“In the future of work, we will all be moonshooters.
Well the crazy successful ones will be.”
Today Sam McCracken is the general manager of Nike N7, but it wasn’t always this way. He began working with the revered Nike brand in 1997 as a warehouse worker. Soon thereafter, Sam, – who is a Native American, part of the Sioux tribe of Montana – his mother died of complications from type 2 diabetes. The tragedy made him look around, reflect and notice that many Indian communities were battling epidemic levels of diabetes. Much of the problem stemmed from inactivity and this gave Sam an idea, a crazy big dream: “To make two million native American’s more active and healthy.” When Sam embarked on his questing journey, he wasn’t a high-powered executive or a manager barking orders from head office, but this did not deter him. Instead Sam asked a profoundly important question, a question that all great questers ask: “Is there a better way?” Noting that he worked for the biggest sports company in the world, he said, “I must be able to do something to help my community.”
With no grand plan but believing he could make a difference and inspired by his quest’s destination: 2-million active and healthy fellow natives; Sam focused firstly on taking small steps doing what was possible within his own personal realm of influence. Working with leaders in his community Sam arranged fun runs and walks to promote healthy lifestyles and to incentivise Native Americans to participate. He also begged and borrowed from Nike to provide free or discounted Nike products at these events.
Slowly at first but gradually his efforts began to snowball, growing in size and gaining momentum. He shared his crazy impossible dream with others in Nike and soon a team of designers heard about his quest. Captivated by the idea, they offered to create a shoe designed specifically for Native Americans. This was a “first for Nike,” says Sam, “a product designed for specific foot needs of the community.” The shoe was a huge success even amongst non-native Americans.
Sam recognised though that if he was to achieve his quest, of inspiring 2-million Native American’s to live healthily, more was required than just a new product, he needed a dedicated business unit. So, he took a crazy business plan to the Nike executives and sold them his dream for a new type of Nike division, one which embodied seven Native American principles of sustainability ““ “thinking of the current generation, 3 generations behind and 3 ahead,” and one that focused on using the power of sport to inspire his people to live healthier lives. Kudos to the Nike executives who backed his crazy idea because N7 was born (N for Nike and 7 generations). That was over 10 years ago. Today, Sam is the general manager and Chairman of the hugely successful and iconic Nike N7 ““ an entire category of Nike products, the proceeds of which are used to invest in physical activity for Native American and aboriginal youth in Canada and the United States.
The Rise of the Quester Intrapreneur/Moonshooter
Quester intrapreneur / Moonshooter: (n). 1. A person who works inside major corporations or organisations to develop and promote practical solutions to social, ethical, operational or environmental challenges where progress is currently stalled by market and business failures. 2. A person who applies the principles of social entrepreneurship inside a major organisation. 3. Someone who strives to deliver meaningful benefits by identifying major systemic problems in their world and challenging the paradigms and mindsets of what is deemed to impossible.
Sam is what I call a quester intrapreneur; or a moonshooter; a term increasingly being used for an important category of talent who recognise they can harness the power of big business to forge solutions for many of the world’s greatest problems and at the same time achieve remarkable business results. According to Forbes Magazine, moonshooters are now the most valuable employees at many companies because they positively impact bottom line, brand image and staff morale. They achieve this by coupling the power of big business with their own passionate, spirit and entrepreneurial drive.
Being a moonshooter is not only good for your own happiness ““ you are doing something meaningful and beneficial to society ““ but also your career, as demonstrated by Sam McCracken rise from warehouse worker to GM of Nike N7. It is also good for business:
A 2017 study, involving over 300,000 people, 1,500 companies, 33 countries and 15 industries, revealed that 75% of people believe companies need to do more.
More alarmingly the study discovered that people would not care if 94% of brands disappeared.
Think of all the money being wasted building brands that people just do not care about. Conversely, the brands and companies that people do care about; care about doing meaningful things. These companies are disproportionately full of quester intrapreneurs who want to make a meaningful difference to the world they influence. The biggest single factor that distinguishes companies on quests to make a meaningful difference is that they have a culture of nurturing, supporting and encouraging quester intrapreneurs and these progressive organisations are reaping the benefits.
The study in question revealed that organisations driven by socially minded moonshooters on quests that deliver meaningful benefits:
- Have outperformed their stock market peers by 206% over the last 10 years
- Capture on average 46% more share of wallet
- Are capable of charging 12% more than premium priced brands
These results are significant and compelling. Anyone who believes that organisations cannot do good for society and achieve remarkable business results at the same time needs to look again. A significant shift in competitive advantage has occurred and in the future of work, organisations with a high number of moonshooters will be the winners.
So, the good question is, how do you create a culture where moonshooters can thrive and flourish. To help you I’ve devised a toolkit which will aid you on your own personal and corporate questing journey. It is based on my Achieving Remarkable Things framework which has decoded how leaders on quests to make a meaningful difference are doing seven things really well:
- They understand their circle of impact and how to influence and develop it further.
- They begin their quest by asking: Is there a better way?
- They strive to take their world of influence to higher levels by challenging the impossible.
- They use the power of inspirational quests to give their organisation’s mission and strategies more impact.
- They use their quest’s destination to build agility, resilience and adaptability into their organisation’s culture
- They harness the power of storytelling.
- They dare to strike out and find new ground.
Being a Moonshooter in an established organisational giant is not easy. But, if you have continued reading this article it is likely that you already are or want to be a quester intrapreneur. The challenges you face as you embark and journey, on your quest to use the power of business for good, are numerous but so too are the benefits. Regardless intrapreneurs are never shy of a challenge, it is what excites you and makes you tick.
You will find the naysayers, cynics and non-believers who will tell you it cannot be done. This is because you are kicking against the pricks, going against the grain and challenging the conventional wisdom of how things are done. What you are striving for requires people to change and people fear change especially when they do not understand what the benefits are. As Seth Godin says, “the sceptics will always find a reason. Relying too much on proof distracts you from the real mission, which is an emotional connection.” This is why selling your quest’s dream is such a vital part of being a successful intrapreneur. By using our moonshooter toolkit you like Sam McCracken can ride the wave of meaningful business and achieve remarkable things. Have a look at this inspirational video and use the toolkit to start your own movement
Step 1: Understand your circle of impact, how to influence and expand its influence
- What are your customer’s concerns: Quests are infinitely scalable, you can have a personal, team, divisional, organisational even a country-wide quest. JFK’s quest to go to the moon this decade, would be a great example of the latter. Now whilst we can’t all mobilise our fellow citizens to marshal up the courage to go to Mars that doesn’t matter because as the Sam McCracken’s story shows, we can have a big impact within our own circle impact.
Begin by asking yourself what am I worried about, or, where can I make a real difference in the lives of people who matter most to me? For Sam, it was the endemic levels of diabetes and poor health amongst his tribe’s people brought upon by lack of exercise and poor eating. It’s also important to link your concerns with corporate priorities so invite your team and your customers to a hackathon, dig deep to find issues where your actions could deliver real benefits for both your company and the world you touch.
- Amplify your case: The intersection of pain and passion points are great places to find meaningful quests. Start by looking internally, connect with corporate priorities. What is your CEO and executive team saying? Scan CEO statements, annual reports and interviews. In Sam McCracken’s story, he knew that Nike executives were passionate about demonstrating how the power of sport could bind communities, this created a natural springboard for his own personal quest. By combining Nike’s passion with traditional native American principles for sustainability he was able to offer a very compelling customer proposition and business proposition.
- Identify who you can most readily influence: Sam McCracken displayed supreme understanding of starting where the ripples he created would be felt strongest. He embarked on his quest by engaging with tribal elders and collaborating with people who ran local community events. You do not get to change the world on day one, small purposeful steps make the difference. Internally within Nike he reached out sharing his dream. As momentum grew within native communities he began telling his story to people at Nike who he knew would spread the word. After a while a design team at Nike head office became inspired and joined his quest. Once their new shoe, designed with Native American style and flair, was a success, Sam used this story as the next stepping stone to selling his dream of a dedicated business unit to the Nike executive team. From inception, each next step built on the success of the previous one and like ripples in a pond that reached further and further outwards, Sam spread his big dream until his impact and emotional connection was captured at the most senior levels in Nike.
- Small steps with big aspirations: It’s important not to limit your circle of impact because often your reach is bigger than imagined. At the same time don’t start off trying to touch the stars from the start ““ there is nothing wrong with reaching for the stars but remember a quest is an adventurous journey, and the journey of a 1000-miles begins with a single step, so focus on each step with your ultimate destination only as your sat-nav and guide. The key is to have a big impossible aspiration, and then to focus on the achievable steps that help you progress. You do not even have your plan mapped out because here is the thing about a quest, you are achieving what no one else has done before, or at very least you are trying to do what has been tried but doing it differently. So, there is no roadmap, no one has been here before and this gives you free reign to experiment. Each step takes you forward. Some steps will lead to dead-ends, that’s okay because your quest’s destination is clear, so re-route and try another path. Whether you fail or succeed each and every step is important in carrying you towards your quest’s destination.
If Sam had gone directly to the executive team with his crazy idea of inspiring 2-million Native America’s to be more active and requesting the launch of a dedicated business, it would never have taken off. But by believing in his quest, taking the initiative, building a groundswell of support, demonstrating that risk had been mitigated or shared and that a commercial need was being met and a new market created, well let’s just say, successful people “˜create’ their own luck.
Step 2: Ask the question: Is there a better way?
- Power of asking great questions: Sam’s story shows how the power of a crazy inspirational dream means that it doesn’t matter who you are, what position you hold or which company you work for, anyone, anywhere can achieve remarkable things with a questing intrapreneurial mindset. Even if you are a lowly warehouse worker by asking the question that all great questers from Magellan, to Edison, to Elon Musk have asked: Is there a better way? When Sam McCracken’s mother passed away, he asked the question is there a better way for Nike to connect with the American Native tribes in a manner that elevates the wellbeing of 2-million. By asking this powerful question he concluded there had to be. He didn’t have a specific plan but with conviction and a belief he could make his world a better place he embarked on his quest.
- Listen and be curious: If you want to ask important questions, the most important thing you can do first is listen, identify pain points, burning issues, passions and needs. Then ask questions that dig deeper and then listen again. The one thing people who meet Sam McCracken comment on is how humble and authentic a person he is and how well he listens. Questers understand the importance of listening to their constituency, because if you want to start a movement, you need to have listened to and understood what will make a meaningful difference in their lives.
- Build an army of protagonists: You will need support. Quests are huge challenging encounters. To attract followers, they need to first see your passion, commitment, prospect of results and most importantly be inspired by and emotionally connect with your quest’s dream. Sam turned to local elders and to youngsters in native communities to become fellow protagonists. In particular it has been young aspiring native American athletes and cultural ambassadors who have supported and championed his cause.
“I want Native youth to see themselves when they watch me. Because at one point in time, I was them. Just a kid with a goal and a dream,” Jude Schimmel, Umatilla Tribes Ambassador.
Step 3: Challenge the impossible, go on moonshots
- Find partners to share the risk “You don’t do this alone. You need that external team who believe and support the mission and vision of what we’re trying to get done,” says Sam McCracken. Business executives are wary of risk and initiatives that may misuse capital investment; by finding ambassadors and supporters for his crazy dream Sam was able to not only spread the risk but demonstrate commitment and buy-in from other stakeholders. This had the effect of easing any risk anxieties any of Nike’s executives may have had.
- Recognise that good ideas do not sell themselves. Good ideas are a dime-a-dozen. The easy part is coming up with an idea, it’s giving the idea life that takes effort. Quester intrapreneurs intuitively know that if they do not use their passion and resilience to drive their crazy dream home, then no one will and the dream will die. Sam didn’t come up with his idea and write it down on a suggestion card for the Nike innovation team to discover and sanction. No, he set off on his own adventurous journey and as he journeyed he found followers and travellers who aided and joined him, for part of or all of his journey. Quester intrapreneurs know they have to give their ideas life. This requires dedicating energy outside of the traditional day job, using passion and commitment of an entrepreneur to achieve the end goal. But questers do not mind because in the end they are doing work that is more meaningful than just turning up for 9-5.
- Be a Moonshoter ““ A challenge or a problem shouldn’t relate to how likely you are to achieve it: About 25 years ago a hungry grad student at Stanford University was pulling an all-nighter. The internet was new and exciting in 1993 and he said: “wouldn’t it be great if I could order pizza using the web.” Today the ordering of a pizza by internet is very normal, but back in 1993 it was a big deal, so big in fact it had never been done, no one had been crazy enough to try. The student sat down and wrote a web script that would enable him to fill out an order. But there was a hurdle that had to be overcome, back in the early days of the internet very few people were online or had email addresses. But, they did have fax machines. Ordering a pizza over the internet, by fax therefore seemed a genius solution. So after completing the script and still hungry ““ he was a computer nerd after all and his quest had now become all-consuming ““ he fired up the web server, the buzzing, crackling and crunching he heard meant the connection was successful and he magically sent his pizza order over the internet by fax. And, then he waited and waited, and got hungrier and hungrier. There was after all principle and proof of concept at stake. After a couple of hours and driven by hunger he broke down and phoned the pizza place and said: “You know I faxed you an order about four hours ago!” And the guy at the end-of-the-line said: “Oh, really? Let me go check the fax machine.” It was then that the student, a certain Sergey Brin, realised this internet-fax thing just wouldn’t work because the restaurants that did have faxes were not even looking at them. The idea that had seemed brilliant, failed. Today Sergey says he feels “lucky” that it failed because back then it is very possible that the fax would’ve got picked up and then he would have put a lot of energy into his great idea of ordering pizza over the web using fax machines.
And here is what Sergey says he learnt from that experience: “A challenge or a problem shouldn’t relate to how likely you are to achieve it. The fact is even when you go after more ambitious goals, even if you fail to achieve that big goal, all the side effects that come along the way can be that much more rewarding and significant in their own right.“ Following his failure in the pizza web ordering business Sergey went on to work with Larry Page on data mining and Google was born. The rest as they say is history.
What we can learn from Sergey and Sam is that even if your goal seems crazy impossible, go for it. Just like the Apollo program, the original moonshot, aim for the impossible, even if you do not reach it you just never know what positive side-effects may come along that can be more rewarding and significant in their own right.
We hope you find this toolkit useful as you venture forward creating a world of work that makes you happy and fulfilled. Next month we will share steps D-G, and remember in the words of Taboo Nawasha N7’s Hopi Tribe Mexican Ambassador: “Regardless of your environment or your situation, you can overcome and succeed.”
Step Four: Use moonshots to give your strategies and purpose life
Build me an electric car that will beat a Ferrari or Porsche from a standing start, encouraged Elon Musk, the Silicon Valley maverick entrepreneur and founder of Tesla and SpaceX, to his team of engineers and designers.
Twelve years ago, when Musk set out on his stated purpose to: “move the world towards a solar electric economy”, electric cars were slow, unresponsive and had the reputation of being, well a bit like a milk cart. The moonshot to build an electric car capable of beating a Ferrari was, well bonkers. But inspired by the impossible, crazy quest, the team at Tesla motors did it.
Subsequently each of Musk’s strategies are supported and brought to life by a quest because he knows just how powerfully motivational and meaningful they are to the people he relies on the most to make his dreams a reality.
Here’s the amazing thing, when word gets out, even quester leaders discover that customers jump at the opportunity to become part of and champion a meaningful moonshot. And, they will do it at no cost to you. You cannot beat marketing of this nature. When Musk announced his quest to develop a luxury electric car for the masses, customers pounced at the opportunity to place a deposit of $1,500 for the Tesla 3, a car that was no more than just a dream: to build a high-performance quality electric car for the masses. Customers knew they would have to wait at best a year or more for delivery. Yet, within a week Tesla had already received over $400 million hard cash in pre-order deposits and Tesla’s share price had risen by 4%.
Musk knows that people are influenced more by emotions than facts and logic, he is a master at combining quests that inspire emotions with the facts and science to get the job done. For example. Musk’s most recent ambitious quest is to: “˜Build the largest battery system in the world, within 100 days or it’s free.’ ““ This is a great example of how clear the quest’s destination has to be. There is no doubt what the team is trying to achieve and most importantly the destination is outcome-focused. ““ This facility will be three time larger than the current battery storage facility in the world. Responding to an energy crisis in South Australia, Musk said: “There is certainly some risk, because this will be largest battery installation in the world by a significant margin, the next biggest battery in the world is 30 megawatts.”
Your Task: Ask your team the question: what are the moonshot quests we can embark on to achieve our strategies and purpose? The important thing to recognise is that quests are scalable, you can have a personal, team, business and even a country quest. What is your quest?
Step Five: Use your moonshot’s destination to be agile and resilient
- Ensure psychological safety: A two-year long study of 180 teams undertaken by Alphabet (Google), a company which has embarked on countless meaningful moonshots, discovered that one trait ““ psychological safety ““ stood out and was shared by their most successful teams. Like most leaders, Google Execs had believed that the best teams were those that had the best people ““ the right people, on the right bus ““ You want to employ the best engineer, the best manager and the best scientist and give them the best resource. Right? This is logical, there you have it, the perfect performing project team. But according to Julia Rozovsky, Google’s people analytics manager, “we were dead wrong.” The best teams, according to the study, have psychological safety nets.
Most meetings and projects are full of a veneer of fear. Fear of failure, fear of seeming incompetent, fear of asking perceived silly or inappropriate questions. These fears can immobilise teams and prevent them from achieving their best. These teams feel like they are working in an environment where everything they say or do is under a microscope. “But imagine a different environment. A situation in which everyone is safe to take risks, voice their opinions, and ask judgment-free questions. A culture where managers provide air cover and create safe zones so employees can let down their guard. That’s psychological safety,” says Michael Schneider in an article for Inc Magazine. What Google discovered is that teams with “psychologically safe environments had employees who were less likely to leave, more likely to harness the power of diversity, and ultimately, who were more successful.”
Quest destinations help with providing psychological safety. We all know that every quest undergoes trials and tribulations, failures and setbacks. That is the nature of a quest. It’s the agility and resilience of a questing mind-set that sets moonshots apart from other projects. This improves the chance of success and ensures resilience for the overall projects success.
Your role as a quester leader is to provide the air cover, safe houses and corporate politics no-fly zones where your band of questers can feel safe to dream, explore and do their best work.
- Celebrate failure: If you know the destination you can confidently split teams up and try different “˜routes.’ At Alphabet’s X ““ Google’s innovation and moonshot company ““ failure is actually celebrated and this reinforces the psychological safety net.
People also feel empowered by quest destinations because they know where they are heading and trying to achieve. The team designing the Tesla sports car that could beat a Ferrari from a standing start did not need to ask Elon Musk what to do, it was already crystal clear. Understanding clearly the destination, recognising there are many routes to get there, inspires people to take risks, experiment, fail fast and be courageous because they are empowered to try different things and leaders benefit from being freed up to manage less, keep an eye on the bigger picture and to lead more.
- Balance the WIR index: WIR stands for Weird Impossible Ridiculous; and its perception is perhaps one of the most important and difficult things to balance. Let me explain: Jim Dator, considered the father of future studies, developed three laws of the future. His second law states: Any useful idea about the futures should appear to be ridiculous. This is because as Dator explains: “New technologies permit new behaviours and values, challenging old beliefs and values which are based on prior technologies. It typically seems at first obscene, impossible, stupid, “˜science fiction’, ridiculous. And then it becomes familiar and eventually “normal.”
So, here’s the thing, as a quester intrapreneur your ideas are going to be perceived, at best odd and, at worst, completely ridiculous. You are seeing something others have not or most probably do not want to see. Many people will also have a vested interest in things remaining the way they are. The very nature of challenging the impossible means you are challenging peoples’ paradigm of what they considered normal and true. You are going to hit brick walls and obstacles where you are told to go back to what you were asked to do, stick to the knitting, get back to the basics.
Believing in your quest’s destination is an important motivator here because when you hit a brick wall you can either bash through it by appealing to people’s emotions or find another route and go around the objection.
Some objections may actually be valid so focus on the destination, and not being right all the time. Creating psychological safe environment reinforces not having to be seen as being right all the time allows people to drop their guard and overcome many corporate and personal biases.
Step Six: Be a consummate story-teller
- Raise your emotional argument, not your emotions: It was Desmond Tutu who said: “Do not raise your voice, raise your argument.” Here’s the important realisation from the outcome of Brexit and the Trump presidential election: People will ignore the facts and experts to follow their emotions.
If you want to connect with people forget about relying on the facts and the figures of the business case and focus on creating emotional connections. Yes, facts and figures are still important but recognise that most of the time people go with their intuition and gut feel. Appealing to people’s emotions is therefore more important. Great quester leaders understand this and it’s why they achieve such remarkable results and it is here where the story of your quest is so powerful.
- Ensure you have a stickiness factor: The great quester leaders ensure they appeal to both the rational (right-brain) and the emotional (left-brain). Amidst meeting notes, agendas, emails, and Power Point presentations, people only have the appetite and ability to process a small amount of information. If you want to make your message stick you therefore need to do things differently. Rather than presenting in a meeting room, take your stakeholders to a museum or go for a walk. Getting people to engage with you outside of their traditional setting may facilitate their receptiveness of your ideas.
Sam McCracken would invite key stakeholders to the events so they could see and experience his quest and thereby build an emotional bond with his stakeholder. He also asked his ambassadors to tell their own stories on YouTube and these videos became powerful amplifiers for his quest. The use of striking visuals and humour can be especially useful, as can the display of prototypes.
When Sam went to seek approval for his business plan to launch a separate Nike business division he was able to show the Board examples of the shoes the design team had created for the specific foot needs of Native Americans. All these vivid and engaging communication tools help to emotionally connect people to your story and get them to remember you and embrace your idea.
So, think about your stories and how best to communicate them. Use stories that will help people visualise your end destination and how their involvement can help bring it to life.
- Be Authentic: People want to know you are genuine so share stories of how the quest has or is impacting you. This is an important part of building the psychological safety environment which Google discovered was so important in high-performing teams. Sam’s story of his mother passing away because of type-2 diabetes is a great personal story showing his genuine connection with his cause.
Step Seven: Dare to strike out and find new ground
- Watch out for moonshot drift: Henry David Thoreau said: “Most people live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with a song in them.” Don’t be resigned to that, dare to strike out, dare to embark on quests that make a meaningful difference. The power of business is not being leveraged sufficiently and the future of work will depend upon quester intrapreneurs like yourself.
Thoreau was an American philosopher who believed that inside each of us is something greater waiting to escape, but we have unfortunate tendency to suppress our inner desires. You must not let that happen. When you were young I’m sure you had big dreams. As we grow older and go through the education system and enter work, we get told to comply, get in line to stop dreaming and we begin to believe that quests and grand achievements are only for the special few, maybe rich billionaires or nobility. This is not true. A quote by Walt Kelly reflects this saying: “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”
So here is the thing, coming up with ideas is the easy part. It’s having the conviction to step out and act your art in a way that brings your big idea and moonshot dream to life, that is what makes the difference. It’s up to you to get people to follow your quest to join and support you. It cannot be left up to others you have to have the courage to stand up and say I want to make a “dent in the universe.”
As a quester intrapreneur you are a trend-setter, you have the desire to influence the future but the dream will only come to fruition if you allow and believe in the song that exists within you. As you begin to voice your big dream, the nature of change dictates that people will try to push you back into your box. They will encourage you to water down your big dream. We’ve all heard of or seen great sounding initiatives that get watered down by corporate priorities and politics. Be clear about your destination from the start. Know what your moonshot’s non-negotiables are and do not compromise on these.
- Look after yourself: Challenging the current paradigm and pushing break through thinking is tiring and takes energy. Remember you are taking part in a marathon when everything feels like a sprint. The problem with sprinting is you go fast but not very far and then time quickly catches up and you are behind again. This is the exhausting treadmill of modern day life. It is amazing how often it feels like we are sprinting to just catch up or stand still, let alone get ahead. The solution is simple, get off of the sprint treadmill.
Don’t neglect your health. Take time to meditate, spend time with family, exercise and read widely about different topics. Get up early in the morning, watch the sunrise on your walk. Feed your own inspiration. Your most valuable trait as a quester intrapreneur is your curiosity and this is a skill that needs to be exercised and honed or you will lose it.
We are living during a special moment in history, A remarkable world awaits us, but it will not just happen. The 21st century has the potential to be humanity’s best century. It could also be our worst. It’s up to people like you to become quester intrapreneurs and make the extraordinary happen.