Exploring the Role of Enlightened Leadership in Moonshots

Who will emerge to become the enlightened leaders to spearhead our cybersecurity moonshot?

No one knows, but that’s not so unusual in the beginning as moonshots develop momentum. In a study of moonshots I discovered leaders often emerge at just the right time and often weren’t considered front runners to lead their moonshots early on.

Those who doubt our cybersecurity moonshot is possible often are looking through the lens of what is possible in the future based on the way things are today. Moonshots don’t work that way.  They require visionaries who can see our moonshot is part evolution and part revolution. These visionaries will drive the types of transformational innovations I explore in my book The Cyber Conundrum, How Do We Fix Cybersecurity? 

Let’s explore two leaders who had a profound impact on the moonshots we explore in the book.  

If you were to ask the political elite in Britain in 1935 who was best positioned to protect Britain against Hitler’s rise, Winston Churchill would not have been on anyone’s list. He spent much of the 1930s in political exile, far from the centers of power - unable to overcome the stigma from mistakes made early in his career. His staunch warnings about trying to appease Hitler stood in stark contrast to the political will of the time - avoid another war with Germany at all costs. After it was apparent the Munich Accords failed to stem German aggression, Churchill was invited back to government and eventually became their wartime Prime Minister.

Similarly, just seven years before President John F. Kennedy launched the program to send the first humans to the moon, he was merely a freshman senator from Massachusetts. He was writing his book Profiles in Courage which ultimately won the Pulitzer Prize and launched him onto the national stage. He lost his bid to join the national Democratic ticket as Vice President in 1957, but ultimately won the 1960 election. The Cold War and the American Civil Rights movement were both gaining momentum when in 1961 Kennedy’s call to action challenged America to send humans to the moon by the end of the decade.

Both leaders were able to see into the future and realize that while we didn’t know how they were going to achieve their objectives, they must galvanize public opinion and resources needed to initiate moonshots.

It is also important to note moonshots need to be co-led or championed by coalitions. The March of Dimes, formed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Basil O'Connor raised billions (in today’s dollars) to eradicate polio and improve treatment for those who were already stricken by the disease. Much in the same way, Churchill cobbled together an unlikely allied coalition with FDR from the US and Joseph Stalin from Russia that ultimately defeated the Axis powers in Africa, Europe, and Asia.

While we might not know who will lead our cybersecurity moonshot, they’ll need to have national and international influence, have the vision to inspire change and have the capacity to overcome the strong forces that are promoting the status quo.