Behind the Moonshot: What can we do to revolutionize education?

A Conversation with Astro Teller

Shanzeh Haji
4 min readMay 15, 2023

Recently, I attended an AMA with Astro Teller, the captain of X, Google’s moonshot factory. The insights from the conversation fundamentally challenge conventional thinking and provide a fresh perspective on how we might approach our work and projects.

The amazing Astro Teller ⬆️

I realized how contrasting the opinions of Astro Teller was in comparison to the current education system. His underlying message was to fail fast and continually challenge ideas or solutions. It’s less about playing a system where students are encouraged to think linearly in order to get a single letter that represents their achievement. At Google X, radical solutions and pivoting are celebrated.

Through the conversation, I understood firsthand how poorly current schooling prepares us to be needle-movers and make a dent in the world. I am sure that you have heard many times that some aspects of school are just outdated.

In this reflection, I will be sharing three takeaways from the conversation that pushed me to untrain and reevaluate my thinking.

1. Embrace Smart Risks:

Rapidly learning about a solution rather than dwelling on the problem is key. This emphasis on pace and progress encourages trying new things and making swift decisions. There’s a strong focus on building upon existing research and knowledge rather than trying to invent from scratch. Efficiency is celebrated, and reinventing the wheel is avoided.

Recognizing that spending substantial amounts on preliminary information may not always be practical, hence finding ways to learn quickly and efficiently is crucial. Astro explained how he wanted X to be a zero-research facility. It’s all about moving quickly and separating yourself from the solution.

There’s a focus on smart risks. In some environments, playing it safe is the norm, but at X, they believe that taking calculated risks can lead to greater security and success.

The focus is not just on ‘what’ you do but ‘how’ you do it. The process and approach are as important as the final outcome. Feasibility isn’t only about technical capability; it involves looking at who wants a solution, who’s willing to pay for it, and whether you can provide it cost-effectively. This broader perspective on feasibility encourages a comprehensive analysis before even starting a project.

2. Encourage Continuous Learning and Unlearning:

The environment at X encourages continuous learning and unlearning. It recognizes that unlearning old, ineffective habits can be difficult but is necessary for progress.

There’s a focus on learning from both successful and unsuccessful endeavours. Failures are seen as opportunities to gather evidence and learn, not as setbacks. The emphasis is on learning most quickly about a solution, which encourages an environment of constant growth and development.

It’s all about thinking unconventionally and challenging the status quo.

He described the concept of unconventionality by asking “Do you want a chair, or do you want an ass-levitating device?”

Innovation involves exploring uncharted territory, which requires being open to new ideas and willing to let go of old ones.

It’s about not clinging to a project or an approach just because you’ve invested time and effort into it. Instead, it’s recognizing when it’s time to unlearn, adapt, and shift gears. It’s about learning from the experience and applying that new knowledge to the next project or challenge.

3. Unify Under a Common Goal to Promote Collaboration:

Teller’s notion of “being on the same team with a goal of changing the world” speaks to the importance of a unified vision. In any innovative endeavor, there should be a collective commitment to a larger purpose.

This sense of unity can motivate teams to overcome challenges and achieve extraordinary things. Teller stressed that everyone at X is, first and foremost, part of the X team. The specific project or subgroup they belong to is secondary. This speaks to the importance of aligning everyone in the organization around a shared mission or goal.

It’s also important to foster a collaborative environment. If someone else is already doing something faster or better, rather than trying to compete directly, it may be more productive to pivot and find another way to contribute. This promotes a mindset of collaboration over competition.


X operates as an ‘impact factory’, focusing on tangible effects rather than being a traditional research organization. They strive to comprehend the world and then apply this knowledge in beneficial ways. Rather than seeking the ‘perfect’ problem, the focus is on being flexible with the idea and exploring different combinations of solutions to optimize the output.

They are not so much concerned with ‘inventing’ as they are with utilizing existing knowledge and resources in novel ways to create a significant impact.

Teller’s words emphasize a collaborative, mission-driven approach to innovation, an acceptance of risk, and a culture that celebrates success and learns from failure. These principles can be beneficial not just in a “moonshot factory” like X, but in any organization seeking to foster innovation and make a positive impact on the world.

I appreciate your reading, and I hope you learnt something 😊. Feel free to connect with me on Linkedin and send me a note if you enjoyed reading this post or have any questions. You can also follow my Medium page and remain updated on all the content I produce!



Shanzeh Haji

I'm a 15y/o longevity enthusiast on a mission to make a positive contribution to society by exploring ways to increase lifespan