough to run three miles each night so I've been running two but what I've found is that if I run as though I'm running five, two isn't all that bad. In fact, it was quite manageable! Why, you ask?

When you're taking a moonshot, it's hard to fail completely.

The difference between normal goals and moonshots are that normal goals are seeking the incremental stepping stones while moonshots are seeking the exponential breakthroughs. Peter Diamandis, founder of The X Prize, Singularity University and Planetary Resources, gave a mind-boggling example of the distinction:

If I asked you to take thirty linear steps, you would walk thirty paces and be thirty meters further than you were originally. However, if I were to ask you to take thirty exponential steps, you would be a billion meters away. That simple doubling each step is so incredibly powerful and that, my friends, is the power of a moonshot.


Skirt the competition

The funny thing about moonshots is that at an incremental growth level, you're competing with all of the other incremental growers. Every other person is vying for the same marginal increase in followers, investors or customers. But as Randy Newman so wonderfully put it, "it's lonely at the top." Few if any are aiming for the moon which means it's up for grabs. There's no competition.

I'd be foolish if I thought that meant the way was easy or even easily accessible. It will certainly be a harder climb, a longer trek and a harsher climate - all true. But a few things happen when you decide that you're going to take on the challenge.


Lose the flaky people

People have a gut reaction when they hear about people doing big things - they get intimidated. So they back off. Those people who get behind a cause and drop out half way through don't get behind moonshots. They're too risky. It's all in, make it or bust. The flakes find a safe bet where they can get in and get out easily if they start to get jumpy. When you're shooting for the moon, the people who stand by your side are people who want it just as badly as you do.


Cushion your failure

As mentioned above, it's hard to fail completely when you're going big. If half way up the mountain your journey gets cut short, you're still far above the hoards squabbling over the molehills below. It's the aiming for the moon landing in the stars concept. It's the lesson I learned on my runs.


Improve your odds of wild success

A 10 percent improvement means that you’re basically doing the same thing as everybody else. You probably won’t fail spectacularly, but you are guaranteed not to succeed wildly.
— Steven Levy, writer at WIRED

Only by aiming beyond the typical mark can we achieve larger-than-life results. Rarely does one stumble upon 10X breakthroughs while pursuing a .10X solution. The reason is that incremental growth requires that you simply refine a system that is already in place. Exponential growth tosses the current system out of the window because it requires that we approach the challenge with a blank slate. It requires a completely new solution to the problem not a tweak or adjustment.

When Henry Ford was building the first automobile, he was thinking of a new solution for transportation. While horse breeders were figuring out how they could feed their horses better grains, find a longer lasting horseshoe or pump them full of steroids, Ford knew the horses are innately limited so he pursued a brand new mode of transportation. Next up: teleportation devices.

The art of taking moonshots doesn't come naturally to us. No one inherently thinks that way - we are wired for survival and, being such, are risk averse. It takes mental training to push yourself toward 10X solutions. One of the masters of the 10X solution is Google's CEO and Co-Founder, Larry Page who pointed out,

It’s natural for people to want to work on things that they know aren’t going to fail. But incremental improvement is guaranteed to be obsolete over time. [...] I feel like there are all these opportunities in the world to use technology to make people’s lives better. At Google we’re attacking maybe 0.1 percent of that space. And all the tech companies combined are only at like 1 percent. That means there’s 99 percent virgin territory. Investors always worry, ‘Oh, you guys are going to spend too much money on these crazy things.’ But those are now the things they’re most excited about—YouTube, Chrome, Android. If you’re not doing some things that are crazy, then you’re doing the wrong things.

So go ahead... take a moonshot.


Jacob Jolibois is the founder of The Archer's Guild. He has a habit of starting a large number of projects and is oddly enthusiastic about Disney. Ultimately, he's hoping to rid the world of mediocrity, lots of people at a time (one is too slow). Recently, he backpacked across 11 countries with Micah Webber.