Swinging For the Fences
Why moonshots matter
Capital Thinking • Issue #557 • View online
If you want to look good in front of thousands, you have to outwork thousands in front of nobody.
- Damien Lillard
Entrepreneurship is a personal growth engine disguised as a business pursuit.
How to hit home runs: I swing as hard as I can, and I try to swing right through the ball... The harder you grip the bat, the more you can swing it through the ball, and the farther the ball will go. I swing big, with everything I've got. I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can.
Why Moonshots Matter
Tim Hartford | The Undercover Economist:
Tim Bradshaw, head of the Russell Group of leading UK universities, has a curious tale to tell about failure.
A few years ago he visited the Cambridge office of an admired Japanese company to find them fretting about the success rate of their research and development.
At 70 per cent, it was far too high: the research teams had been risk-averse, pursuing easy wins at the expense of more radical and risky long-shots.
The late Marty Sklar, a Disney veteran, once told me a similar tale — if his colleagues weren’t failing at half of their endeavours, they weren’t being brave or creative enough.
My boss at the World Bank 15 years ago had the same worry that too many projects were succeeding.
When the same concern arises in such wildly different contexts, we may be worrying about a common problem: a systematic preference for marginal gains over long shots.
It’s not hard to see why. It is much more pleasant to experience a steady trickle of small successes than a long drought while waiting for a flood that may never come.
While marginal gains add up, they need to be refreshed by the occasional long-shot breakthrough.
Major innovations such as the electric motor, the photovoltaic cell or the mobile phone open up new territories that the marginal-gains innovators can then explore.
With this in mind, it’s hard not to sympathise with the UK Conservative party’s promise to establish “a new agency for high-risk, high-pay-off research, at arm’s length from government” — a British version of the much-admired US Defense Advanced Projects Research Agency.
Originally known as Arpa, now Darpa, it is most famous for creating Arpanet, the precursor to the internet.
It also supported early research into satellite navigation and the windows-and-mouse system for operating a computer.
And it helped to catalyse interest in self-driving cars. With successes like that, nobody seems to mind that Arpa’s failure rate is often said to be around 85 per cent.
High-risk, high-pay-off indeed.
*Featured post image by Eduardo Balderas on Unsplash