Should Autodesk have a moonshot?

Adsk_moonshot

While our developers have been full-engaged adding features and correcting defects, others (well, a few of us) have been talking about moonshots. Jon Pittman, VP of Corporate Strategy, had this to say:

"Moonshot" is presently a trendy Silicon Valley meme. It typically means a goal that is ambitious, often impossible to achieve, and one that acts as a catalyst to rally a company. Of course, the term is also often used casually to describe any big, ambitious project, whether or not the project actually merits such a lofty descriptor, or acts as a focusing catalyst. Thus, over time its meaning had gotten watered down and muddy.

The origin of the term "moonshot" is U.S. President John F. Kennedy, who, in 1961, challenged the U.S. to commit — before the decade was over — to landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth. He said, in a famous speech in September 1962 at Rice University:

"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills; because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one that we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win."

Kennedy was speaking at the beginning of the Cold War between the U.S. and the Soviet Union. The Soviets had recently beaten the Americans into space by launching Yuri Gagarin, before the first U.S. Project Mercury launch. Kennedy was concerned that the Soviet Union would dominate space and, in so doing, achieve military dominance over the U.S. and the world. He used this original moonshot challenge to focus and motivate the U.S. to achieving something big and important. Notably, at the time he issued this challenge, we had no idea how we would actually get to the Moon, so his moonshot speech created an audacious goal that required enormous amounts of innovation and creativity to achieve. As we now know, the moonshot goal accomplished what Kennedy intended — even though he did not live to see it, this goal focused the U.S. on creating a space program designed to get a person to the moon. The U.S. achieved Kennedy's goal when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969.

Though many Autodesk customers may simply say "Moonshot, smoonshot. Just fix my AutoCAD bug," clearly there are advantages to having a moonshot project as evidenced by President Kennedy and the space program. Our new CEO, Andrew Anagnost, prefers the term "big problem platform" to moonshot. Consider SpaceX and their moonshot. SpaceX's ultimate goal is to get to Mars; however, SpaceX has outlined the key intermediate steps for that goal — the current one is successfully landing a rocket on a barge. For Autodesk, our ultimate goal is to help everyone imagine, design, and create a better world via the convergence of industries, products, and business models. Is that our version of landing a rocket on a barge? Perhaps that is our version of getting to Mars? Though lofty in nature, I wonder if it is specific enough to be our true moonshot?

To get more specific, is it solving a global problem like climate change as CEO of Autodesk Foundation and VP, Sustainability at Autodesk, Lynelle Cameron, suggested in her LinkedIn article? Though specific, an issue with this is that not everyone agrees on climate change. In addition, shouldn't our moonshot center around "making anything?" Look at how we describe ourselves:

Autodesk makes software for people who make things. If you've ever driven a high-performance car, admired a towering skyscraper, used a smartphone, or watched a great film, chances are you've experienced what millions of Autodesk customers are doing with our software. Autodesk gives you the power to make anything. For more information visit autodesk.com or follow @autodesk.

Autodesk serves 3 primary industries (see industry collections).

  • Architecture, Engineering, & Construction

  • Product Design & Manufacturing

  • Media & Entertainment

Perhaps we should have one moonshot per industry? Perhaps not? We do take what we learn from one industry and try to allow our customers to leverage that in the other two. So maybe one moonshot would cover all three?

With regard to our support of Media & Entertainment and cinematic experiences, I would love to see Autodesk help filmmakers replace 2D projections onto screens with interactive 3D experiences, essentially migrating it from what it is today to an immersive experience.

  • Movie theaters and televisions are replaced by virtual reality (VR) headsets.
  • Stories are told via interactive 3D experiences.
  • Instead of sitting in a seat watching a movie from one point of reference, viewers can navigate the scene from any point and observe the plot as it unfolds.

Alternatively:

  • Instead of using VR headsets, plots could unfold onto local scenery by having them play out using augmented reality (AR) via a smartphone display and its camera. For example, imagine going to your local college football stadium and "watching" the movie Rudy with Notre Dame being replaced by your alma mater.

At this point, the cinematic experience I imagine is the stuff of science fiction. But as we've seen with technology, today's science fiction is tomorrow's reality. What once might have seemed like a moonshot, the wireless communicator on Star Trek, is now merely today's smartphone. So for the industries that Autodesk serves, it can happen. The longest journey, even to the moon, begins with the first step.

So what do you think? Should Autodesk shoot for the moon? Let us know at thelabs@autodesk.com.

Daydreaming is alive in the lab.