Think Like a Rocket Scientist
by Ozan Varol
“Think Like a Rocket Scientist” by Ozan Varol is a guide to thinking like a rocket scientist in order to solve complex problems and achieve success in any field. It’s a practical and inspiring book that draws on the lessons learned from the space race and applies them to everyday life.
“Think Like a Rocket Scientist” explores the mindset and methods of rocket scientists, and how we can apply these lessons to achieve our goals in life. The book is organized into three sections: “Think”, “Explore”, and “Adapt”.
Think: Varol outlines the mindset of a rocket scientist, including how to approach problems with a beginner’s mind, how to embrace uncertainty, and how to use first principles thinking to break down complex problems into manageable parts.
Explore: The author discusses how to generate ideas, how to prototype and experiment, and how to learn from failure. He also emphasizes the importance of collaboration and diversity in problem-solving.
Adapt: Varol discusses how to adapt to changing circumstances and how to maintain momentum over the long term. He also explores the importance of ethics and values in decision-making.
“To be a rocket scientist, you don’t have to have a perfect score on every test. You just have to be willing to try new things.”
HERE ARE 3 BIG IDEAS FROM THE BOOK:
BIG IDEA 1: Think Like a Beginner
To solve complex problems, it’s important to approach them with a beginner’s mind and embrace the uncertainty that comes with exploring new territory.
According to Varol, one of the key obstacles to solving complex problems is the tendency to rely on our existing knowledge and assumptions. This can lead to a narrow-minded approach that limits our ability to see new possibilities or consider alternative solutions. To overcome this limitation, Varol suggests that we should cultivate a mindset of beginner’s mind, which involves approaching each new challenge with a fresh perspective and a willingness to question our assumptions.
One way to achieve a beginner’s mindset is to ask questions that challenge our existing assumptions and preconceptions. By asking questions like “why?” and “what if?”, we can gain a deeper understanding of the problem we are trying to solve and identify new avenues for exploration. Varol also suggests that we should seek out diverse perspectives and viewpoints, as this can help us to break out of our own mental frameworks and see the problem from new angles.
Another important aspect of thinking like a beginner is the willingness to embrace uncertainty and ambiguity. When faced with a complex problem, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed or unsure of where to begin. However, by acknowledging our uncertainty and accepting that we may not have all the answers, we can create space for creativity and experimentation.
To illustrate the power of thinking like a beginner, Varol cites numerous examples from the history of space exploration. For instance, he notes that some of the most groundbreaking discoveries in the field of astrophysics have come from scientists who were willing to question long-held assumptions about the nature of the universe. Similarly, he points out that the Apollo 13 mission, which famously suffered a catastrophic malfunction, was ultimately successful because the team on the ground was able to approach the problem with a beginner’s mindset and improvise solutions based on the resources available to them.
“Think Like a Beginner” is about adopting a mindset of curiosity, openness, and flexibility in order to tackle complex problems and achieve breakthroughs in any field. By embracing uncertainty, questioning our assumptions, and seeking out diverse perspectives, we can expand our thinking and unlock new possibilities for innovation and growth.
BIG IDEA 2: Prototype and Experiment
To generate new ideas and test them out, it’s important to create prototypes and experiment with different approaches.
The traditional approach to problem-solving often involves extensive planning and analysis before taking action. While this approach can be useful in some cases, it can also lead to a lack of creativity and an inability to adapt to changing circumstances. In contrast, the prototyping and experimentation approach involves generating a variety of ideas, building prototypes to test them out, and using the feedback from these experiments to refine and improve the solutions.
One key advantage of prototyping and experimentation is that it allows for rapid iteration and adaptation. By testing out multiple ideas quickly and getting feedback on them, we can identify which approaches are most effective and refine them further. This can be particularly useful in situations where the problem is complex or uncertain, as it allows us to learn from our mistakes and make course corrections along the way.
To implement the prototyping and experimentation approach, Varol suggests starting with a “minimum viable product” (MVP) – a basic version of the solution that can be tested quickly and cheaply. By starting with an MVP, we can avoid wasting time and resources on ideas that ultimately don’t work out, and focus instead on refining the most promising approaches.
Another important aspect of prototyping and experimentation is the willingness to learn from failure. Because experimentation involves taking risks and trying out new ideas, it’s inevitable that some of these experiments will fail. However, by reframing failure as a learning opportunity rather than a source of shame or discouragement, we can use the feedback from these experiments to improve our approach and increase our chances of success in the long run.
To illustrate the power of prototyping and experimentation, Varol cites numerous examples from the world of business and technology. For instance, he notes that companies like Amazon and Google have been successful in part because they embrace a culture of experimentation, constantly testing and refining their products based on user feedback. Similarly, he points out that NASA has been able to achieve groundbreaking discoveries in space exploration by using the prototyping and experimentation approach to design and test new spacecraft and technologies.
“Prototype and Experiment” is about generating and testing new ideas through a process of rapid iteration and adaptation. By starting with an MVP, learning from failure, and using feedback to refine our solutions, we can increase our chances of success and achieve breakthroughs in any field.
BIG IDEA 3: Embrace Failure
Failure is an inevitable part of the learning process, and it’s important to embrace it as a source of feedback and a learning opportunity rather than as a sign of defeat.
Varol argues that in many cases, our fear of failure can prevent us from taking risks and pursuing our goals. This fear can also cause us to become stuck in a fixed mindset, believing that our abilities and intelligence are predetermined and unchangeable. However, by embracing failure, we can shift our mindset towards a growth-oriented perspective that values learning, experimentation, and resilience.
One way to embrace failure is to reframe it as a necessary step in the learning process. Rather than viewing failure as a sign of incompetence or weakness, we can see it as an opportunity to identify areas for improvement and refine our approach. By reframing failure in this way, we can reduce our fear of it and become more willing to take risks and try new things.
Another strategy for embracing failure is to focus on the lessons learned from it. Instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of failure, we can use it as a chance to gather valuable feedback and insights. By analyzing what went wrong and why, we can gain a deeper understanding of the problem and develop more effective solutions in the future.
Varol also emphasizes the importance of cultivating a growth mindset when it comes to failure. This involves believing that our abilities and intelligence can be developed through effort and practice, rather than being fixed traits that we are born with. By adopting this mindset, we can become more resilient in the face of setbacks and more willing to take risks that may lead to failure.
To illustrate the power of embracing failure, Varol cites numerous examples from history and science. He notes that many of the greatest discoveries and innovations in human history were the result of persistence in the face of failure, including Thomas Edison’s development of the light bulb and the Wright brothers’ invention of the airplane.
“Embrace Failure” is about reframing our relationship with failure and viewing it as an opportunity for growth and learning. By adopting a growth mindset, focusing on the lessons learned from failure, and redefining our relationship with risk, we can become more resilient, innovative, and successful in any field.
“The most powerful breakthroughs often come from combining two or more seemingly unrelated fields or ideas.”
“Think Like a Rocket Scientist” is a thought-provoking and practical guide to developing the mindset and skills needed to tackle complex problems and achieve breakthrough results. With a focus on creative thinking, experimentation, and learning from failure, Varol provides readers with a roadmap for unlocking their full potential and achieving their goals. Whether you’re a scientist, engineer, entrepreneur, or simply someone looking to cultivate a more innovative and growth-oriented mindset, this book is a must-read.
About the Author
Ozan Varol is a rocket scientist turned law professor and author. He received his bachelor’s degree in astrophysics from Stanford University and his PhD in law from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Varol worked on various space projects at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory before pivoting to law and academia. He currently teaches at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, where he focuses on intellectual property, innovation, and constitutional law. In addition to his academic work, Varol is a regular contributor to publications such as Forbes, Psychology Today, and The Wall Street Journal.