Why Your Company Needs A Purpose Moonshot
In 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy captured the world’s imagination when he stood before Congress and said, “This nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” This ambitious goal spurred NASA to go above and beyond to achieve that goal before the end of the decade. This was the original ‘moonshot’: an audacious goal of great difficulty that has a galvanizing effect on an organization.
Google embraced the idea, going so far as to create Google X, a division which it dubbed ‘the moonshot factory’, for some of the most advanced and innovative technological projects. Google moonshots have included Google Glass, Project Loon (a balloon-based Internet service project), the driverless car, augmented reality glasses, a neural network, robots for the manufacturing industry and Project Calico, a life extension project.
A Purpose Moonshot is an inspiring, ambitious goal to create social or environmental value on an epic scale. Think of Patagonia’s recent announcement that the company would be transferring ownership to a trust who would administer all profits (around $100 million a year) towards fighting climate change. The company announced that from now on ‘Planet Earth would be their only shareholder’ and that instead of ‘going public’ the company would be ‘going Purpose’.
Think of Microsoft committing to not just carbon negativity by 2030 but removing historical carbon emissions by 2050. Or Apple announcing that its products would only be created using renewable resources or recycled materials. Or Salesforce announcing that it wants to end family homelessness in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Another recent example was the work that Pfizer did around creating a COVID-19 vaccine in record time at record scale. As Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Albert Bourla leads Pfizer in its purpose, “Breakthroughs that change patients’ lives”, with a focus on driving the scientific and commercial innovation needed to have a transformational impact on human health. Refusing to accept public funding and instead investing more than $2 billion dollars at-risk, Dr. Bourla lead the company to deliver a safe and effective vaccine in just eight months – a process that typically takes 8-10 years – without compromising quality or integrity.
In his book ‘Moonshot’ he said, “I didn’t ask people to do it in eight years. I asked them to do it in eight months. I didn’t ask them to make 300 million doses. I asked them to make three billion doses. I insisted that these targets were not negotiable. Saving as many lives as soon as possible was our priority. The team recognized this, went back to the drawing board and came back with a completely new way of working – and the results were simply phenomenal.” He commented, “Setting goals that are very aspirational, goals that someone has never achieved before, can unleash human creativity in phenomenal ways.”
Microsoft’s climate moonshot was also treated with cautious respect, based on the company’s scale (bigger than Google, but smaller than Apple) but also the depth of its ambition (going carbon-negative by 2030, meaning that it would be removing more carbon than it produces from the atmosphere). It also went above and beyond by promising to remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975. It also vowed to take responsibility for the emissions produced by its entire supply chain; not just the full lifespan of the products it makes, but also the electricity that customers may consume when using its products.
Moonshots can have either an environmental or a social focus
An excellent example of a social focus moonshot is JP Morgan Chase’s $30 billion commitment by the end of 2025 to advance economic growth and opportunity for Black, Hispanic and Latino communities. The company has committed to helping close the racial wealth gap and driving economic inclusion by providing more opportunities for homeownership, access to affordable housing, entrepreneurship and bolstering financial health. What is good about this commitment is that it also is broken down into smaller goals (for instance 40,000 new home loans, 100,000 new affordable housing units etc.) which allow individual business units to focus their attention on their commercial areas, all laddering up to the bigger commitment.
At Conspiracy of Love, we have helped clients develop ambitious moonshots around economic inclusivity in Sport, STEM education, DE&I and many other areas. We have seen first-hand the galvanizing effect it can have on morale, talent recruitment, breakthrough innovation and a host of other indices that are the key to long-term growth and profitability.
Here are five principles to keep in mind when considering how to frame your company’s Purpose Moonshot:
- It must be authentically inspiring to your employees: A moonshot needs to be designed in close coordination with your employees and leadership teams to come from not just their minds – but their hearts. Pfizer’s purpose-driven culture meant that the organization already had a focus on changing patient’s lives for the better. So, when called to go above and beyond what they had achieved before, the organization rallied and succeeded by answering the call from their leader in a way that was true to their values and beliefs.
- It must be exponential: A moonshot goal isn’t about an incremental increase. As Google X says, ‘Aim for 10x not 10%’. Aiming for 10x lifts the ambition of the organization above its baseline achievements and makes it think big picture, challenging its assumptions and forcing it to look at innovation in a whole new way.
- It must be transparent and time-bound to the near future: Too many companies announce meaningless 2050 goals around sustainability and impact. This is basically a dereliction of duty: what other metric in a company would be treated in the same way with such vagueness? Imagine a CFO saying that a company would be profitable by 2050 and you can envision the derision this response would get. Setting transparent, time-bound and measurable goals against near future goals of this decade creates the sense of urgency and speed. Reporting progress also helps build public trust that the commitments are being followed through on – and allows the company to also course correct when needed, just as it would do with any other strategic growth objective.
- It must leverage the company’s ‘Superpowers’: Each company has a unique set of strengths drawing from its capabilities, culture and capital, which position it perfectly to contribute to a specific social or environmental position. For instance, Adidas as a sports company has an incredible opportunity to help build access to sport for underserved communities; it can leverage all of its partnerships, promotion and product innovation against this goal, not just its philanthropy.
- It must be profitable: Because this is business not philanthropy, it is essential to define the business case for the Purpose moonshot. By evaluating all the multi-dimensional ways that it can positively affect key drivers ranging from new revenue from product innovation, greater efficiencies in production and manufacturing, to employee recruitment and retention and societal reputation, the organization can clearly lay out the justification for investment required.
On the last point: Moonshots have the potential to be hugely profitable. Solving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the world’s biggest problems, isn’t just the right thing to do: it’s estimated it would unlock $12 trillion annually in value.
By focusing your company on profitably solving the problems of the world (instead of inadvertently creating new ones), a Purpose Moonshot is how your company can go beyond ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ to ‘Corporate Social Opportunity’ and create not just great impact – but great growth.
As the world deals with multiple crises from the climate apocalypse to extreme poverty, it is our hope that business leaders find new ways to unleash the enormous power of their organizations to profitably tackle the social and environmental problems of our time, as JFK said, ‘not because they are easy, but because they are hard.’ It’s time to do the hard things.