4 Lessons from Think Like a Rocket Scientists | Ozan Varol

How You Can Use Rocket Science Thinking to Boost Your Life

Jack Yang
5 min readJan 23, 2021
Think Like a Rocket Scientist: Simple Strategies You Can Use to Make Giant Leaps in Work and Life


How does rocket science have anything remotely have to do with my life? I was a bit confused and skeptical when I first picked up this book, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn many practical insights that I could immediately apply to my day to day operations. Even though I enjoy reading books on space exploration, another worry that bothered me initially is the use of arcane, technical languages. The concerns were also immediately dismissed when the author spoke in an understandable term and was more focused on the ways of thinking rather than the rocket science itself. In addition to the principles, the author also uses personal stories and case studies to demonstrate how the principles can be applied for a better outcome. Although there are few life principles that are usually mentioned in other self-help books, some are eye-openers for me and I will go into details in the following lesson section.

Score: 4.5/5

Who should read it: anyone who wants to apply a scientific way of thinking to life


1. First-principles Thinking

What is a first principle? The first principle is the foundational proposition on which many assumptions are based on. The first principle thinking, therefore, requires the ability to question existing assumptions. However, since childhood, we have been enforced to accept many constraints and traditions by our parents, society, and the education system. We are rewarded by being conforming to them instead of challenging them, therefore it makes becomes harder for us to employ the first principle. Those who can question the tradition and reason from the first principle instead of accepting existing assumptions often invent completely new ways of life. If Steve Jobs accepted the tradition that phones are supposed to come with keyboards or interacted through num pads, iPhone would never be invented. If Elon Musk accepted the existing assumption that only NASA can build space rockets, private rocket companies would exist. If Kalanick and Camp accepted the fact that you have to wait to catch a cab, you will never be able to get anywhere with the comfort of Uber. There are countless other examples of first principle thinking that eventually lead to groundbreaking findings and the key to achieving such feats is the ability to destroying preconceived assumptions and reason for the foundational proposition.

2. How To Deal with Uncertainty

Uncertainty is always an inseparable part of a rocket mission since there are so many components that need to go right in order for a mission to succeed. However, we as humans don’t tend to appreciate uncertainty very much. Since little, we are taught through textbooks, where everything is certain and true. We like to divide things into categories, and if an anomaly surfaces and does not fit the picture, we tend to justify it or create new categories. As we grow up and begin to realize the uncertain nature of life, we resort to various ways to seek comfort in the face of uncertainty. Some believe in superstition such as lucky numbers and luck colors, and some are willing to give up without even trying. There are two ways that rocket scientists use to handle uncertainty.

  • Redundancy: If given that a component in a rocket has a 50% chance of working and a 50% of failing, causing a failed mission, a good way to reduce the uncertainty is to add a backup component, making the failure rate 0.5*0.5 = 0.25, which is 25%, a much better improvement! However, it is crucial to be aware of diminishing returns. The success rate improves drastically when you add a second component, but when you add a third, fourth, or more backup option, even though the success rate would improve by some, but very gradually to a point where the cost exceeds the benefit.
  • Reframe the Problem: Very often when we encounter a problem, we immediately go into problem-solving mode without even questioning the question itself. Uncertainty can be dangerous at times, therefore it is important to step back and rethink the whole problem such as if the uncertainty is even necessary in the first place, and if there is an alternative that achieves the same result.

3. Achieve Sucess Through The Mind

You would assume rocket scientists are extreme pragmatists, right? Surprisingly, the author devotes two chapters just to thinking alone. For extreme practical and hands-on projects like rocket missions, thinking is just as important because it allows you to experiment without any cost or consequences as well as come up with innovative solutions.

  • Thought Experiments: What if you run faster than the speed of light? Performing an experiment to test this will require millions of dollars, if not downright impossible. Einstein came up with this question in his mind and he immediately began to perform thought experiments, which eventually led to the Theory of Relativity. Thought experiments to test out your ideas without any cost or consequences and being bored is usually the best time to perform these invisible experiments. However, with the bombardment of modern technology, most people are rather be distracted than bored. To counter this, set time for yourself to intentionally be bored and explore ideas in your head.
  • Divergent Thinking: There are two types of thinking: divergent and convergent thinking. Convergent thinking is when you focus solely on the problem itself. Divergent thinking is to freely explore unseemingly outcomes unbounded by constraint. The first kind of thinking is usually effective when the problem is framed correctly and needs immediate attention. The latter type of thinking tends to be more innovative and free flowed. The author suggests combining the two: first, come up with potential solutions with divergent thinking, then filter them out based on practicality using convergent thinking.

4. Feel free to flip flop!

Yes, you heard it right. Switching sides isn’t that bad. The sign of an intelligent person is the ability to hold two opposing ideas at the same time. When we only have one opinion, we subconsciously tend to look for clues to confirm our hypothesis, also known as confirmation bias. When we hold multiple hypotheses at the same time, we are able to seek various sources to validate different hypotheses. Once one of them gain enough evidence and support, you can make a more informed and unbias choice, even though that means you have to switch sides and reverse your previous decisions.

Thank you for reading my summary. If you enjoy it, feel free to check out my other book reviews at https://jackyangzzh.medium.com/