Moonshot Thinking and the Grand Challenges

Moonshot thinking is the art of believing anything is possible and solvable despite preexisting capacities. In 1961, John F Kennedy presented to Congress his moonshot idea of putting the man on the moon, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Eight years later Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin explored the moon and lived to tell the tale. Critical, persistent, and complex societal problems require moonshot thinking. The Grand Challenges are pressing socioeconomic issues obstructing development efforts, such as global health epidemics and climate change. Adapting moonshot thinking calls for ambitious and defining goals for developing solutions to the World’s most pressing problems. The aim is to catalyze innovation and advancements within science and technology, and call attention to collaborative mechanisms for problem solving. Grand Challenges allow big and small picture thinkers to come together and create tools and innovations to address issues needed for the advancement of humankind. Overcoming challenges is a natural pursuit of the human race and requires constant forward and positive thinking. In the sphere of Grand Challenges and moonshot thinking, nothing is impossible and our capabilities are contingent upon the efforts and development of each other.

While our society is faced with an abundance of challenges towards development, technological and scientific innovations have provided us with greater understanding and capabilities to address these persistent problems. Grand Challenges require the involvement of diverse actors and perspectives that represent the complexities and localized differences of the problem at stake. Information and communication technologies (ICTS) are just one way to further moonshot thinking and addressing the Grand Challenges. ICTS improve our global network which propel collaboration and facilitate knowledge exchange. Monitoring the Grand Challenges and assessing progress requires multistakeholder collaboration and constant communication, thus ICTs are powerful mechanisms to propel moonshot thinking. Lewis Branstorm states that the heart of the innovation challenge is the process of “moving the products of science into innovations and from there to new industries” (Branstorm). Through this notion, policy makers are advised to deconventionalize policies to better support Jeffersonian science, which combines top-down and bottom-up strategies that encourage all kinds of research and innovation. The role of the government is thus to create policies and funding opportunities in disciplines that lack critical knowledge development.

Addressing the Grand Challenges requires top-down and bottom-up approaches and while these obstacles may yield concrete solutions, working towards these goals and targets provide inherent advancements in knowledge systems, which can be built upon to lead to future solutions. Furthermore, reassessing and reconfiguring the role of policy and policy makers is integral to addressing the Grand Challenges and expanding societies capacities and competences towards science and technological advancements. Individuals should be encouraged to enact moonshot thinking in their daily lives and to present the world with ‘crazy’ ideas that seem impossible. This ideology requires creativity and a sense of fearlessness of the potential societal repercussions of seemingly infeasible notions. Leaders from all different sectors must embrace the possibilities that derive from failure.