Take a leaf out of Google's book - take risks and prepare to 'fail forwards'

At the start of the decade, Google set up a research department dedicated to 'Moonshot' projects. X was launched in 2010 - then called Google X - to solve the world's biggest problems with radical new ideas.

Take a leaf out of Google's book - take risks and prepare to 'fail forwards'

Some of the world's smartest thinkers were funded to come up with ambitious creative solutions by harnessing the power of technology.

Google’s Moonshot department adheres to three creative rules:

  1. It must set out to solve a big problem.
  2. It must propose a radical solution.
  3. It must be feasible through existing or new technology.

This is 'nothing is impossible' problem-solving at its best, with a blank chequebook to help. But there are lessons here for the PR industry when it comes to the scale of ambition that 'moonshot thinking' can create.

Tackling a client's business problem through brave ideas, underpinned with robust strategy, produces famous work that delivers tangible results.

Some brands have embraced 'moonshot thinking', creating campaigns that have shifted the dial. Red Bull's Stratos project, Nike’s 'Dream Crazy' campaign with Colin Kaepernick, and LADbible's 'Trash Isles' all come to mind.

I heard Astro Teller (great name), captain of moonshots (even better job title) at X, speaking at the Cannes Lions festival about having the courage to try, and not being afraid to celebrate failure.

His description of the 'moonshot mindset' stuck with me: "You don’t spend your time being bothered that you can't teleport from here to Japan, because there's a part of you that thinks its impossible. Moonshot thinking is choosing to be bothered by that."

Big ideas are rooted in observations about the client and customer. When was the last time you or your team walked around the client's shop floor, or visited the factory, or spent time talking to the target customer?

Teller says his team run at the hardest problems first, breaking things and proving their solutions are wrong. This is about shifting perspective. Spending longer thinking about the problem than working on the solution might sound counterintuitive, but rooting out the client's real business issue will often present you with the answer.

And if the PR industry wants a bigger piece of the marketing pie, then we need to show how earned-media-first ideas can play across multiple channels as broader integrated campaigns.

To win, we need to embrace research, data and strategic planning. In our endeavour to create bold work we need to be prepared to 'fail forwards' and this inevitably means taking risks and pitching ideas that scare us.

The team at X use the word 'moonshots' to remind them that they need to keep their visions big and never stop dreaming. With a new decade upon us, if the PR industry is going to give adland a run for its money, win discipline-agnostic pitches and attract the best creative talent, then it needs to think bigger in 2020.

Sam Corry is associate director at Taylor Herring

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