Moonshot Thinking: When Growth Becomes All About The 10X Rule

Moonshot thinking is an approach to innovation, and it can be applied to business or any other discipline where you target at least 10X goals. That shifts the mindset, and it empowers a team of people to look for unconventional solutions, thus starting from first principles, by leveraging on fast-paced experimentation.


Inside Google X moonshot thinking

While almost every corporate research lab tries to improve the core product of the mother ship, X was conceived as a sort of anti–corporate research lab; its job was to solve big challenges anywhere except in Google’s core business.

It all started from the search engine that conquered the web, Google. Back in the late 1990s, Google was one of the last movers on the search industry, yet it was 10X better than its competitors. Also, its founders’ Page and Brin had the 10X, moonshot mindset of thinking big. When they set the mission for the company, they didn’t say “we’ll build a competitive search engine.”

They said, “Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

This mission might have sounded ridiculous for two young Ph.D. that were more academics than people from the business world. Yet those academics managed to build a business that is worth more than a trillion:

Alphabet generated over $282B from Google search and others, $32.78 billion from the Network members (Adsense and AdMob), $29.2 billion from YouTube Ads, $26.28B from the Cloud, and $29 billion from other sources (Google Play, Hardware devices, and other services).

However, Page and Brin created an innovative arm of the company, called Google X, whose aim was to solve significant challenges independently from the core business model of the company.

As pointed out by Larry Page, on the 2013 founders’ letter to shareholders:

It’s amazing what you can achieve with a small dedicated team when you start from first principles and aren’t encumbered by the established way of doing things.  Yet I’ve learned over time that it’s surprisingly difficult to get teams to be super ambitious because most people haven’t been educated in this kind of moonshot thinking.  They tend to assume that things are impossible, or get frightened of failure.  It’s why we’ve put so much energy into hiring independent thinkers at Google, and setting big goals.  Because if you hire the right people and have bold enough dreams, you’ll usually get there.  And even if you fail, you’ll probably learn something important.

We can learn a lot from Google X moonshot thinking and apply it back to the growth of your business.

What is moonshot thinking? It’s all about 10X!

As pointed out by Astro Teller, who runs Google X:

The context matters so much the expectations matter so much the people matter the resources matter but that’s not the biggest issue there have been these times in the world and sadly they’ve been mostly military in nature where you get a huge number of really smart people together you know not 5 or 10 but a hundred or more and you give them the resources but much more importantly the expectation that they will produce miracles.
This is moonshot in action, and it starts by creating a feeling of exigency.

Create exigency

One of the things for which humans are wired is survival. The issue is that most cultures and corporate cultures create a feeling of normality, which makes us feel safe. That feeling kills the moonshot thinking. Moonshot thinking starts from a life philosophy of treating each day like it is the last and most important for survival. This is not different from Jeff Bezos’ Day One.

Context is king for the moonshot thinking

Making the context that’s the hard part perspective shift is what it’s all about that’s why going ten times bigger is more important and works better than going 10 percent bigger when you shoot for 10 percent better you’re in a smartness contest you’re putting all of your people in a smartness contest with everyone else in the world they’re not gonna win it doesn’t matter how much money you give them but if you push them if you give them the expectation and the freedom to be weird that’s moonshot thinking then they can do the perspective shifts and not only if you shoot for ten times bigger instead of 10% bigger it’s almost never a hundred times harder and the payoff is a hundred times so you already know that you’ve got a better return on your investment but sometimes it’s literally easier and the reason is because that perspective shift is actually cheap relative to being smarter than everyone around you.
Astro Teller also pointed out the importance of creating a context where moonshot thinking becomes the rule. That is according to him the most challenging part. Once you have the context, you’re ready for the rest!

Give up on incremental changes

An incremental change is as hard if not harder than a massive change. Why? You compete against others to find a solution to a similar problem. What if you switch the perspective and ask a different kind of question. For instance, when it comes to growth, it is a usual pattern to see business owners think in terms of “how do I grow my business 30% this year?”

With that thinking, you’ll look for conventional solutions, in many cases prepackaged by others. You’ll look at old formulas to new problems and stick with it until you end up with a failed enterprise. Instead, if you start asking, “how do I grow my business 10X?” that changes everything!

All of a sudden, you need to look for a new solution; you need to get creative, and obsessed about the original question you have in your mind. There won’t be anyone out there able to give you the answer, but you only. That’s when you start embracing a 10X attitude!

Embrace the 10X attitude

As Peter Thiel pointed out in his book, Zero to One, you win when you create a monopoly.  When Google took over the search market, it was a latecomer, yet it had a 10X attitude, it wanted to dominate the information market. When Facebook took over the social media industry, it was a latecomer too. Yet, Mark Zuckerberg was thinking in terms of world domination!

The 10X attitude requires an audacious vision, yet also a creative way to think about the problem, and it starts from first principles.

It all starts by reasoning from first principles

In every systematic inquiry (methodos) where there are first principles, or causes, or elements, knowledge and science result from acquiring knowledge of these; for we think we know something just in case we acquire knowledge of the primary causes

As pointed out on Wikipedia, reasoning from first principles means digging into primary causes.

A good part of the modern world has been built on assumptions that primarily took place anywhere between the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s. Many of those assumptions, if further questioned, can turn into first principles — a set of assumptions that can’t be further examined. Where in the scientific world, going to first principles means getting closer to nature. In the business world, that might mean to ask the right question rather than to stick to a question that anyone else is asking.

Target the impossible but make it actionable

In most cases, a failure in achieving results is not due to setting up a too ambitious goal. Quite the opposite, as Grant Gardone points out in the 10X Rule in many cases, failure is due to an objective which was not ambitious. Not only that, it was not actionable enough. Indeed, to start making the impossible happen, you need to have a clear direction and be able to take massive actions!

Fail most of the time

There’s no playbook for taking moonshots — and we like it that way. Building things that are on the edge of the impossible means we have to embrace ambiguity and be prepared to tinker, experiment, and learn our way into the future. Responsibly irresponsible, we live in the sweet spot between audacity and humility, idealistic and pragmatic. Passionately dispassionate, we ask hard questions, seek out diverse perspectives, and find inspiration in weird and unexpected places.

As pointed out on Google X, there is no playbook for moonshot thinking. Yet it starts from embracing ambiguity and finding the sweet spot between audacity and humility, between being idealistic and pragmatic. On the edge of a continuous flow where bold solutions come out regularly.

Do the hardest thing first

One regular thinking pattern in business is about starting from simple problems, solve them, and build up a business that might survive for a few years. If you aim to build a business that nonetheless the current swift changes, will endure for decades to come you need to start from the hardest problem, one that seems unsolvable and that has a component of social responsibility in it.

Take massive actions

Once you’ve committed to the moonshot thinking, and you apply the 10X rule, it comes the time to take massive action. No longer you can afford to make the same level of efforts that average people take; you need to take a 100X.

You need to breathe the problem you want to solve; you need to identify with it. It is a sort of obsession that gets close to madness, yet only for those looking from the outside. For you, that mindset means taking a level of actions that just a few people in the world can.

Forget T-shaped; it’s all about X-shaped people

T-shaped people have now become an essential part of the business world. As the story goes, a T-shaped profile is a person that has a deep understanding and expertise in one or two areas and a broad knowledge of several other areas:


The problem with a T-shaped profile is that it won’t get you to reach the ambitious vision you have. I consider myself a T-shaped profile, yet I’m aware of its limitations. In other words, as a T-shaped, I would not be able to have the ability to move a small team toward a 10X goal.

However, if you want to hit it big, you need to start adding authoritativeness and leadership as critical skills. That is when you make the jump from T-shaped to an X-shaped profile!


The X-shaped is an evolution of the T-shaped. Where T-shaped understands that collaboration is a key for growth; The X-shaped profile understands that leadership and strategic thinking are a crucial ingredient to move a small or large group toward goals that require massive action.

Thus, the X-shaped is together a T-shaped profile and a recognized leader within the organization!

Why 10X thinking is cheaper than incremental thinking, in the long-run

Many believe that 10X thinking is expensive and requires a lot of resources. Instead, 10X thinking is just the opposite. It is about finding inexpensive, creative solutions to hard questions.

It also involves a lot of failure along the way, yet the world becomes your laboratory, and failure becomes just another step in the growth process! Thus, in the long run, 10X thinking isn’t only inexpensive but will have a massive ROI on your business.

Case Studies

  • Self-Driving Cars:
    • Problem Articulation: Can we create vehicles that drive themselves, increasing safety and efficiency on roads?
    • 10X Goal: Reduce road accidents by 90% by removing human error.
    • Approach: Google X initiated a project, Waymo, to develop autonomous vehicles. Instead of making incremental improvements to existing car technologies, they aimed to revolutionize transportation.
    • Outcome: While fully autonomous cars are not yet commonplace, the technology has advanced significantly and has the potential to transform our roadways.
  • Project Loon:
    • Problem Articulation: How can we provide internet access to remote areas of the world?
    • 10X Goal: Deliver internet to every corner of the globe.
    • Approach: Instead of laying down cables or building more cell towers, Google X launched high-altitude balloons to create an aerial wireless network.
    • Outcome: The project has since provided internet access during natural disasters and in remote areas, showcasing the power of unconventional solutions.
  • SpaceX Reusable Rockets:
    • Problem Articulation: Can we make space travel more affordable?
    • 10X Goal: Reduce the cost of sending payloads to space by 90%.
    • Approach: Elon Musk’s SpaceX focused on developing rockets that can return to Earth and be reused, rather than the traditional one-time-use rockets.
    • Outcome: Successful landings and relaunches of Falcon 9 rockets have been achieved, paving the way for more sustainable and cost-effective space travel.
  • Vertical Farming:
    • Problem Articulation: How can we address the increasing demand for food with limited arable land?
    • 10X Goal: Produce 100 times more food per square foot of land.
    • Approach: Companies like AeroFarms have turned to vertical farming, growing plants in stacked layers indoors using LED lights and aeroponics, without soil or sunlight.
    • Outcome: These farms can produce crops year-round, use less water, and reduce transportation costs as they can be located closer to urban centers.
  • Neuralink Brain-Machine Interface:
    • Problem Articulation: Can we bridge the gap between the human brain and computers?
    • 10X Goal: Enable direct communication between the brain and external devices.
    • Approach: Elon Musk’s Neuralink is working on implantable brain-machine interfaces that can potentially help with neurological conditions and, in the future, allow for more direct interaction with technology.
    • Outcome: While still in early stages, the potential applications range from medical treatments to enhanced human cognition.
  • Desalination:
    • Problem Articulation: How can we address the growing demand for fresh water?
    • 10X Goal: Make ocean water drinkable at 10% of the current cost.
    • Approach: Companies are developing advanced desalination techniques, leveraging solar energy and innovative filtration systems.
    • Outcome: Progress in this area has the potential to address water scarcity issues in many parts of the world.
  • Quantum Computing:
    • Problem Articulation: Traditional computing has its limitations; how can we process data at magnitudes faster than ever before?
    • 10X Goal: Solve problems deemed impossible for classical computers.
    • Approach: Companies like Google and IBM are investing in quantum computing, harnessing the principles of quantum mechanics to process information.
    • Outcome: Although in its infancy, quantum computing promises to revolutionize fields from cryptography to drug discovery.
  • CRISPR Gene Editing:
    • Problem Articulation: Genetic disorders affect millions; can we find a way to edit genes?
    • 10X Goal: Cure genetic diseases by modifying DNA.
    • Approach: Scientists have developed CRISPR technology, allowing for precise editing of DNA in living organisms.
    • Outcome: Potential treatments for a range of genetic disorders and diseases, including cancer, are on the horizon.

Key Highlights

  • Moonshot Thinking: An approach to innovation targeting at least 10X goals, encouraging unconventional solutions and fast-paced experimentation.
  • Google X – Innovation Arm: Google’s innovative arm focused on solving significant challenges independently from the core business, fostering a moonshot mindset.
  • Creating Exigency: Establishing a sense of urgency by treating each day as crucial for survival, eliminating the feeling of normality that hinders moonshot thinking.
  • 10X Attitude: Embracing an audacious vision and creative problem-solving from first principles to achieve extraordinary results.
  • Targeting the Impossible: Setting ambitious and actionable goals, forcing creative thinking and obsession with finding unique solutions.
  • Embracing Ambiguity: Recognizing the importance of context, perspective shifts, and balancing audacity with humility in the pursuit of moonshots.
  • Starting with the Hardest Problems: Tackling unsolvable challenges with a component of social responsibility, pushing for solutions that endure for decades.
  • Taking Massive Actions: Going beyond conventional efforts and committing to a 100X level of action to drive extraordinary outcomes.
  • X-Shaped Individuals: Evolution from T-shaped profiles, combining deep expertise with leadership and strategic thinking to lead teams towards massive goals.
  • Cost-Effectiveness of 10X Thinking: Challenging the misconception that 10X thinking is expensive; it involves inexpensive, creative solutions with a higher ROI in the long run.

Read Next: Business Model Innovation, Business Models.

Related Innovation Frameworks

Business Engineering


Business Model Innovation

Business model innovation is about increasing the success of an organization with existing products and technologies by crafting a compelling value proposition able to propel a new business model to scale up customers and create a lasting competitive advantage. And it all starts by mastering the key customers.

Innovation Theory

The innovation loop is a methodology/framework derived from the Bell Labs, which produced innovation at scale throughout the 20th century. They learned how to leverage a hybrid innovation management model based on science, invention, engineering, and manufacturing at scale. By leveraging individual genius, creativity, and small/large groups.

Types of Innovation

According to how well defined is the problem and how well defined the domain, we have four main types of innovations: basic research (problem and domain or not well defined); breakthrough innovation (domain is not well defined, the problem is well defined); sustaining innovation (both problem and domain are well defined); and disruptive innovation (domain is well defined, the problem is not well defined).

Continuous Innovation

That is a process that requires a continuous feedback loop to develop a valuable product and build a viable business model. Continuous innovation is a mindset where products and services are designed and delivered to tune them around the customers’ problem and not the technical solution of its founders.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation as a term was first described by Clayton M. Christensen, an American academic and business consultant whom The Economist called “the most influential management thinker of his time.” Disruptive innovation describes the process by which a product or service takes hold at the bottom of a market and eventually displaces established competitors, products, firms, or alliances.

Business Competition

In a business world driven by technology and digitalization, competition is much more fluid, as innovation becomes a bottom-up approach that can come from anywhere. Thus, making it much harder to define the boundaries of existing markets. Therefore, a proper business competition analysis looks at customer, technology, distribution, and financial model overlaps. While at the same time looking at future potential intersections among industries that in the short-term seem unrelated.

Technological Modeling

Technological modeling is a discipline to provide the basis for companies to sustain innovation, thus developing incremental products. While also looking at breakthrough innovative products that can pave the way for long-term success. In a sort of Barbell Strategy, technological modeling suggests having a two-sided approach, on the one hand, to keep sustaining continuous innovation as a core part of the business model. On the other hand, it places bets on future developments that have the potential to break through and take a leap forward.

Diffusion of Innovation

Sociologist E.M Rogers developed the Diffusion of Innovation Theory in 1962 with the premise that with enough time, tech products are adopted by wider society as a whole. People adopting those technologies are divided according to their psychologic profiles in five groups: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards.

Frugal Innovation

In the TED talk entitled “creative problem-solving in the face of extreme limits” Navi Radjou defined frugal innovation as “the ability to create more economic and social value using fewer resources. Frugal innovation is not about making do; it’s about making things better.” Indian people call it Jugaad, a Hindi word that means finding inexpensive solutions based on existing scarce resources to solve problems smartly.

Constructive Disruption

A consumer brand company like Procter & Gamble (P&G) defines “Constructive Disruption” as: a willingness to change, adapt, and create new trends and technologies that will shape our industry for the future. According to P&G, it moves around four pillars: lean innovation, brand building, supply chain, and digitalization & data analytics.

Growth Matrix

In the FourWeekMBA growth matrix, you can apply growth for existing customers by tackling the same problems (gain mode). Or by tackling existing problems, for new customers (expand mode). Or by tackling new problems for existing customers (extend mode). Or perhaps by tackling whole new problems for new customers (reinvent mode).

Innovation Funnel

An innovation funnel is a tool or process ensuring only the best ideas are executed. In a metaphorical sense, the funnel screens innovative ideas for viability so that only the best products, processes, or business models are launched to the market. An innovation funnel provides a framework for the screening and testing of innovative ideas for viability.

Idea Generation


Design Thinking

Tim Brown, Executive Chair of IDEO, defined design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Therefore, desirability, feasibility, and viability are balanced to solve critical problems.

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