This week, I'm thrilled to be featured on Coryn Quester's “Discover What's Possible” Podcast! In the interview, we talk about everything from the ‘Why' of FI, to the most challenging aspects of financial independence for those just starting out. But one of the more interesting questions she posed really got me thinking. ‘What's your Moonshot?'
Google's research labs refer to their ambitious projects as ‘Moonshots'. Moonshot thinking, so it goes, is the process of setting really large, ambitious goals that are usually orders of magnitude more aggressive than those set by SMART principles. Also known as ‘10x Thinking‘ in the business world, the logic here is that you shoot for the moon so that, even in a worst case, you can ‘land among the stars‘.
This sounds nice and all, if a tad trite, but does it actually work? Shouldn't we all stick to the tried and true, safe and effective strategy of incremental progress instead? When I was in business school pursuing my M.B.A., this was indeed what was parrotted. Giant leaps, while possible, add more risk than shareholders would like to take on. Just focus on incrementally increasing profits and shareholders will be happy.
This is where I passionately disagree with mainstream business teachings. Just as we in the FIRE community scoff at the standard “save ten percent of your income” advice, so too I scoff at the idea of small incremental gains with small, easy to achieve goals. Instead, what I've seen is that ‘giant leaps' not only provide companies with key strategic advantages, but they also create entirely new markets with essentially unlimited growth potential. And having the audacity to reach for giant goals can pay off just as well to individuals as it can to companies.
When Walt Disney bet every dollar he had on the idea of a feature-length animated film, the world scoffed. Snow White was dubbed ‘Disney's Folly' in the years leading up to its premiere. Who would ever want to view a two-hour animated feature?
When Steve Jobs announced the iPhone on stage in 2006, other phone manufacturers scoffed. Who in their right mind would ever pay over $500 for a phone? At that, a phone with no physical keyboard?!
When Elon Musk set the goal of creating self-landing reusable rockets just a few years ago, people in both the scientific and business communities cast strong doubts. Surely if economical, self-landing rockets were possible, NASA would have solved it by now!
(Above: The reaction video for the first successful SpaceX vertical rocket landing. I dare you to watch without grinning from ear to ear… it's impossible!)
Starting to see a pattern here? Setting big goals has huge potential payoffs. Each of the examples above created new markets and capabilities that previously didn't exist, cementing each of these as companies as major players in the global economy. Disney went on to create a previously non-existent theme park and entertainment empire. Apple became the worlds first trillion dollar company. And Elon? Well, he's just getting started.
The mission of Tesla isn't to create the best electric cars. It's to “accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy”. The mission statement of SpaceX isn't to create the best reusable rockets. It's to “enable the space capabilities necessary to enable a self-sustaining human civilization on Mars and make life multi-planetary.” Now THAT's a moonshot!
Sure, you could argue I cherry-picked the success stories and ignored the dozens of other failed moonshots of history. Fair enough. Moonshots are hard, by design. Only a small percentage of them succeed. But what about all the people who played it safe and never attempted their moonshots? Well, exactly NONE of them succeeded! This is why setting big goals is so important. The more who do, the more who succeed, and the more we all collectively benefit.
Certain CEOs are catching on. Virgin CEO Richard Branson was recently quoted saying the following:
“When positive, heartfelt values are instilled in your team, they will be empowered, they will feel appreciated and know they are part of a bigger mission than just making money. This will come across in the way they treat your customers, who in turn will prove to be more loyal to your brand and service. And, in the end, this will reflect positively on your profits too.”
Richard gets it. When you optimize solely for quarterly profit, you always put short-term thinking first, and you very well may lose out in the long run. Steve Jobs always reiterated that by making the best possible product, profits would never be a problem. And he's right!
Profits are a wonderful side effect to doing things right, but not the goal. In the same light, in the personal finance world, financial independence isn't the goal: it's simply a side effect of doing things right. So the goal shouldn't be to make money or reach FI. It should be something.. big, and full of purpose. This is where moonshot thinking comes in.
Having a Moonshot isn't just for companies and CEOs. It has the power to enact positive change at the individual level, too, and is a powerful technique we can all benefit from.
In my interview with Coryn Quester, the moonshot I gave is relatively simple: I want to help millions of people reach financial independence! That's a lofty goal, but… why? So I can create a demand for lucrative financial independence courses I could sell? So I can make more money off of affiliate links?*
Nope! It's because I firmly believe that financial independence can bring about real positive change in the world. Skeptical? Consider this: When money is not a concern in someone's life, they're more likely to be happy. No more fights with your spouse about bills and debt. No more dreading the work week. No more participating in “the grind” because you need to make money. Instead, financial independence can help bring real meaning and purpose to your life, allowing you to focus on your passions, regardless of the paycheck.
Financial independence also has the ability to reduce crime and corruption. It helps people think clearly, without fear. If you never need to worry about money, you don't need to steal, and you become less susceptible to bribery and potentially malicious management. More and more people will be able to live according to their values and morals, without ever having to sacrifice these for money.
I really like the water analogy. If I have enough water, I really don't want too much more. I have running water in my house. I have the proverbial ‘enough‘ discussed in ‘Your Money or Your Life'. If an employer was offering me a two-ton pallet of water in exchange for my software engineering services, I'd laugh, and then decline their offer. But what if I were literally dying of thirst? I'd probably be willing to lie, cheat, and steal to get more water.**
Sure, there will always be greedy people who, no matter how much money they have, will still want more. But this is a small fraction of people; for the majority, if their financial troubles are resolved, they'd have the opportunity to live a life full of meaning in accordance with their values. This can lead to true happiness. And happy people are less stressed, less likely to have road rage, and maybe, just maybe, less likely to shoot people in a movie theater or nightclub***?
Wishful thinking? OK, let's bring it back down to earth with something concrete: The wealthy tend to donate orders of magnitude larger sums to charitable causes than the working middle class. Recently, MMM donated his first one hundred thousand dollars. That's HUGE compared to my measly United Way paycheck deductions I gave when I was employed.
I realized pretty quickly that many people pursuing FI end up having way more than they need thanks to the magic of compound interest, and their capacity to give becomes enormous. If more and more of us follow this path, we could have the power to make significant impacts on global problems like poverty and hunger. This makes our cities and towns, and in turn, the entire world, a much better place to live!
There's another positive in all this FIRE spreading business as well: a natural side effect of financial independence, saving money and reducing lifestyle inflation, is a significant reduction in resource consumption, which is good for the environment! It's for this reason that Mr. Money Mustache has said his not-so-secret moonshot is to in fact help save the world with his ironic cult.
So that's my moonshot: delivering the idea of financial independence to millions of readers. De-mystifying concepts like wealth accumulation, growth, and drawdown to help empower the next generation of free people. Free from the shackles of jobs they despise. Free from financial stress and pressures to act against their values. Free to pursue lives of happiness, purpose, passion, and creativity. And maybe, just maybe, with a side effect of helping reduce consumption, saving the environment in the process.
Is it ambitious? Hell yeah! But if I don’t aim big, what’s the point? Why get passionate about anything? Why do anything significant? When JFK addressed the nation in his famous 1962 speech, he summed things up moonshot thinking pretty succinctly, and, well, literally:
“We choose to go to the Moon! We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.”
So, what's your moonshot? What do you want to do to change the world? If you didn't need to work for money, what would you spend your time on?
Thanks again to Coryn for having me on her ‘Discover What's Possible‘ podcast, and introducing me to moonshot goals. If you haven't already, head over to her podcast and subscribe. You'll be glad you did!
*Full disclosure: I did earn around $50 last month on blog monetization via affiliate links. This pretty much pays for the cost to keep things running, and I have no intention of turning this into a huge, profitable website. That would create wayyyy to much work for this lazy retired guy. 😉 Also I hate ads, and can't stomach the idea of peppering the site with them.
**I've actually seen insanity like this break out here in Florida in the hours before a hurricane hits. Trust me when I say it isn't pretty.
***The Pulse nightclub incident was close to home for us here in Florida. I'm not saying FI can solve all of the world's problems. But if it can reduce the occurrence of these type of events, say even by 1%, then I'll do everything I can to spread the word.
Interested in starting your own Financial 180? You've come to the right place. The math is easy: create a gap between what you earn, and what you spend. If you can save half your income, your working career will only be around a decade long! Want to shorten it even more? Read on to see exactly what expenses the wife and I cut from month to month. Track your progress against the milestones of FI, and gradually build up your own savings snowball. Check out the books and links in our resources section and jump-start your journey to FI. The you ten years from now will be glad you did!