Transforming mental scaffolding for companies to achieve moonshots

By Prof. J Aditya of WSB

Our everyday lives that determine our actions are driven by invisible mental scaffolding. Mental scaffolding is like a spreading activation model, in which, our brain is a metaphorical computer and the brain associates with nodes, which are bits of information.

The way in which markets shift and consumers behave in the way we cannot fathom are the results of invisible mental scaffolding. Due to our general proclivity for default thinking method, our invisible mental scaffolding is prone to numerous biases. For example, emotion is always accessible before cognition. Therefore, there is a need for  framing of visible and operational scaffolding. This is an important step for companies to achieve moonshots rather than just experience incremental growth. Employees who can identify and further build on visible scaffolding may be galvanized by clearly pronounced challenges faced by a company. Challenges are the core of moonshots. First, in the business context, a moonshot is an invincible challenge or set of actions undertaken by a company, in which, the outcome has a substantial boon to a civilization. For example, the concept of driverless cars is a moonshot undertaken by Google, Apple and various other companies. A more enormously challenging moonshot is the idea of Mars colonization by entrepreneurs like Elon Musk.

Transformation or reconstruction of mundane mental scaffolding changes the way we associate a problem. Following are the propositions to transform our mundane mental scaffolding into an amazing problem-solving model to enable companies to achieve moonshots.

Proposition 1 # First principle method 

First principle method is the process of questioning conventional wisdom by contemplating the reconstruction of fundamental principles about something. Every scientific principle is challenged, and all the assumptions related to the scientific principle are scrutinized. Everything boils down to fundamental truths and reasoning is done from the bottom at each level. However, the real question is whether a change of reasoning at each level leads to betterment of a new idea or a product. This is where mental scaffolding comes into the picture. The first question to be addressed is whether mental scaffolding is visible and operational. The second issue to be addressed is whether the structure of mental scaffolding is strong enough to develop ideas that can take a moonshot.

For instance, Elon Musk reanalyzed the fundamentals of propulsion, aerodynamics, thermodynamics and gas turbines to develop a Space X reusable rocket. Space X then went on to become a company that achieved a moonshot.

Proposition # 2 Thinking in a retro-causal manner :

Most of the strategies designed by companies are “present forward” in nature. Strategies that are to be employed in the future are based on the present conditions and resources. When there is reconstruction of mental scaffolding, employees may be inclined to think in “future back” approach. This is the process of thinking in a retro-causal manner. Retrocausality is backwards causation, in which, events in the future affect the present scenarios. Moonshots are the keystone of retrocausality. First, there should be an imagination of a moonshot scenario to be achieved in the future. Then , the thinking process can flow backwards to determine the strategic actions to be implemented in the present. For example, John F. Kennedy contemplated in a retro-causal manner to land a man on the moon. Landing a man on the moon was the future scenario and then there was backwards thinking to do an assessment of technological resources that can be developed in the present.