Break on through to the other side
ISSUE NO. 4 | JUNE 2021
Getting to yes by saying no
Two letters might be one of your most powerful tools for solving huge problems: NO.
When you have lots of options and optimism but little certainty and data, how do you decide where to spend your time and energy? How do you know which ideas to nurture and which to kill, so you can invest your resources where they’ll have the most impact? This is especially tough when you’re at a place like X, surrounded by hundreds of people whom we’ve hired precisely for their superpower in generating creative new ideas.
Many of X’s cultural mechanisms are designed to help us say smart “no’s”. We push Xers to stay “passionately dispassionate” and coach them to focus on the hardest parts of the problem first (or as our favorite metaphor goes, “tackle the monkey first”). We protect our resources for when we find the truly breakthrough “yes!” that unlocks 10x progress, not just incremental improvement.
This isn’t easy or natural; it takes practice and constant reinforcement. Our brains usually like to add things; it takes more mental energy to consider removing things. The sunk cost fallacy is a well-known psychological trap, yet we all repeatedly fall into it.
In this edition, we’re sharing how X teams think about making trade-offs between what to tackle now, what to chase later, and what to throw onto the scrap heap for good.
As always, we want to hear from you so we can make future editions of this newsletter even more useful; contact us at x-newsletter-feedback@x.team.
Courtney Hohne
Editor & Storyteller for Moonshots
SCT. 01–A Factory Stories 1: When rapid iteration is the strategy
SCT. 01–B Factory Stories 2: Provocations and “provisional specificity”
SCT. 02 The What If? Files: City Snorkel
SCT. 03 News from X
SCT. 04 Career Spotlight
When rapid iteration is the strategy
The sunk cost fallacy is especially sneaky when you’re working with fast-changing, unpredictable technologies. Here’s how Project Mineral, our moonshot for the new era of agriculture, uses rapid iteration as their strategy for cutting through constant uncertainty.
Read more here
Provocations and “provisional specificity”
A good prototype brings people together behind a single vision — or helps them see they disagree. But how do you prototype the future when it’s fundamentally unknowable? Learn more from the design team at X.
Read more here
City Snorkel
The reality of the innovation process is that most of X’s explorations don’t work out. Our archives are littered with ideas that lasted anywhere from a few hours to a few years. We want to share things we’ve learned in case they inspire someone else to come up with something even better.
Huge problem
Air pollution is the single biggest environmental health threat worldwide, collectively robbing us of a year off of global life expectancy. 92% of the world’s population lives in areas with substandard air quality, yet most municipalities lack the funding, ability, and / or influence to meaningfully address the problem. People have few options for mitigating the effects on their health; equipment ranges from the inconvenient and uncomfortable to the bulky and expensive.
Radical solution
A ‘maskless face mask’ — a wearable device that streams a shield of clean air around the face without covering it. Think personal bubbles of clean air around baby carriages or hospital beds.
Breakthrough technology
The “Coandă effect” allows for an air purifying respirator that could be positioned away from the face. Using advanced sensing capabilities, the shield of clean air automatically adjusts vent orientation and airflow rate according to the movement of the body and air currents, immediately alleviating asthma and allergy symptoms and protecting against pollutants.
Cause of death
After developing our prototypes, it became clear that individual respirators weren’t a radical enough solution to address air pollution, which is a complex global problem with many causes and contributing factors, and no one-size-fits-all solution. Ultimately, we killed City Snorkel to make room for more and better ideas.
X’s moonshot for the electric grid
At President Biden’s April Leaders Summit on Climate, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm shared that climate change is "our generation’s moonshot". The announcement teed up one of X’s newest projects, as X’s Audrey Zibelman announced our moonshot for the electric grid. Read more from Astro Teller: why we believe our electric grid is ripe for a moonshot.
Taking moonshots in Israel
X is opening its first international moonshot lab, led by Dr. Adi Aron-Gilat, which will be home to a small Tel Aviv-based team focused on dreaming up and de-risking X’s next generation of moonshot projects. We’re currently looking for scientists and entrepreneurs with expertise in fields like agtech, clean energy, robotics, environmental sustainability, and the future of computing to join our team. If that sounds like you, or someone you know, please apply here.
Calling all moonshot-takers!
We’re looking for inventors, scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs who want to find radical solutions to the world’s most stubborn problems.
+ Partner Success Manager for X’s moonshot in agriculture
+ Perception Software Engineer for X’s moonshot in ocean health
+ Backend Software Engineer for X’s moonshot in ocean health
Explore careers at X
X is a moonshot factory. We’re an eclectic group of inventors and entrepreneurs who build and launch breakthrough technologies that aim to improve the lives of millions, even billions, of people and create large, sustainable businesses along the way. Our goal: 10x impact on the world’s most intractable problems, not just 10% improvement. X is a division of Google parent company Alphabet. Visit us at x.company.
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