New Organizational Moonshots course gets students thinking big and bold

Henry Chesbrough

The first real moonshot was a literal one: When Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon in 1969. It was the culmination of the space programs that President John F. Kennedy had laid out in a speech eight years earlier.

The term came back to Earth with that Apollo mission and is now used to describe projects that address huge problems, propose radical solutions, and use breakthrough technologies — like Google Glass and the driverless car. President Obama empowered his vice president, Joe Biden, to head up a “Cancer Moonshot” — an initiative to try bold new approaches to curing cancer.  

Now Berkeley Haas adjunct professor Henry Chesbrough, who directs the Garwood Center for Corporate Innovation and is known as the father of “Open Innovation,” has turned made the concept the center of a new course called “Organizational Moonshots.”

“I wanted students to be aware that there are alternatives to the highly incremental, very short-term approach to innovation that I’ve observed in corporate America,” says Chesbrough. “Moonshots can be done in many different ways and they don’t always require a huge bureaucratic organization behind you.”

To bring these ideas to life, Chesbrough invited innovation leaders who inspire him, includingThomas Kalil, former deputy director for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, who described the National Institute of Health’s BRAIN Initiative, which relies on public and private resources to advance understanding of the human brain; Arati Prabhakar, a former head of DARPA—an arm of the U.S. Department of Defense that used an agile, rotating workforce to develop breakthroughs such as the Internet; and Sylvia Smullin, a physicist who works on early pipeline projects, and Hans Peter Brondmo, general manager of robots, both of GoogleX: The Moonshot Factory.

“He starts with this very ethereal idea and then brings in speakers that make these ideas seem very possible,” said MBA student Chandana Haque.  “You come out of the lecture thinking, ‘Wow, this is totally feasible. Why isn’t everyone thinking this way?’”

Read more on the Berkeley Haas website