Behind the doors of the moonshot factory

The Atlantic published an inside look at Google X, Alphabet’s specialized R&D division, in their November issue. Google X is essentially a think-tank whose mission is to come up with crazy ideas, and either prove or disprove them. I really enjoyed the look into their “culture of failure,” the way they question everything, and try to break everything down in order to find the right solutions to the right problems.

Most people don’t want to do the hardest thing first. Most people want to go to work and get high fives and backslaps. Despite the conference-keynote pabulum about failure (“Fail fast! Fail often!”), the truth is that, financially and psychologically, failure sucks. In most companies, projects that don’t work out are stigmatized, and their staffs are fired. That’s as true in many parts of Silicon Valley as it is anywhere else.

And they seem to be working on some pretty cool problems: renewable energy, high-speed energy for all, self-driving cars, etc. On the other hand, it’s Google, so, you know, I don’t exactly trust their motives. But still, I’m glad someone is out there trying to invent new shit.

Then again, there’s this guy:

Just beyond the drones, I find Astro Teller. He is the leader of X, whose job title, captain of moonshots, is of a piece with his piratical, if perhaps self-conscious, charisma. He has a long black ponytail and silver goatee, and is wearing a long-sleeved T‑shirt, dark jeans, and large black Rollerblades. Fresh off an afternoon skate?, I ask. “Actually, I wear these around the office about 98 percent of the time,” he says. I glance at an X publicist to see whether he’s serious. Her expression says: Of course he is.