Google[X] at SxSW – Unlocking Innovation

Dr. Astro Teller is the Captain of Google[X], AKA “the Moon Shot Factory.” The mission of the Moon Shot Factory is to aim for achievements that are 10 times better than average, not just for incremental improvements. They think unconventionally, focusing on the “what ifs” and “why nots” of any given situation or problem.

For Google, Moon Shot efforts are focused on the intersection of huge problems, radical solutions, and breakthrough technology. Their efforts must impact real people in the real world and add real value.

They embrace failure rapidly and frequently because a ton of progress takes a ton of mistakes.

In the worst case scenarios, failure is a cost you have to pay. In the best cases, they discover new intersections that lead to more innovative thinking. More often than not, they harvest their failures.

Dr. Teller explained to the SXSW audience that people throw around the phrases “fail fast” and “diversity” like tips at a restaurant. But Google[X] works very hard at achieving genuine mental diversity and believes if the group is overly homogenous, Moon Shot will suffer. This was a significant caution not just for start-ups, but for established organizations as well.

When asked about his biggest fears, Dr. Teller shared that he is afraid of people’s positions on the pace of technological change. He asserted that we have to become more efficient at determining norms and laws that are keeping pace with technological developments because when people don’t feel safe they are naturally fearful, and scared people can do dumb things.

At the core of the Moon Shot Factory methodology is getting products into the world quickly, even if they’re not entirely finished yet.

Google Glass was supposed to be just such a prototype project, but the positioning led the public to see it as a finished product. This was as much a marketing failure as it was a product failure.

A current project named FLUX is focused on the inefficiency of the construction industry. The industry is massively wasteful and has a tremendous impact on our environment. Project Wing is the Moon Shot drone effort for product delivery and is the initiative behind the driverless car. SXSW was filled with technological, practical, and ethical discussions around the concept of driverless cars, and almost everyone was confident these will be our grandchildren’s vehicles.

Dr. Teller concluded by pointing out that the key to innovation, for Moon Shot and others, is not to approach difficult problems as if you’re a varsity team guaranteed to win, but to have the mentality of a junior varsity team fighting against the odds, with everything to gain and nothing to lose.

– Richard Schwartz, SVP Global Marketing & Digital Health Partnerships, Marketing