Google X moonshot projects aim to address big, important, and challenging problems. Teller tells (yay, pun!) that the process they manage a moonshot project is basically to try to find ways to kill the project. The team first tries to identify the bottleneck at a project by focusing on the most important/critical/risky part of the project. Then they try to either solve that hardest part or show that it is unsolvable (in a feasible manner) and kill the project. Teller claims that, at Google X, they actually incentivize people to kill the project by awarding bonuses, and celebrate when a project gets proved impossible and killed. And if a project still survives, that is a successful moonshot project that has potential for transformative change.
Although, this approach looks counter intuitive at first, it is actually a good way to pursue transformative impact and fail-fast without wasting too much time and resources. This can be very useful method for academic research as well.
- Find a use-inspired grand-challenge problem. (This requires creativity, domain expertise, and hard thinking.)
- Try to prove an impossibility result.
- If you prove the impossibility result, that is still nice and publishable.
- If you can't prove an impossibility result, figure out why, and try to turn that into a solution to an almost "impossibly difficult problem". Bingo!
"Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."
-- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle channeling Sherlock Holmes