My dad sent me this video a few months ago. In this video, Billy Joel, while doing a Q&A session at Vanderbilt University, is asked by a student if they could play “New York State of Mind” together on stage. Watch the video if you want to see what happens; it’s a great example of a seemingly impossible ask paying off with an epic win (also known as a “moon shot“).
In our lives, we have a tendency to shy away from these “moon shots.” For good reason too; they require significant effort, are usually uncomfortable, and are very unlikely to result in any success. But for that 1 in 1,000 that does result in a success, brace yourself for something incredible.
One of the challenges in life is making time for these high risk, high reward activities – the moon shots. Companies like Google are already embracing this idea. Self driving cars? Top secret Google X projects? These are designed to find the next world-changing idea, rather than steadily incrementing on currently-existing offerings.
Thankfully, for individuals, this task doesn’t require immense product development and hundreds of the world’s brightest minds. It simply requires a willingness to go after the unlikely. Examples:
- Emailing an executive at your company, and ask if he/she would be willing to grab coffee
- Starting a business on the side of your 9-5 job.
- Moving somewhere new
- Investing in a new skill that could substantially benefit your personal and/or professional life
Some moon shots I’ve been working on lately (or have happened recently):
- Pressing the reset button on my career in late 2012 and moving to San Francisco
- Learning to code for 6 hours every Saturday, for a potential pivot towards a more technical career (in progress)
- Launching a Meetup group to build a sense of community around electronic music in SF
While some of my other moon shots have failed pretty miserably, the three above are a few recent ones that have significantly impacted my life for the better.
Stop Being So Realistic
Being “realistic” is the killer of moon shots. This article by Malcolm Gladwell in New York Magazine – describing the unintended costs of constructing a railway line connecting Boston to the Hudson River – sums up my thoughts on the idea of being “realistic” all of the time:
Everyone was wrong. Digging through the Hoosac turned out to be a nightmare. The project cost more than ten times the budgeted estimate. If the people involved had known the true nature of the challenges they faced, they would never have funded the Troy-Greenfield railroad. But, had they not, the factories of northwestern Massachusetts wouldn’t have been able to ship their goods so easily to the expanding West, the cost of freight would have remained stubbornly high, and the state of Massachusetts would have been immeasurably poorer. So is ignorance an impediment to progress or a precondition for it?
Sometimes you need a healthy dose of ignorance in order to attempt those moon shots that may cause short term suffering, but pay off immensely in the long run.
Moon shots aren’t easy, so take baby steps when getting started. Build the habit of pursuing moon shots over time. Here’s what I’d recommend:
Step 1: Spend a few weeks gradually taking note of moon shots you’re neglecting. You don’t need to take action yet. Just build your awareness. Did you skip a worthwhile networking event because you were feeling tired? Take note. Has there been a business idea sitting in your desk drawer for 6 months? Take note.
Step 2: After a few weeks of taking note of possible moon shots, pick the most compelling one and begin taking action on it. Use tools like Trello and automate as much as possible so that you’ll be able to pursue this moon shot with greater ease.
Step 3: Repeat step 2 for the rest of your life.
Photo Credit: Jim Davis