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ExO Moonshot

Audacious Success Through Moonshots

Written By

Emilie Sydney-Smith

5 min read

The idea of Moonshots began back when JFK decided to go to the moon. It was a big, necessary goal that the government wanted to achieve, not because it was easy, but because it was hard. Let's explore some modern-day moonshots, and how ExO Works is working toward their own.


ExO Works has now proven on 15 occasions that its Sprints can increase the profitability of our clients' businesses and broaden their teams' mindsets. We're on our way to achieving our Massive Transformative Purpose (MTP) of The Global Transformation of Business.

To further achieve our MTP, I'm now spearheading our move into corporate Moonshot Sprints, and hoping that more of you will join us in being a part of this ambitious endeavor.


The History Leading to Corporate Moonshots

Solving the world’s Grand Challenges used to primarily be the work of government, hence naming them “Moonshots” after JFK’s decision to go to the moon—not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

I recently got to know Thomas Kalil, who led the Moonshots for the last two Democratic White Houses, and who is now working on others with Eric Schmidt, the former executive chairman of Google. Kalil helped establish the BRAIN Initiative in 2013, which seeks to deepen our understanding of the inner workings of the human mind and to improve how we treat, prevent, and cure disorders of the brain. The BRAIN Initiative is working to develop neurotechnologies and dynamic imaging, explore brain function and link function with behavior, then bring safe and effective consumer products to market.

The White House also started encouraging companies to take on Moonshots. Kalil shared with me that companies need not always invest funds to have an impact. He worked with Walmart to require their suppliers to meet environmental standards by leveraging their enormous influence, rather than spending money.

The world’s fastest-growing companies, mostly in Silicon Valley, are now also using Exponential Organizations methods to compete with each other to solve some of the world’s most pressing and intractable problems, such as cancer, pollution, brain-computer interfaces, infectious disease, education—or even death itself.

The profits and global influence that will soon flow from their Moonshots threatens to make mainstream companies obsolete at an exponential pace. They seem to be creating a rarefied—often exclusionary—club for changing the world.

This is a great time to start working with our mainstream corporate clients on Moonshots that can profitably help them achieve their MTPs.


As inspiration, I’d like to share a few of my favorite examples of Moonshots:

Flying Taxis

I recently attended Uber’s second Elevate Summit about flying taxis—a mobility Moonshot that can’t happen soon enough. Although I consult for one of the first airports that will test Uber’s electric vertical takeoff and landing vehicles (eVTOL), I was blown away by how quickly their plans have advanced since the first summit.

Uber plans to start passenger trips in 2023 and develop around 40 Skyports per major city, each serving up to 1,000 takeoffs and landings per hour in vehicles with one pilot and four passengers. eVTOLs could be 10-20x safer than helicopters and quiet enough to hardly be heard above the background noise of the city.

The bottleneck, however, will be manufacturing enough eVTOLs, so Uber is working with the world’s biggest aircraft manufacturers to incorporate speed and volume lessons from automotive manufacturing for the scale up. Additionally, each large city will have 10x as much air traffic as is currently managed across the whole United States, so new air traffic control processes are under development.

Another one of my clients is shortlisted for the design of the Skyports that can easily make use of open car park and skyscraper rooftops.

Incidentally, if my airport and aviation architecture clients and I can also transform passenger terminal design so that the customer experience is wonderful, not dire, I'll consider that a Moonshot success.


Commercializing Space

The weekly tech book I read last week was "The Space Barons" by Christian Davenport, which reminded me of my first epiphany about wanting to change the world with technology, when I was 9. Back then, at a museum excursion, all the girls who completed a quiz correctly got to choose between book prizes on either dolls or space. I was the only one who chose the one about space—and then spent months imagining space crafts and hotels patronized, of course, by my dolls.

The work of SpaceX, Blue Origin, Virgin and XPrize to reduce costs 10x and prove that engines and boosters can be re-usable are driving 100,000x reductions in satellite prices. This could also enable asteroid mining to bring back an abundance of important commodities without the environmental impact of earth mining, plus colonization of Mars as a Plan B for humanity.

As SpaceX’s first crewed Dragon spaceship readies for launch this summer, or when we watched the perfection of their twin booster landing last February, who can fail to be in awe of Elon Musk’s many Moonshots?


Deathless Meat

The livestock industry is arguably the world’s most environmentally damaging, and causes untold animal suffering. It's wonderful to see tech start-ups like JUST and Memphis Meats tackle the Moonshot to mass-produce lab-grown meat. JUST plans to release lab-grown, clean meat onto the market by the end of 2018 at a retail price within 30 percent of traditional meat!

While many in rich countries will prefer slaughtered meat until the cultured version has the same taste and texture, those lacking adequate access to protein are unlikely to be so picky. With scale, this Moonshot could end hunger, 18% of carbon emissions, and much land and water degradation.


Machine Ethics

Silicon Valley start-ups are also working to pre-empt some of the worst problems the world could face in the future through their own Moonshots. For example, I've recently become a Trustee of EthicsNet, which was founded by Nell Watson, an ExO Ecosystem member.

Modeled after ImageNet, EthicsNet is a crowdsourcing dataset of cross-cultural ethics examples with which to train machine learning, so that machines will autonomously know how to be kind and make better decisions. We can’t hope to program good behavior into every machine from scratch, so providing guiding principles from a vast array of examples will hopefully make machines less likely to destroy humanity.

Please submit your ideas on how best to achieve this Moonshot through the $10,000 HeroX Challenge here.



I've been so inspired by the few Moonshots pursued by mainstream corporations. For example, I’ve watched a close friend raise over $480 million for prevention, treatment and improving the lives and self-esteem of those living with AIDS through M∙A∙C, the prominent cosmetics brand he leads. 100% of revenue from their VIVA GLAM lipsticks goes to its AIDS Fund.

The brand has fun with fearless and joyful marketing campaigns that also helped reduce discrimination against LGBT communities. Where prevention campaigns were typically stern and scary, they realized that more people listen to Lady Gaga or Miley Cyrus than the Surgeon General. While 12 years ago 75% of proceeds came from the United States, worldwide sales have risen, taking the safe sex influence globally.

This initiative has undoubtedly done good in the world, grown the company's profits, and increased its profile, image and goodwill. Just imagine if they had boosted that with ExO methodology!


Get Involved in ExO’s Moonshots

We will be proposing Moonshot Sprints to a number of companies in the coming weeks, and hope that many of you can get involved with us in seeking audacious successes. If you know of any companies that could be interested in a Moonshot Sprint, please let me know.

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