INSIDER: Think Like a Rocket Scientist

June 1, 2022

Corrie A.H. Penraat, MBA

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to start thinking like one. Thinking like a rocket scientist is simply choosing to look at the world differently—as a puzzle to be solved rather than an insurmountable challenge. In Ozan Varol’s book, Think Like a Rocket Scientist, he challenges readers to risk failure, question the status quo, and engage in critical thinking as he shares invaluable insights from some of the greatest triumphs and catastrophes in human history.

THINK POINT #1: Launch – Ignite Critical Thinking

Cover Image of the Book Think Like a Rocket Scientist

The feeling of uncertainty is often far worse than what you fear. Ask yourself, what’s the worst-case scenario and how likely is that scenario, given what I know? What’s the best that can happen? Unless you consider the best-case scenario along with the worst, your brain will steer you toward the seemingly safest path—inaction. Absolute certainty does not exist. It’s impossible to know what you should be doing if no one has ever done it before. There is no “right” way. Often, the path forward won’t appear until you start walking. Make the most out of the uncertainty you face in your real estate career; where certainty ends, progress begins.

Varol explains that knowledge can make us slaves to convention. Research shows that we become increasingly rule-bound as we grow older. Therefore, as you move throughout your workday, ask yourself, “why are we doing it this way?” The answer, “We have always done it this way” cannot be your excuse! Do you own the process, or does the process own you? Challenge yourself to walk away from how it was done in the past and begin with a fresh canvas. Sometimes this means completely getting rid of or destroying the original process. A great way to do this is to engage in a “kill the company” exercise. Put yourself in the shoes of your real estate competitors. How would you destroy your company, idea, or product? This role play will be invaluable in beginning to uncover your own weakness.

Varol poses that the simplest way to create breakthroughs in your thinking is to shut off your phone, tune out distractions and simply think. Get bored more often! Some of the greatest minds in history including Einstein, Galileo, Newton, and countless others frequently participated in such thought experiments. Thought experiments are purposeful times of letting your imagination run wild as you ask big questions. Not every one of your big ideas will succeed, but even one success can put you far ahead of competitors who are continuing to rely on established routines. Allow yourself the freedom to brainstorm without budgets, time constraints, etc. This type of divergent thinking has proven to increase creativity as you “discover innovative solutions and make new associations.” Once you have set aside purposeful time to let your mind run wild, you can begin switching from idealism to realism and asking the hard questions.

THINK POINT #2: Accelerate – Propel Your Ideas Forward

When, not if, you run into challenges along the way, avoid offering bold answers and instead formulate cautious hypotheses. In our desire to solve problems, it is common to charge into problem solving before fully understanding what we are trying to solve. Slow down, give yourself space to think, and reframe the obstacle at hand. Is the problem you are trying to solve really the problem? Identify your strategy before charging into action. It’s easy to get caught up in daily tasks and lose sight of why you are doing what you are doing. Keep your strategy at the forefront of your problem solving and day to day tasks.

Often, we see what we want to see and interpret data to confirm our preconceived notions. It is human nature to view the world through our own set of personal beliefs. Varol aptly states, “the more confident we feel about what we know, the harder it is to see what we don’t.” It’s easy to fall in love with our own opinions and feel personally berated when someone disagrees with us. An easy way to avoid this phenomenon is to begin eliminating “opinion” from your vocabulary and instead generating several hypotheses and presenting your ideas as “working hypotheses.” Instead of working to continually prove yourself right, try shifting your focus to proving yourself wrong. This new mindset will allow you to contest ingrained biases and be more open to opposing viewpoints.

THINK POINT #3: Achieve – Embrace Failure

It is normal to fear failure. From a young age we are often told that failure is not an option, but this mindset will not end up getting anyone very far. Behind every new big idea is the risk of failure. If you are taking risks, you are going to fail at some point. You cannot make progress within your real estate career or personal life without failure. Make it your goal to learn fast from your mistakes and failures. Get curious about your failure and choose to celebrate the lessons learned. Next time you fail, no matter how big or small, try throwing your arms up in the air and saying, “How fascinating!” Breakthrough is more often evolutionary than revolutionary. Create psychological safety within your real estate team, where agents are free to speak up, ask questions, and admit failure. The use of thought experiments and brainstorming are great ways to encourage creativity as well as failure in a low-stake setting.

Success can often blind a person or company to warning signs and a desperate need for change. We assume that when we succeed, everything went according to plan, forgetting that it is possible to succeed and at the same time having made mistakes or taken unnecessary risks. The moment we stop improving, we risk being overtaken by competitors. Varol suggests removing the word “routine” from our terminology and instead treating every activity as a work-in-progress. Never fall into the mindset that you are number one.  Research shows that success and complacency often go hand-in-hand; we stop pushing boundaries when we are succeeding.


You can’t expect to copy and paste what someone else did to achieve success and get the same result. Success does not follow a cookie cutter principle. Varol’s hope is to empower the individual to approach daily challenges like a rocket scientist being willing to question assumptions, stereotypes, and engrained patterns of thinking. You don’t have to become a rocket scientist to begin thinking like one. As you begin to imagine the impossible, you may find yourself solving the seemingly unattainable.

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Recommended Reading

Varol, Ozan, Think Like a Rocket a Rocket Scientist, Public Affairs: New York, New York.

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About the Author

Corrie A.H. Penraat, MBA
Baylor University

Corrie Penraat earned her MBA in Data Analytics from Baylor University and a Bachelor of Science in International Business from Grove City College. Her past work experience includes roles for non-profits such as World Vision and Samaritan’s Purse. Corrie currently serves as an Associate Technical Specialist for The Walt Disney Company.