by the “moonshot captain” thing.
Teller briefly paid homage to Presi-
dent Kennedy and the huge scope of
the real moonshot achieved by the
Apollo program of the 1960s. By pro-
moting X as a “moonshot factory” he
suggested plans to crank out Apollo-
style triumphs regularly, at the inter-
section of “huge problems, break-
through technologies, and radical
“Captain of Moonshots” at X (formerly
Google X, now a separate subsidiary of
its parent company Alphabet).a It cen-
tered on the classic Silicon Valley ideal
of being prepared to fail fast and use
this as a learning opportunity. Teller
therefore advised teams to spend the
first part of any project trying to prove
it could not succeed. Good advice, but
maybe not so new: even 1950s “wa-
terfall” methodologies began with a
feasibility stage intended to identify
reasons the project might be doomed.
Still, many of us have had the experi-
ence of putting months, or even years,
into zombie projects with no path to
success.b The HBO television series
“Silicon Valley” captured that prob-
lem, in an episode where a new execu-
tive asked for the status of a troubled
a See https://bit.ly/1TTLG9n
b Ed Yourden wrote an interesting book about
the tenacity of doomed projects: E. Yourdon,
Death March: The Complete Sofware Developer’s
Guide to Surviving “Mission Impossible” Projects.
Prentice Hall, 1997.
project.c Each level of management
sugarcoated the predictions it passed
upward and avoided asking hard ques-
tions of those below it.
To be honest, I was more intrigued
c This incident occurs in “Server Space” (season
2, episode 5) and, ironically, is set in the Hooli
XYZ “moonshot factory”—a rather crude paro-
dy of Google X.
Hey Google, What’s a Moonshot?
How Silicon Valley Mocks Apollo
Fifty years on, NASA’s expensive triumph is a widely
misunderstood model for spectacular innovation.
Astronaut Alan L. Bean walks from the moon-surface television camera toward the lunar
module during the first extravehicular activity of the November 1969 Apollo 12 mission,
the second lunar landing in the NASA Apollo program. The mission included placing the first
color television camera on the surface of the moon but transmission was lost when Bean
accidentally pointed the camera at the sun, disabling the camera.