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June 29, 2020 Last updated: July 20, 2020

Podcast #623: How to Make Better Decisions by Thinking Like a Rocket Scientist

When someone is struggling with a seemingly easy problem, someone else might say, “Come on, it’s not rocket science!” The inference being that rocket science represents the pinnacle of complexity.

But my guest today argues that the study of rocket science contains some simple, overarching principles that cannot only be universally understood, but universally applied to all kinds of problems and decisions. His name is Ozan Varol, he served on the operations team for the 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers project, and he’s the author of the book Think Like a Rocket Scientist. We begin our conversation discussing why Ozan went from studying astrophysics to going to law school, and how his scientific background has influenced his legal career. We then dig into ways that the same thought processes that enable spacecraft to travel millions of miles can also be applied to moving forward in work and life. Ozan explains how scientists deal with uncertainty and why you have to constantly question the way things are done to get better results. We end our discussion by talking about how to use thought experiments to solve problems, how to test ideas, and how to actually learn from your failures.

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Show Highlights

  • Ozan’s career with NASA
  • How Ozan’s rocket scientist experience helped his law career 
  • Why are humans so afraid of uncertainty 
  • How a scientist approaches uncertainty, and what you can learn from that
  • Two-way doors vs. one-way doors 
  • How does path dependence get in the way?
  • The power of thought experiments 
  • Why focusing on answers can lead you astray 
  • Test as you fly, fly as you test
  • The value in trying to prove yourself wrong 
  • How success breeds complacency

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