Few will criticize Google’s Lunar X Prize. It’s a brilliant innovation challenge. But it’s also misguided.
Google says it will pay $20 million to anyone who can send a robot to the moon, land, travel 500 meters, and transmit a high definition video back to Earth. All by December 31, 2015.
Brilliant. But shallow.
Google is a brilliant innovator. It’s lunar challenge will indeed foster focus on its goal. It may indeed produce a breakthrough. Undoubtedly it will produce lots of press. Hard to argue with all that.
The approach is also an excellent lesson in how to structure innovation:
- Dangle a carrot ($20 million to the winner)
- Define specific success measures (make it to moon, land, travel 500 meters, transmit HD video back to earth)
- Set timeline (complete task by December 31, 2015)
Here’s what’s missing: Purpose.
Chanda Gonzales, Senior Director of the Google Lunar X Prize says that, “We are encouraged to see this prize pushing the industry to take risks and invest in cutting-edge technologies to support lunar exploration, which will result in an entirely new economy around low-cost access to the moon and beyond.” Technology-driven innovation at its best.
Google’s Lunar X Prize misses a huge opportunity: create a shared purpose that’s grounded in something more deeply meaningful for people, society, and the future. Low cost space travel is great, but why do we need it? What will it do for us? How will it help humankind?
As John F. Kennedy once said, “efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.” Kennedy didn’t put a man on the moon just to do it. There was a broader purpose involved. Kennedy didn’t just want to establish the US as the top dog in its cold war with Russia. Putting a man on the moon was also about healing American culture itself – by rallying the country around a shared purpose to help mend the wounds from the splinters caused by racial inequalities and divides highlighted during the civil rights movement.
Google says it wants to “break open space” just like Charles Lindbergh broke open the field of aviation. Great. But if Google continues to frame its big hairy audacious goals primarily using a technology lens, it risks losing touch with the deeper human needs, values, and contributions that really matter to the vast majority of our non-techie world.
When it comes to creating and spreading game changers that help us leapfrog to the next big thing, this lesson is as important as the brilliant approach the company uses to get people to jump through hoops for its $20 million golden carrot.