Think Like a Rocket Scientist: Simple Strategies You Can Use to Make Giant Leaps in Work and Life – Ozan Varol
While I’m no rocket scientist, I can tell you that knowing how to solve problems is vital if you want to be successful. It improves my relationships, business ventures, and even health. And I know it will do the same for you.
That’s why you’re going to love learning how to develop these skills in Ozan Varol’s Think Like a Rocket Scientist: Simple Strategies You Can Use to Make Giant Leaps in Work and Life.
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The Nine Strategies
- Goal Setting: Setting tangible, achievable goals and creating a plan to reach them.
- Problem Solving: Breaking down complex problems into manageable chunks and using creative problem-solving techniques.
- Decision Making: Making decisions quickly and accurately, and learning to recognize when a decision needs to be made.
- Creativity: Thinking outside the box and generating new ideas.
- Growth Mindset: Adopting a growth-oriented mindset and cultivating a willingness to learn and try new things.
- Curiosity: Developing a habit of asking questions and staying curious about the world.
- Resilience: Developing resilience and learning to adapt to changing environments and conditions.
- Analytical Thinking: Breaking a problem down into its component parts and understanding how they interact.
- Systems Thinking: Understanding the systems and relationships between elements and their impact on the overall system.
Reframe problems to generate better solutions
In 1999, the Mars Polar Lander crashed on the Martian surface, and Ozan Varol’s team needed a new approach to landing on Mars before sending their own rover. But they stumbled on a new, game-changing question: “Can we send two rovers instead of one?”
By focusing on the overall strategy (minimizing risk) rather than a specific tactic (fixing the landing gear), they discovered a solution hiding in plain sight. Indeed, breakthroughs often begin not with a smart answer, but with a smart question.
Utilize first principles thinking
When Elon Musk was shopping for rockets, he was shocked—they were way too expensive, even for his budget. But then he had an epiphany: Maybe he could build his own.
Sure enough, he discovered that buying the raw materials and building the rockets from scratch would cost about 2% of the price of a typical rocket. This is a great example of first principles thinking, which requires you to hack through existing assumptions and common practices until you’re left with just the fundamentals.
Musk asked himself, “What is actually required to launch a rocket?” and moved forward from there.
Success is a wolf in sheep’s clothing
When we succeed, we often assume that everything went according to plan, and we ignore the warning signs, the near misses, and the necessity for change. This is why the
Challenger space shuttle exploded—there was a flaw in what are known as the “O-rings,” but the problem wasn’t new. NASA had succeeded in prior flights despite O-ring issues, and they became complacent. So remember that even successes contain opportunities for learning and improvement.
Don’t fail fast—learn fast
The fail fast, fail often, fail forward mantra is all the rage these days in Silicon Valley. Failure is celebrated, viewed as a secret handshake shared by insiders. But regardless of what Silicon Valley tells you, failure sucks. And when we celebrate something, we don’t learn from it.
Rocket scientists apply a more balanced approach to failure—they don’t celebrate it, but they also don’t let it get in their way. They know that failure can be the best teacher, and they recognize that breakthroughs are evolutionary, not revolutionary.
Prove yourself wrong
In 1999, the Mars Climate Orbiter burned up in the Martian atmosphere. The problem? Lockheed Martin and JPL, who had teamed up for the project, assumed that all was well, and never realized that they were using different units of measurement.
So instead of looking for reasons why your plan is working, look for evidence that it’s not—in other words, try to prove yourself wrong. In this way, you’ll resist deeply entrenched biases, and you’ll open yourself up to competing facts and arguments. The goal should be to find what’s right, not to be right.