Many people believe that they cannot achieve anything great because they lack the brainpower or finances to do so. They give up without even trying. Then there are those who try and get so frustrated when they can’t achieve what they wanted to. They believe that maybe they set the bar too high.
This should never happen. Why? Because everyone is capable of achieving great things. The only thing that separates those that do from those who don’t is their mindset. If you can change your mindset, you can approach challenges differently and that’s all it takes. This is something that rocket scientists have mastered and something that we can learn from them.
In this book summary readers will discover:
- You can’t fear or avoid uncertainty
- New solutions can be found if you stop conforming
- Creativity needs time and space
- What holds you back from your goal
- The benefits of studying failures, overcoming blindspots and testing
Key lesson one: You can’t fear or avoid uncertainty
Fear of the unknown is something we all have. However, you can’t avoid uncertainty forever. It’s something that the engineers and scientists at NASA are faced with every day. If you shy away from uncertainty, you will never make any big revelation or find new possibilities. Scientists, therefore, embrace uncertainty instead of avoiding it. They know that if they stick with it for a while, they will find a myriad of new opportunities and solutions awaiting them.
You too could learn to do the same if you follow a few simple steps. Firstly, ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen. Then, try and figure out how likely it is for this outcome to actually happen. By following this exercise, you will find a different view of the situation, Most of the time, the worst-case scenarios don’t happen and even if they do, the things that you find most important will often remain unharmed. If you acknowledge and assess your fears beforehand, you will find it easier to move forward and deal with the unknown.
Key lesson two: New solutions can be found if you stop conforming
Have you ever thought about how often you follow rules and routines without questioning them? Sure, routine is comfortable and it means we don’t have to waste our time thinking about every decision but it also means we miss out on new possibilities. This is often why when you are a new employee at a company, you tend to see things differently than the others who have been following the same procedure for years. This is how new and innovative ideas come in that help better the process. Therefore, if you stop conforming, chances are you will be on your way to innovation.
Rocket scientists use first principles thinking to refrain from conforming to the norm. With this technique, they ask a series of questions about a situation until they get to an indisputable truth on which it is founded on. For example, when Elon Musk wanted to start a space company to follow his dream of settling on Mars, he struggled with the cost of rockets. He couldn’t afford the price that the aerospace companies charged for them. So, he took a step back and asked what did he need to get to space. He needed a rocket obviously, but what was a rocket made of? With this line of questioning Musk eventually realised that the raw materials needed to build a rocket would cost just 2 per cent of the cost that aerospace companies charged for a rocket. This is how he realised it would be cheaper if he started with the raw materials and did the manufacturing himself, he could afford to pursue his dream.
Key lesson three: Creativity needs time and space
Our days are filled with an endless amount of work. We are so busy that we forget what it’s like to be curious, explore and ask questions. You might be mistaken and think that this sounds a lot like daydreaming but in actual fact, thought experiments are an integral part of thinking creatively. It was the use of thought experiments that aided great minds like Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla to accomplish their work. They offer the space to contemplate ideas without the constrictions of reality or the affordability of resources. You might not find the answers you were looking for but it does enable you to look at things from different perspectives.
To encourage the use of thought experiments you can schedule time in your calendar to do so. This will facilitate creative thinking daily if you give your mind time to drift. Even J.K Rowling came up with the idea for Harry Potter when her train was delayed for four hours. She had nothing else to do but get lost in her thoughts. So, do not be afraid to use your time to conduct thought experiments. You never know what your mind will allow you to find.
Key lesson four: What holds you back from your goal
The biggest obstacle that stands between you and your goal is actually your mind. We are often scared to take risks because we do not want to fail. However, if you remain in your comfort zone forever, you will never achieve anything. Unfortunately, many people believe that nothing good will ever happen to them as success is for the super-smart or super-wealthy. This is simply untrue and thinking this way must stop.
To fight off these negative thoughts, you need to practice divergent thinking. Divergent thinking is similar to thought experiments but differs in that every idea is welcome. There are no limitations and every idea is a possibility. In this way, divergent thinking stimulates creativity and allows you to come up with many ideas. To be a divergent thinker, you have to first get rid of that rational voice in your head and embrace creativity. Abandon all thoughts of what you should do and instead focus on what you could do if anything were possible. When you have completed thinking about the possibilities, you can then bring back the rational voice in order to evaluate your ideas. However, try not to regress and talk yourself out of them. Instead, allow yourself to think bigger and better.
Key lesson five: The benefits of studying failures, overcoming blindspots and testing
Fear of failure is never a good reason not to try something. In fact, failures are extremely valuable. When you are pursuing something big, chances are you will experience a lot of failures before your find success. However, each failure is a step closer to the solution and if you study your failure, you will be surprised at what you learn. James Dyson, the man behind the first bagless vacuum, failed 5126 times before he got it right. Persistence and the ability to learn from each failure led him to success.
However, it’s not just failures that we can learn from. Success should also be studied because there are still things that you can learn from it. Take for example the lesson learned by NASA after the Challenger launch. Prior to the launch, a mechanical engineer expressed concern over the space shuttle’s damaged O-rings. However, they were dismissed as previous missions were successful despite the damaged O-rings. The Challenger, unfortunately, disintegrated one minute after it launched and after an investigation, the o-rings were found to be the cause. The confidence that had built due to past successes blinded NASA to reality. Therefore it should always be remembered that success does not mean that you did not make any mistakes. And overlooked mistakes could have repercussions in the future.
We must never get too confident as then we will never recognize our blind spots. Our brains are subject to confirmation bias and we have to therefore always question the data we are presented with. If we don’t, we will just see all the points that agree with our views and ignore the rest. This is why scientists work with hypotheses. If you think of each of your opinions as a working hypothesis, it becomes something that can be proven or disproved. This allows you to remain objective. This is something that NASA’s navigators learned the hard way during the landing of the Mars Climate Orbitor. Two months before the orbiter could land on Mars, the data projected that it would be 100 kilometres off its original orbit around the planet. Instead of questioning the data, the navigators attributed this discrepancy to an error in the navigation system. When the orbiter passed behind Mars two months later, they never saw it again. Only then did they go back and look at the data. After an investigation, it was found that the system had been designed by a company using inch-pound measurements and not metric measurements as used by the navigators. Hence, the measurements were off and had it not been ignored, could have avoided a 193 million dollar mistake.
Lastly, always ensure that you test rigorously. Whether it’s for a job interview, wedding speech or a live gig you have to test your material. Try and simulate the environment as much as possible and trial each component separately before doing it all together. In this manner, you also test the design of the test as well. After all, the whole purpose of a test is to find the point where things could potentially go wrong. This is how astronauts are prepared before they go into space. Their training programs are designed specifically to trick them into making mistakes. This allows them to be prepared when they are on their mission should things go wrong.
The key takeaway from Think Like a Rocket Scientist is:
Rocket scientists are successful because they understand the steps they need to take to achieve their goals. They are not deterred by failure or fear of the unknown. They also do not limit their thinking due to restrictions imposed by current situations. They think creatively, allow themselves to experiment outside the box and understand that failure is an important part of the process. If we also learn to think like them, we too can achieve things we didn’t think possible.
How can I implement the lessons learned in Think Like a Rocket Scientist:
Don’t be afraid to schedule time in your day for thought experiments. It is not time-wasting. It is an important part of not only testing out scenarios in your head but also an excellent way to get you to think creatively. Do not let yourself be held back. Think big, you will be surprised what you can do and learn about yourself in this time.