In this era of accelerating change, business-as-usual is the enemy of every business, new and old. Yet it’s an easy rut to fall into, and a tough one to break out of. Every business needs to “reach for the stars” on a regular basis, in much the same way the President Kennedy challenged a nation to put a man on the moon in an impossible timeframe more than fifty years ago.
Moonshots are simply efforts that demand breakthroughs that are not possible within business-as-usual practices. In reality, that’s the definition of a successful startup these days, so every aspiring entrepreneur should take note, as well as every existing corporate executive. Elon Musk has done it with SpaceX and Tesla, and Steve Jobs did it on a regular basis at Apple.
The challenge is to do it by design like these guys, rather than by exception. I found some good guidance on the required steps in a new book, “The Moonshot Effect: Disrupting Business as Usual,” by Lisa Goldman and Kate Purmal, a couple of consultants who have made it happen. I like their seven step approach, which I have paraphrased here for entrepreneurs as follows:
Pull together a great multi-functional team. Entrepreneurs who prefer to work alone have a hard road ahead. Every moonshot starts with a team of six to eight people, rock stars in their own area, excellent collaboration skills, highly motivated, high energy, and willing to take on challenges. It takes the right people to make a breakthrough happen.
Clearly define and issue the challenge. A dream is not enough. You need to quantify measurable criteria for success, using business metrics. These could include customer penetration, revenue growth, budget guidelines, and industry visibility. For buy-in and commitment, ask for team proposals in a specific timeframe to start the process.
Select the best proposal and announce intent. Visible leadership and commitment is a pre-requisite to real breakthroughs. This is the time to create organizational structure, leader assignments, budget constraints, and timeframe milestones. The breakthrough plan has to be communicated effectively to all constituents.
Validate and quantify the business case. Team members begin by working with industry experts, advisors, and customers to validate assumptions, implementation plans, and financial parameters. If possible, the team should be assigned to a dedicated physical space and set up a “war room” for regular strategy and progress meetings.
Finalize commitment to the plan at all levels. It’s time for the executive team and advisory board to commit the necessary funds and people resources to complete the plan. For startups, this will likely require a funding effort with friends and family, or grants. Patents and other intellectual property must be secured at this point.
Move into full project execution mode. Effective progress requires a detailed project plan, milestones, resource assignments, metrics, and status meetings on a regular schedule. In a startup, the entrepreneur is the executive champion to prevent day-to-day pressures from distracting members of the team.
Announce and launch an operational product. Initial rollout may be a public beta or minimum viable product which demonstrates the solution and tests the market on a limited basis. Even if there is more work to do, it’s time to celebrate the launch both internally and externally to build momentum and commitment.
While these steps may sound familiar to many entrepreneurs, I find the necessary discipline is often missing. Business-as-usual in a startup means everyone is working hard on the latest crisis, but no one knows the status or potential impact of the overall plan. In more mature companies, business-as-usual is a focus on existing products, with only an incidental focus on new initiatives.
In any case, it’s smart to use the moonshot analogy today to disrupt your business or startup from the business-as-usual malady. The world is moving faster and faster, so you need to shoot higher to keep from falling behind. In addition, you will like the exhilaration and satisfaction that comes with a successful moonshot. It’s the best way to change the world and leave a legacy to remember.
*** First published on Forbes on 07/15/2016 ***