February 17, 2016 psweeze

The Moonshot Blueprint: why the #SuperPowerChallenge matters to New Brunswick

KN-C23643         12SEP1962
President John F. Kennedy Address at Rice University in Houston on the Nation's Space Effort.  Please credit

The world is familiar with JFK’s eponymous moonshot.  His call to action in 1962 at Rice University demonstrated his confidence in American innovation and ingenuity, and his belief that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.  I recently found an article on Medium, that was penned by Astro Teller.  It had me reflect on the purpose of taking moonshots, and what we can learn about it here in New Brunswick.

Astro Teller leads a team of scientists, programmers, engineers, military personnel, and dreamers, all of whom share a vision; that no problem is too big or complex to avoid.  In his article, he shares some of their stories, but more importantly, he talks about their failures.  Astro describes in detail, the main ingredient of their secret sauce, “We spend most of our time breaking things and working to discover that we’re wrong.  That’s it.  That’s the secret.  Run at all the hardest parts of a problem first.”

The Moonshot Blueprint

This approach although not entirely revolutionary, is easier said than done.  Nevertheless, it is this precise approach and methodology that allow the team at Google X to tackle the world’s greatest problems.  Whether it is democratizing internet access to over a billion people in remote regions, smart contact lenses, or driverless cars, this mindset is important to keeping them on track.

Failures aren’t just accepted, they’re encouraged.  Failures don’t lead to reprisals, but are instead met with high fives; as well as promotions.  This is the mindset we need to encourage in the students of New Brunswick. This generation is entering a workforce that is drastically different than the one from just a few short years ago; a new world of innovation in the 21st Century.  As the global economy and markets search for stable footing, students are looking for the best investments for their futures.  Post-secondary costs are rising, and finding a stable and long-term career has become challenging.

This generation needs a vastly different skillset, one that is malleable and adaptable to a volatile and unpredictable job market.  Although it has been talked about since before I started teaching, we need to focus on increasing our students’ capacity in creative problem solving, critical and logical thinking, as well as teamwork and collaboration.  I’ve often heard that due to the very nature of their upbringing, this generation is naturally gifted in some of these domains.  Growing up with the internet in the palms of their hands did not automatically give them creative problem solving skills, nor did they pick it up through osmosis from ubiquitous Wi-Fi.  These skills need to be taught and practiced, and it will require a different approach if we want to do it right.

While it’s easy to find bad news as it scrolls across our screens on a daily basis, it might have been missed that small and medium businesses have proved to be the largest sector of growth in recent years. Entrepreneurship has become a boon for the little economy that could, North of the 45th. Entrepreneurship and creativity, passion and hard work all go hand-in-hand.  It’s naturally agile, naturally curious, and the perfect petri dish for students to gain the skillsets I mentioned earlier. These techniques have even permeated into other domains, and has allowed us to tackle social problems in a new way. Systemic issues that have become commonplace in today’s society are now being tackled, and social entrepreneurship has unlocked our ability to find solutions to these problems.

Exposing our students in school to the concept of social entrepreneurship and providing them with real world problems to solve not only engages and inspires them in their education, it also gives them ownership, and normalizes the subject for them.  This generation needs to see entrepreneurship not as a fallback position, but as a field well worth pursuing.

In less than a month on March 4th, students from across New Brunswick will be invited to submit their entries to the Student Superpower Challenge. Brilliant LabsCHAT to the FutureCBDC and Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge have joined forces to encourage and support students to combine innovation, technology and entrepreneurship to solve the everyday problems they witness throughout their city, province and country, and seek solutions.

For more information, check out the Student Superpower Challenge Media Release. 

Also published on Medium.