Read: Think Like a Rocket Scientist

I could see why this book has nearly a five-star rating in Amazon. I pretty much enjoyed it and I finished it sooner than I was planning to (which means trouble for me if I end up buying another book this month). Maybe I’m also a bit hung over from watching Star Trek (Picard and Enterprise) so I enjoyed the mention of “interplanetary” in a nonfiction book far more than what might be normal. Overall, I liked the anecdotes and the tips that didn’t feel too abstract (i.e., another way of saying they didn’t make me do a lot of head tilts with an accompanying “Whut?!”).

As usual, I’m posting my notes for my future self, and for whoever is interested enough to check this out. The book is by Ozan Varol, and the title is Think Like a Rocket Scientist: Simple Strategies You Can Use to Make Giant Leaps in Work and Life.

Stage One: Launch

  • Chapter 1: Flying in the Face of Uncertainty
    • “Our ability to make the most out of uncertainty is what creates the most potential value.” In uncertainty lies opportunities. Also it’s inevitable. One way to safeguard ourselves is through backups and buffers (redundancies and margins of safety). It’s important to just get started–even with unknowns–you’ll figure it out as you go along.
  • Chapter 2: Reasoning from First Principles
    • First-principles thinking is “systematically doubting everything you can possibly doubt, until you’re left with unquestionable truths.” This involves challenging assumptions and invisible rules. How it always has been done doesn’t mean it’s the only way it should continue.
  • Chapter 3: A Mind at Play
    • This is about curiosity, allowing our minds to explore, and applying combinatory play–“exposing yourself to a motley coalition of ideas, seeing the similar in the dissimilar, and combining and recombining apples and oranges into a brand-new fruit.” Allowing your mind to be exposed, together with exposure to diverse things and people–these lead to diverse and more creative ideas.
  • Chapter 4: Moonshot Thinking
    • Dare to have moonshot ideas. Exercise your mind through divergent thinking, imagining what a science-fiction solution would look like. The other half of it though is convergence, pragmatism, and backcasting to realize that moonshot idea.

Stage Two: Accelerate

  • Chapter 5: What If We Sent Two Rovers Instead of One?
    • Important to differentiate between strategy and tactics. Maybe the problem you’re trying to solve is tactical rather than strategic, or you’re trying to solve the wrong problem.
      • “A strategy is a plan for achieving an objective. Tactics, in contrast, are the actions you take to implement the strategy.”
    • Some tactics to try when solving a problem:
      • Against the Einstellung effect, look beyond the default answer
      • Think beyond the question to ask what’s the real problem
      • Against functional fixedness, look beyond the default uses of the thing or tool, separate function from the form
      • Try the reverse or a different angle or approach
  • Chapter 6: The Power of Flip-Flopping
    • Be open to being wrong. You can change your mind. Ask what am I missing? Challenge your own working hypotheses. “Our goal should be to find what’s right—not to be right.”
  • Chapter 7: Test as You Fly, Fly as You Test

Stage Three: Achieve

  • Chapter 8: Nothing Succeeds Like Failure
    • “It’s as dangerous to celebrate failure as it is to demonize it… A moratorium on failure is a moratorium on progress.” Instead of fail fast, it should be learn fast. Instead of sweeping them under the rug, document failures (or the lessons) so you can use that as a reference.
  • Chapter 9: Nothing Fails Like Success
    • The danger in success is that it can cause people to feel too complacent. When we succeed, there’s a tendency to overlook the near misses, bad decisions, failures that we went through along the way. Without addressing them, “The bad decisions and the dangers will continue into the future, and the success we once experienced will someday elude us. Foster a never-complacent mindset. “You have to disrupt yourself or others will do it for you.” And similarly, “If you’re not humble, life will visit humbleness upon you.” Regardless of outcomes, do a retro (or postmortem).


I close with a quote from the book which in turn is a nested quote of Jeff Bezos: “In every annual letter to Amazon shareholders, Jeff Bezos includes the same cryptic line: “It remains Day 1.” After repeating this mantra for a few decades, Bezos was asked what Day 2 would look like. He replied,”

“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”

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