GHC Reflections: Megan Smith Keynote

The second day of the Grace Hopper Celebration was kicked off by Megan Smith, vice-president of Google[x] at Google. For those unaware, Google[x] is a branch of Google devoted to more physical applications – Google Maps, Google Earth, and engineering for space innovations and methods of providing internet worldwide.

I was fascinated to find out about Google[x] – as searches for information on it yield rather sparse results. Granted, Google[x] is not in my specific field of interest – but hearing about seemingly “left-field” initiatives a company like Google is taking to expand themselves and make a difference was intriguing.

What stuck with me the most of Megan Smith’s keynote was her discussion on moonshots – which is what they see the Google[x] initiative as promoting. “Moonshots” are thinking beyond the purported limits of what can be done and aiming a little higher. One such statement was in the line of: “let’s throw away the thinking of how this product can change a million people’s lives – if we can make it change a billion people’s lives, well, then we’re talking”.

In this vein, moonshot seems to be an adage to the old inspirational saying (commonly plastered on grade school walls) stating “shoot for the moon – even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars”. The idea is that if you raise your bar higher, you will likely exceed your original expectation, even if you miss the new mark. I for one, welcome someone taking that phrase and coining it into a relevant term for innovative fields.

I think the concept behind moonshots bears repeating, and while simple is often forgotten. If you’re going to create a system or technology that works on such massive scales, you’re going to have to start from the bottom up. Fixing a car so that it gets not 60mpg but 600, or even 6000 – that line of thinking requires we reconsider how the car itself works and recreate it. To some it seems like reinventing the wheel – why not just optimize what exists and save time? But “reinventing” the wheel in this complete strip-down style can yield a nonwheel – that is, something that can take the place of the wheel but isn’t, and removes many of the prior issues the wheel had. We like to think by marginally increasing the bar we will save time and money – but why not set entirely new bars that, while intensive, could put us far and away from the competition?

Overall Megan’s keynote reminded me to dig a little deeper, and not to settle for making something “better” but to shoot beyond for perfect and enjoy my landing (albeit a bit short) among the stars of outstanding when I succeed. I look forward to finding more opportunitites for moonshots in my life – and hope she inspired others to as well.

For information on the Google[x] open forum initiative, Solve for [x] which encourages moonshot thinking and collaboration, please visit https://www.solveforx.com

“Solving any problem is more important than being right” — Milton Glaser

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