Read: December 2020

Inspiration: Ran into on Amazon’s bestseller list; title captured my attention


Written with the help of ChatGPT, below is a brief summary to understand what is covered in the book.

“Think Like a Rocket Scientist”, published in 2020 by author, professor, and former NASA engineer Ozan Varol, discusses the principles and strategies used by rocket scientists to solve complex problems and make difficult decisions, and how these can be applied to a wide range of challenges in life and work. Varol argues that rocket science requires a particular way of thinking that is characterized by creativity, curiosity, and the ability to think outside the box. He provides examples and case studies from the world of rocket science and beyond to illustrate the key principles and demonstrate how they can be used to tackle complex problems and make better decisions. The book offers a practical guide for anyone looking to improve their problem-solving skills and achieve success.

Unedited Notes

Direct from my original book log, below are my unedited notes (abbreviations and misspellings included) to show how I take notes as I read.

12 mins at light speed to get msg to mars so not doing anything in real time, where certainty ends progress begins, important to consider unknown knowns=we think we know what we know but we don’t (assume truth but really fragile/inaccurate), illusion of knowledge/certainty (stories prevail over data and facts often), the stupid are the most sure while the intelligent are full of doubt, embrace anomalies, knowledge is good but can create bias of path dependency (take past as right/best), keyboard not most efficient (qwerty designed to slowdown and prevent jams in typewriter–letters to spell typewriter in first row to sell better as demonstrate), when you try to improve existing techniques you’re in a smartness competition with everyone who came before you–not good (don’t just do because always done like that), first principles=the first basis from which a thing is known (doubt everything can possibly doubt), Musk and SpaceX use first principles to realize make rocket 80% in-house materials to save tons of money), use red teaming in military before missions where pretend enemy and try to destroy (point out flaws, and fix poor assumptions, can do in business to–pretend competitor, think about why they’re better), the more understand something the simpler it gets (“complex”, “multifaceted” means don’t really know), “curiousity killed the cat”=austrian Schrodinger thought experiment–cat in sealed box with vial of poison released when radioactive material in box decays (if use copenhagen interp of quantum mechanics then cat alive and dead until open box and see which state), comparing apples and oranges is good (little to be learned comparing similar things, cross-pollination leads to creativity, multiple diverse interests are good)–“combinatory play” drives discovery, don’t lose sight of function for form, tactics and tools become focus (i.e. actions) when strategy (i.e. objective) is key, good decision can have bad outcomes so don’t solely judge on results (analyze inputs and see what was right also), say “how fascinating!” when fail and be curious about what can learn, Challenger in ’86 explode bc o-rings fail to seal in cold temps and hot gas escape from boosters despite engineer warn about risk of o-rings (deemed acceptable risk), 2003 Columbia explode bc piece of foam insulation shed and strike hole in thermal protection system for reentry to hot atmosphere (deemed acceptable risk bc happen in past), need to look for lessons even in success and not assume all went right, NASA success before challenger breed complacency/arrogance, postmortems not just after death/failure—analyze near misses that succeed and don’t just stick to that method, use premortems to think about future failure and think about why would happen to avoid, don’t confuse symptom with the cause (and first order cause with more important second/third order cause)

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