What is a Loonshot?
A Loonshot is a neglected project, widely dismissed, written off as unhinged.
The most important breakthroughs come from Loonshots.
Let me showcase this with an example:
What you think of when you hear Nokia?
In the 1970’s Nokia was an industrial conglomerate mostly famous for its rubber boots and toilet paper. In the next two decades, they pioneer the first cellular network, the first car phone, the first GSM phone. In 2000, Nokia became the most valuable company in Europe, remember they started with toilet paper.
The CEO explained that the key was culture. You can have some bit of fun; you can make some mistakes etc. It’s all about the culture, right!
In 2004, a handful excited Nokia engineers, had some fun and created a new kind of phone, internet ready, a colour touchscreen, high-resolution camera and they added a crazy idea….. An App store.
The same management team, including the CEO, shot down both projects.
I am sure you know what happened three years later!. Those two crazy ideas were presented on a stage, in San Fransisco, by latest Steve Jobs, Apple. Five years later, Nokia was irrelevant.
When groups are small, everyone’s stake in the outcome of the project is high. The perks or ranks, job titles or the increase in salary are little compared to the high stakes.
As teams and companies grow larger, the salary, future promotion become more important, and the team start to rejecting crazy ideas, become more protective.
That happened at Nokia; they made so much money, they had so much success, they wanted to keep that path and stopped taking risks.
They thought: Why change a winning team?
Nokia mishandled the transition between the 2 phases.
HOW CAN WE PREVENT THIS?
First, the bad news: those phase transitions are inevitable. All liquids freeze at some point.
The good news is that when we understand the forces, we can manage the transition. Ex. Water freezes at 0 degrees Celcius, 32 Fahrenheit for our American friends, but in the winter we toss salt, which lowers the temperature at when water freezes, but it will freeze at some point.
The 2 Steps, not to become the next Nokia
- Separate the phases: People responsible for developing the crazy ideas (call them artists), need to be sheltered from the soldiers, responsible for the steady growth. Both groups can’t succeed on their own; both need each other. I call it the Dynamic Equilibrium.
- Dynamic Equilibrium: As a leader, you must maintain the balance between the two groups so that neither phase overwhelms. Artists and soldiers have to feel equally loved. This balance is often overlooked. The trap for most groups is that soldiers favour soldiers and artists favour artists. One of the solutions you can use as a leader is to manage the transfer, not the technology.
Explaining loonshots in 5 minutes is only to give you a taste what is possible, a taste for more, and I hope I can provide for this audience more articles and speeches around this subject and I hope to see you all back
What I want you to remember, to become more successful in your business, career and organisation is
- not to shoot off crazy ideas
- to recognise differences exists between artists and soldiers
- you as a leader must balance those two groups.
As leaders, our responsibility is to create a loonshot