A moonshot thinker called Naveen Jain

It must have been a dream come true witnessing Naveen Jain, author of Moonshots live and addressing moonshot thinkers at a startup incubator mentorship session. I had envisioned and modeled moonshot thinkers in my first book Vertical Living and went all out to describe their lifestyle traits. Lo and behold! I see a walking talking miracle of a person oozing away in inspiration and guiding young moonshot thinkers to seek the untrodden path.

He makes his way into the audience bubbling with energy for a post-lunch session, assumes a commanding posture and says, “Let’s have a chat, no slides, please. “ He opens his talk asking us to name our hobbies or passions:

“Passion about an idea is for losers, obsession to seek solutions is what you need if you want to change the world” he responds.”

“Every morning if you do not jump out of bed obsessed with a problem, then life is not quite happening yet”. His morning routine, he proudly shares is to read the top scientific journals and get updated on the most cutting edge research. He thinks smooth means dead, be it your startup or organizational growth chart or your heartbeat signal, smooth patterns are not healthy.

It is much easier to pursue audacious goals, it is easier to start from the top. I have no background in healthcare but I’m here trying to make illness optional.

In the medical industrial complex, people make money with your illness, with Viome, I’d like to work towards your health. This vision drew interest from IBM Watson, collaborators from Los Alamos lab i.e., scientists, and volunteers to come up discussions on how disease begins, since chronic diseases are occurring a result of treatments meant for episodic illnesses. This has also drawn a lot of interest from venture capitalists who offer to help us out, we do not pursue them, really.

40 trillion microbes create 20K genes and this is totally mind-boggling. Microbes are more powerful than humans, microbes were crucial in shaping the story of human creation; just like humans created AI, trillion microbes created humans.

Mitochondria were created to keep us in check. Vagus nerve helps us control the gut-brain chemistry, cravings, etc. Micro-RNA interference controls amygdala and all these discoveries were so fascinating leading me to the journey of Viome”. My stint as the co-chair of ICC Wellness has enabled me to closely observe case studies from doctors and patients who reversed chronic illnesses and I could not agree more with what Naveen is trying to do with his current moonshot Viome.

“Both education and healthcare systems are currently broken but they’re perfectly doing what they are designed to do. Since these are problems where solutions need to be redesigned for a billion people, these are truly the problems worth working on. The future will be about lifelong learning (ref. Naveen’s Forbes article on education), degree education will make you irrelevant if you stick with it only. Technology is going to connect you with more people.

You don’t need mentors really, peer to peer learning is equally powerful. Answer the question — why do you want to educate children? and you will be able to foresee the future of education, says Naveen Jain

as he talks to his mentees on their journey to their moonshots. He specifically addresses the entrepreneurs and their teams adding,

“Instead of an entrepreneur telling his team what to do, make the team thirsty by giving them purpose”

He places supreme emphasis in asking the right questions. He says, “Moonshots are all about asking the right questions. Not knowing much is a plus, experts are incrementalists, not knowing helps you rethink and think big by asking the right questions. Why would you like to go to the moon? The answer would be to save humanity. An entrepreneurial approach can avert catastrophe. Another example, bacterial species survive in radioactive waste, they can thrive in radiation, in that case, can humans on the moon become radiation resistant — using CRISPR?

Every microbiome company wanted to know what microbiome exists in the gut. That was the wrong question to ask. Genes are not responsible for sickness, their expression is. The right question is what are these microbes producing. The same organism can produce 10 different things under different conditions. Obesity, Diabetes, Alzheimer’s all of them have pathways in the immune system ( they trick the immune system), even cancer spreads being heavily influenced by the microbiome. Experiments reveal that transferring the gut microbiome of hefty mice into thin mice causes obesity in them”

As I am drafting chapters for my second book on problem-solving templates for startup journeys, his take on asking the right questions before you begin working on your startup idea particularly appeals to me. In an answer to what were the questions he asked when he started his company Moon Express to redefine possibilities, he replies

“Always think if this problem will exist in 5–10 years. Ask why this problem exists, and get to that first. “

“If we take an example of how to ask the right question: Why do we eat food is a much better question to ask versus how can we grow food on the moon? What is the need for energy and nutrition? Nutrition = hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. Why can’t we carry nitrogen from earth to moon? When you solve a problem, are you solving root cause or symptom? If the problem is about water scarcity, are you trying to solve for the lack of fresh water versus doing something to free up fresh water? I would opt for the latter”

In his answer to what makes an effective pitch, he says with your pitch, “Can you imagine — Can you visualize? Can you capture people’s imagination with your idea e.g., look at #metoo movement, it was empowered by sharing a story which could effectively reach your imagination. If you look at my pitch for Viome I usually say imagine a world where your loved one does not suffer from chronic illness, instead of saying we build gut microbiome testing kits.”

On being questioned about how to deal with inequality? Naveen readily responds,

“Inequality is created by a scarcity mindset. An abundance mindset is required to reverse this. The reason we attach value is when we find anything is scarce or finite. Like we don’t fight over the air. Our planet is a tiny dot in this abundant multiverse, scarcity is really in the head. “

“The questions to ask are what technologies will make solar and water abundant? Class is a mindset. I came from a humble background and did well because of an abundance mindset. My mentors and guiding partners do not need my help, so I’m paying it forward in bridging this inequality.”

On being asked, “How do we prevent space politics as we have toxic earth politics”. He replies stating, “On space create your own laws. The question should be what is the right political system to govern us. Read the book “Homodeus” and why belief systems like socialism, communism, etc. arose and what drives them. I can share offline what I would do when I run a country in space.

In his closing advice, Naveen reveals the secret of happiness as life has revealed it to him,

“Do not give remote control of your happiness to others, you make yourself happy or angry. Fall in love with yourself, the world will reciprocate.”

About raising kids he says,” It doesn’t matter whether children come from affluent or poor, background as a parent show them by example how to kick ass.. and they will be inspired”

Our current mindset of incremental innovation centered around the economics of scale needs serious rethinking and moonshot thinkers like Naveen are reimagining this space. More power to moonshots and an abundance mindset!

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