Google X’s 3-Step Formula for Changing the World
Imagine a snake-robot designer, a balloon scientist, a liquid-crystals technologist, an extradimensional physicist, a psychology geek, an electronic-materials wrangler, and a journalist walk into a room. What do you get?
Google X, the moonshot (read: an extremely ambitious and innovative project) factory at Alphabet (the parent company of Google), has one purpose: to dream up far-out answers to crucial problems.
This purpose of X (founded in 2010), is not to solve Google’s problems; thousands of people are already doing that. Nor is its mission solely philanthropic. Instead X exists, ultimately, to create world-changing social companies that could eventually become the next Google. The enterprise considers more than 100 ideas each year, in areas ranging from clean energy to artificial intelligence. But only a tiny percentage become “projects,” with full-time staff working on them. It’s too soon to know whether many (or any) of these shots will reach the moon, but several projects—most notably its self-driving-car company, Waymo, recently valued at $70 billion by one Wall Street firm—look like they may.
X is perhaps the only enterprise on the planet where regular investigation into the absurd is not just permitted but encouraged, and even required. X has quietly looked into space elevators and cold fusion. It has tried, and abandoned, projects to design hoverboards with magnetic levitation and to make affordable fuel from seawater. It has tried – and succeeded, in varying measures – to build self-driving cars, make drones that deliver aerodynamic packages, and design contact lenses that measure glucose levels in a diabetic person’s tears.
These ideas might sound too random to contain a unifying principle. But they do. Each X idea adheres to a simple three-part formula.
1. It must address a huge problem.
2. It must propose a radical solution.
3. It must employ a relatively feasible technology. In other words, any idea can be a moonshot—unless it’s frivolous, small-bore, or impossible.
Below, meet some of X’s leading #PurposePioneers implementing this three-part formula.
1. Obi Felten leads Foundry, a division of X tasked with turning scientific breakthroughs into marketable products.
2. Raj B. Apte, the leader of Project Malta, which seeks to store wind power in molten salt.
3. Rich DeVaul, a co-founder of Project Loon, which seeks to provide internet access to remote places using a fleet of balloons.
4. Cliff L. Biffle, a member of X’s Rapid Eval team, which seeks to kill, as quickly as possible, ideas that will ultimately fail.