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Think Like A Rocket Scientist : Book Summary

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Think Like A Rocket Scientist : Book Summary

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We live in a complex world and are expected to solve unfamiliar problems with no clear guidelines and with a clock ticking. Not unlike rocket scientists, who are at the frontiers of human exploration and who ‘imagine the unimaginable and solve the unsolvable’. Hence, thinking like rocket scientists, will confer you great advantage, argues Ozan.

We live in a complex world and are expected to solve unfamiliar problems with no clear guidelines and with a clock ticking. Not unlike rocket scientists, who are at the frontiers of human exploration and who ‘imagine the unimaginable and solve the unsolvable’. Hence, thinking like rocket scientists, will confer you great advantage, argues Ozan.


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Think Like A Rocket Scientist : Book Summary

  1. 1. Think Like A Rocket Scientist Ozan Varol Book Summary
  2. 2. To think like a rocket scientist is to look at the world through a different lens. Rocket scientists imagine the unimaginable and solve the unsolvable. They are moved not by blind conviction but by self-doubt; their goal is not short- term results but long-term breakthroughs. In the modern era, rocket-science thinking is a necessity. We all encounter complex and unfamiliar problems in our daily lives. Those who can tackle these problems – without clear guidelines and with a clock ticking – enjoy an extraordinary advantage.
  3. 3. If you stick to the familiar, you won’t find the unexpected. Those who get ahead in this century will dance with the great unknown and find danger, rather than comfort, in the status quo.
  4. 4. In school, we’re given the false impression that scientists took a straight path to discoveries. As adults, we fail to outgrow this conditioning. We believe (or pretend to believe) there is only one answer to each question.
  5. 5. “The stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.”
  6. 6. We’re not built to notice anomalies. Life is taxing enough without uncertainty, so we eliminate the uncertainty by ignoring the anomaly. We convince ourselves the anomaly must be an extreme outlier or a measurement error, so we pretend it doesn’t exist. “Discovery comes not when something goes right, but when something is awry, a novelty that runs counter to what was expected.”
  7. 7. When uncertainty lacks boundaries, discomfort becomes acute. “Fear comes from not knowing what to expect and not feeling you have any control over what’s about to happen” Writing down your concerns and uncertainties – what you know and what you don’t know – undresses them. In addition, consider the best-case scenario along with the worst, otherwise, your brain will steer you toward the seemingly safest path – inaction.
  8. 8. Absolute certainty is a mirage. In life, we’re required to base our opinions on imperfect information and make a call with sketchy data. ‘The path won’t appear until you start walking’ The secret is to start walking before you see a clear path.
  9. 9. The same qualities that make knowledge a virtue can also turn it into a vice. Unwittingly, knowledge can also make us a slave to convention. And conventional thoughts lead to conventional results. The default carries immense power. This idea is called path dependence. What we’ve done before shapes what we do next.
  10. 10. Process be definition is backward looking. It was developed in response to yesterday’s’ troubles. If we treat it like a sacred pact –if we don’t question it – process can impede forward movement. ‘Do we own the process or does the process own us?’
  11. 11. We are genetically programmed to follow the herd. Resisting this hard wiring for conformity cause us emotional distress – literally. This is also confirmed by neurological studies. To avoid this, we pay lip service to being original, but we become the by- products of other people’s behaviors.
  12. 12. Instead of regarding status quo as an absolute or letting our original vision or visions of others shape the path forward, you abandon all of these. Hack through existing assumptions until you are left with the fundamental components. Everything else is negotiable. This is first principles thinking.
  13. 13. Escaping our assumptions is tricky business, particularly when they’re invisible to us. These invisible rules are habits and behaviors that have unnecessarily rigidified. ‘Your assumptions are your windows on the world, scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” The best way to expose invisible rules is to violate them. Go for a seeming moonshot you don’t think you’ll achieve. Ask for a raise you don’t think you deserve. Apply for a job you don’t think you’ll get.
  14. 14. When we look at the mirror, we tell ourselves a story. It’s a story about who we are and who we aren’t and what we should do and shouldn’t do. There is a certainty to the story. It makes us feel significant and secure. It makes us feel welcome. But instead of us shaping the story, it shapes us. Over time, the story becomes our identity. We don’t change the story, because changing it would mean changing who we are. The story of your significance is a story. If you don’t like it, you can change it.
  15. 15. We can generate breakthroughs simply by thinking. Thought experiments construct a parallel universe in which things work differently. From Einstein to Tesla - all conducted thought experiments. ‘Imagine specific fictional worlds, situational setups that when you run, perform lead to specific results.’
  16. 16. In this era of ‘move fast and break things’ curiosity can seem like an unnecessary luxury. With unyielding focus on hustle and execution, answers appear efficient. Questions, on the other hand, seem exceedingly inefficient.
  17. 17. Instead of making curiosity the norm, we wait until a crisis occurs to be curious. Fear of the outcome is another reason we shun curiosity. Worse, we’re afraid that we may not find anything at all – our enquiry led us nowhere and it turns into a waste of time.
  18. 18. Our conformist education system suppresses our curiosity. Well meaning parents, who believe that everything important has been settled are also to blame. Over time, as we settle into adulthood, as loads and mortgages begin to mount, our curiosity is replaced by complacency. We view intelligent urges as virtue and playful urges as a vice.
  19. 19. Boredom is large chunks of unstructured time free of distractions. But, we prefer the certainty of distractions over the uncertainty of boredom. In today’s world, boredom is endangered. Without boredom, our creativity muscles begin to atrophy from disuse. Boredom is central to learning and creativity. Disconnect from devices for certain a block of time, walk in the park or simply daydream. In an age of instant gratification, this habit may seem underwhelming. But boredom allows the mind to freely associate and draw connections between dramatically different objects.
  20. 20. Specialization is a rage these days. But it stifles the cross pollination of ideas from different disciplines. It’s easier to ‘think outside the box’ when you’re playing with multiple boxes.
  21. 21. While breakthroughs almost always involve a collaborative component. Most modern work environments result in constant interactions, an arrangement suboptimal for creativity. Research shows connection is important, but so is time for isolated reflection.
  22. 22. We’re species of moonshots – though we’ve largely forgotten it. (discovery of fire, inventor of wheels etc.) Moonshots force you to reason from first principles. If your goal is 1% improvement, you can work from first principles. But if it’s to improve tenfold – status quo has to go. Pursuing a moonshot makes the established plays and routines largely irrelevant.
  23. 23. The hurdle to taking moonshots isn’t financial or practical one. It’s a mental one. The story we choose to tell ourselves about our capabilities is a choice. And like every other choice, we can change it. until we push beyond our cognitive limits and stretch the boundaries of what we consider practical, we can’t discover the invisible rules holding us back.
  24. 24. Divergent thinking is a way of generating different ideas in an open-minded and free flowing manner. To activate divergent thinking, you must shut down the rational thinker in you. Investigate the absurd. Reach beyond your grasp. Blur the line between fantasy and reality.
  25. 25. Left to its own devices, your mind strives for the path of least resistance. Comfortable though it may be, order and predictability get in the way of creativity. We must provoke and shock our minds. Neuroplasticity is a real thing. Your neurons, just like your muscles, can rewire and grow through discomfort. Thought experiments and moonshot thinking force our minds to rise above our daily trance.
  26. 26. Shocking our brain through moonshot thinking doesn’t mean we stop considering practicalities. Once we have our wacky ideas, we can collide them with reality by switching from divergent to convergent thinking – from idealism to pragmatism.
  27. 27. Starry-eyed dreamers aren’t necessarily known for their follow through. No matter how creative your moonshot, you’ll eventually need to ground your vision and figure out how to get there. And getting to the future requires moving back from it using ‘back-casting’.
  28. 28. For most of us, planning for the future means forecasting. But forecasting, doesn’t start from first principles. Back-casting flips the script. Rather than forecasting the future, back-casting aims to determine how an imagined future can be attained. Instead of letting our resources drive our vision, it lets our vision drive our resources.
  29. 29. The sunk-cost fallacy. Humans are irrationally attached to their investments, the more invest time, effort or money, the harder it becomes to change course. To counter the sunk-cost fallacy you tackle the hardest part of the moonshot up front. Beginning with the hardest part ensures your moonshot has a good chance of becoming viable before you’ve poured massive amounts of resources into a project.
  30. 30. It’s important to define a set of ‘kill metrics’, a set of go/no-go criteria for determining when to press ahead and when to quit. The criteria must be defined at the outset – when you are relatively clearheaded – before your emotions and financial investments might trigger the sunk-cost fallacy and cloud your judgement.
  31. 31. In solving problems, we instinctively want to identify answers. Instead of generating cautious hypothesis, we offer bold conclusions. Instead of acknowledging that problems have multiple causes, we stick with the first one that pops to mind. When we immediately launch into answer mode, we end up chasing the wrong problem.
  32. 32. When we’re familiar with a problem and when we think we have the right answer, we stop seeing alternatives. This is a relic of our education system, in school we’re taught to answer problems, not to reframe them. But this approach is wildly disconnected from reality. In our adult lives problems aren’t handed to us fully formed. We have to find, define and redefine them ourselves. Over time we become a hammer and every problem looks like a nail.
  33. 33. When we reframe a question – when we change our method of questioning – we have the power to change the answers.
  34. 34. Often we fall in love with our favorite solution and then redefine the problem as the absence of that solution. This approach mistakes tactics for strategy. ‘Just because a hammer is sitting in front of you doesn’t mean it’s the right tool for the job.’
  35. 35. Instead of adopting a common best practice or the industry standard, reframe the question by asking, ‘what if I did the reverse?’ Even if you don’t execute, the simple process of thinking through the opposite will make you question y0our assumptions and jolt you our of your current perspective.
  36. 36. Our mind doesn’t follow facts. ‘Facts are stubborn things, but our minds are even more stubborn.’ Our tendency toward skewed judgement partly results from confirmation bias – we undervalue evidence that contradicts our beliefs and over value evidence that confirms them.
  37. 37. No one comes equipped with a critical-thinking chip that diminishes the human tendency to let personal beliefs distort the facts. Regardless of your intelligence, ‘the first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.’
  38. 38. Opinions are sticky. Once we form an opinion – our own very clever idea – we tend to fall with it, particularly when we declare it in public. Over time our beliefs begin to blend into our identity. Changing your mind means changing your identity. Hence scientists don’t state opinions, they form ‘working hypothesis’ The subtle verbal tweak tricks your mind into separating arguments from personal identity
  39. 39. A hypothesis – even a working one – is an intellectual child. ‘The eye sees what the mind is prepared to comprehend.’ To make sure you don’t fall in love with a single hypothesis; generate several. When you’ve got multiple hypothesis, you reduce your attachment to any one of them and make it difficult to quickly settle on one.
  40. 40. How do you generate conflicting ideas? On approach is to actively look for what’s missing. In focusing on the facts in front of us, we don’t focus enough – or at all – on the missing facts. We must ask, ‘What am I not seeing?’ What fact should be present, but is not?’
  41. 41. Our instinct in our personal and professional lives is to prove ourselves right. Every yes makes us feel good, makes us stick to what we think we know and it gets us a gold star and a hit of dopamine. But every no brings us one step closer to the truth. Every no provides far mote information than a yes does. Progress occurs only when we generate negative outcomes by trying to rebut rather than confirm our initial hunch.
  42. 42. The internet fueled tribalism exacerbates our confirmation bias. We must consciously step outside our echo chamber. Before making an important decision, ask yourself ‘who will disagree with?’ Expose yourself to environments where your opinions can be challenged, as uncomfortable and awkward as that might be.
  43. 43. When we conduct tests, we perform superficial dress rehearsals that double as exercises in self-deception. In a well-designed test, outcomes can’t be predetermined. You must be willing to fail. There is a disconnect between testing conditions and reality. Hence one must ‘Test as you fly, fly as you test.’ In a proper test, the goal isn’t to discover everything that can go right, but to discover everything that can go wrong and to find the breaking point.
  44. 44. Each system is made of smaller, interconnected subsystems that interact with each other and affect how the others operate. Failure to conduct systems level testing can produce unpredictable consequences.
  45. 45. We often hear ‘Fail fast, fail often, fail forward’. It is as dangerous to celebrate failure as it is to demonize it. When we fail, we often conceal it, distort it or deny it. We attribute failure to factors beyond our control. The goal isn’t to fail fast, but to learn fast.
  46. 46. Changing the world one problem at a time requires delaying gratification. Most things in life give us pleasure in the short-term but pain in the long- term. Real advantage is conferred on people who can delay gratification in a world that has become obsessed with it. These people reorient their calibration for the long term, not for the short.
  47. 47. We equate the quality of a decision with the quality of its outcome. We tend to reward bad decisions that lead to good outcomes. Focusing on outputs leads us astray because good decisions can lead to bad outcomes. In conditions of uncertainty, outcomes are not completely within your control.
  48. 48. When you encounter a failure, with no judgment, ponder why. Curiosity takes the sting out of failure, turns the volume of drama all the way down and makes failure interesting. It provides emotional distance, perspective and an opportunity to view things through a different lens.
  49. 49. Most organization suffer from collective amnesia over their failures. Mistakes remain concealed because employees are too afraid to share them. We omit black boxes from our life to our detriment. Rewarding intelligent failure sounds simple in theory, but it’s difficult to implement in practice.
  50. 50. You need to create psychological safety, it means no one will be punished for errors, questions or requests for help, in the service of reaching ambitious performance goals. ‘Reward excellent failures, punish mediocre successes.’ Advertising our failures can facilitate learning and develop psychological safety. To learn and grow, we must acknowledge our failures without celebrating them.
  51. 51. Success is the wolf in sheep’s clothing. It drives a wedge between appearance and reality. When we succeed, we believe everything went according to plan. We ignore the warning signs and the necessity for change. We must treat our work – and ourselves – as permanent works in progress.
  52. 52. In the real world, outcomes are not concealed. How do we analysis inputs without getting swayed by outcomes. Do a premortem. In a premortem, we travel forward in time and set up a thought experiment where we assume the project failed. We then step back and ask, What went wrong?’ by visualizing a doomsday scenario, we come up with potential problems and determine how to avoid them.