X: The Foghorn Decision
In February 2016, Kathy Hannun--a project leader at X, Alphabet Inc.'s so-called "moonshot factory--had to prepare a recommendation for the senior leadership of X regarding the future of Foghorn, a project she was leading to develop a carbon-neutral process for converting sea water into fuel. Recognizing the blueprint for projects at X--(1) addressing a huge problem with a (2) radical solution using (3) breakthrough technology--Hannun had to decide whether to recommend killing the project. Despite the technical feasibility of the Foghorn process, its expected cost per gallon of fuel produced was signficiantly higher than the established "kill metric"--the maximum unit cost that Hannun and colleagues had set for continuing the project. The case provides an opportunity to examine the management of radical innovation and the challenges associated with assessing early stage ideas. Topics covered include the importance of experimentation and failure as well as the management of opportunity costs in solving large problems.