Tethering the Void Between Moonshot Ideas and Customer Connection

FEI Conference, Boston, MA, 2016—Donna Sturgess, Executive in Residence, Carnegie Mellon University


“I’ve been spending a lot of time in the future,” is how Sturgess opened this evocative session. “Things get funded at Carnegie Mellon for big, breakthrough ideas, exponential innovations.”


Moonshot ideas is the recurring theme. What is Moonshot thinking? How does it work?


“Technology runs far ahead of the customer—and the sweet spot is relevance and shape-shifting technology.”


Here are two examples: Self-driving cars and big data.


Self-driving cars

The concept for autonomous vehicles began in 1939, but the ones we know began in 1984. This concept has been brewing for a long time.


“This car can drive from Pittsburg to Seattle without a human,” said Sturgess, showing a Cadillac. “We only need humans to fill gas and change oil.” We took it to Washington where there is concern about traffic patterns many years from now.


The cars are here, but policies are keeping them from being on the road. Yet, Congress realized the technology is ready.


One driving question is “what do people want in a self-driving car?” Here surveyed 1,000 people. Here are some of the responses:

  1. Want to connect to home system
  2. Want my car to be designed like an office
  3. Want my car to be a mobile medical office
  4. Want to have a party car.


Understanding the context helps design the experience. Yet, people have to see the future to believe in it.


Big Data

Big data versus little data. “The moonshot here is how advanced sensors can be. How specific can the use be? For example, if we add sensors in devices to be mindful when elderly people fall, it would be a win.”


There is an “enormous hunger” for services and product for sensors and the elderly.


Perhaps sensors can be used with infants, too. “how can sensors add real value?”


In this case, the sensor can measure your gait and let you know that you are moving toward a condition to anticipate falls.


Zooming out, Sturgess claims that the public is not open to the quantum speed of innovation. “I feel pressure where the future is being created, but we haven’t defined what kind of future we want.”


“Not until you are willing to abandon your world view, can you see new mental models,” she says.


There is a correlation in between the earth and the moonshot ideas. This gulf between the two is the road to opportunity.