Tag Archives: #businessbooksummaries

The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger – Here are my six lessons and takeaways

(A personal note:  I am writing this blog post during the great pandemic of 2020.  Some of the books I read, and present, seem oddly out of place with our current reality.  Even as I write this post, Disney had quite a difficult reopening of Disney in Florida…
But this book is a terrific book, on business success, and on leadership.
One can only hope that life returns to “normal” as soon as possible).


At its simplest, this book is about being guided by a set of principles that help nurture the good and manage the bad.The Ride of a Lifetime
I’ve come to believe that I have insights that could be useful beyond my own experience.
If you run a business or manage a team or collaborate with others in pursuit of a common goal, this book might be helpful to you.

We used to call our biggest, most exciting theme-park attractions “E-Tickets.” That’s what comes to mind when I think about the job, that it’s been a fourteen-year ride on a giant E-Ticket attraction known as the Walt Disney Company.


At the July First Friday Book Synopsis, I presented my synopsis on The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company by Robert Iger.

This is a very good book.

Robert (Bob) Iger has been at the top position of Disney for fifteen years.  (He stepped out of that role just before the pandemic, and quickly returned to the role because of the pandemic).  He started at the bottom, and was mentored by Roone Arledge at one point.  ESPN; ABC; Disney. Quite a resumé!

In my synopses, I always ask:  What is the point?  Here is my answer for this book: Leadership is earned. And respect is earned. Robert Iger came up from the bottom, learned his lessons, and earned the title of leader. 

And I ask, Why is this book worth our time?  Here are my three reasons for this book.
#1 – This book is a history of the Disney organization in modern times (along with some history of ABC and ESPN), and a tutorial on how to successfully pull off acquisitions and mergers.
#2 – This book is a reminder, yet again, that there are very few geniuses.  Steve Jobs was one of those geniuses.
#3 – This book is a reminder that success most often comes from the basics; getting lucky with your opportunities and mentors; working hard; cultivating the right mix of strategic insights and human-centered leadership.

I always include Quotes and Excerpts from the book – the “best of” Randy’s highlighted passages.  Here are a number of the very best from my synopsis handout:

• Optimism. One of the most important qualities of a good leader is optimism, a pragmatic enthusiasm for what can be achieved. Even in the face of difficult choices and less than ideal outcomes, an optimistic leader does not yield to pessimism. Simply put, people are not motivated or energized by pessimists.
• A company’s success depends on setting high ethical standards for all things, big and small.  Another way of saying this is:  The way you do anything is the way you do everything.
• However you find the time, it’s vital to create space in each day to let your thoughts wander beyond your immediate job responsibilities, to turn things over in your mind in a less pressured, more creative way than is possible once the daily triage kicks in.
• It’s about creating an environment in which you refuse to accept mediocrity.
• One lesson in this story, the obvious one about the importance of taking responsibility when you screw up.
• I learned from them that genuine decency and professional competitiveness weren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, true integrity—a sense of knowing who you are and being guided by your own clear sense of right and wrong—is a kind of secret weapon.  …They trusted in their own instincts, they treated people with respect, and over time the company came to represent the values they lived by.
• My instinct throughout my career has always been to say yes to every opportunity. In part this is just garden-variety ambition. …but I also wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of doing things that I was unfamiliar with.
• Your inexperience can’t be an excuse for failure.
• Managing creative processes starts with the understanding that it’s not a science—everything is subjective; there is often no right or wrong.  …a delicate balance is required between management being responsible for the financial performance of any creative work and, in exercising that responsibility, being careful not to encroach on the creative processes in harmful and counterproductive ways.
• When the two people at the top of a company have a dysfunctional relationship, there’s no way that the rest of the company beneath them can be functional.
• I would give him a stack of materials in advance of a meeting, and the next day he’d come in not having read any of them and say, “Give me the facts,” then render a fast opinion.
He was covering up for not being prepared, and in a company like Disney, if you don’t do the work, the people around you detect that right away and their respect for you disappears.
You have to be attentive. You have to learn and absorb.
• At its essence, good leadership isn’t about being indispensable; it’s about helping others be prepared to possibly step into your shoes—giving them access to your own decision making, identifying the skills they need to develop and helping them improve, and, as I’ve had to do, sometimes being honest with them about why they’re not ready for the next step up.
• Pessimism became the rule more than the exception, and it led him to close ranks and become increasingly cloistered. …but optimism in a leader, especially in challenging times, is so vital.
Pessimism leads to paranoia, which leads to defensiveness, which leads to risk aversion.
• “The world is moving so much faster than it did even a couple of years ago.” …Our decision making has to be straighter and faster, and I need to explore ways of doing that.”
• I even took a moment before I walked into the room to look again at Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech, which has long been an inspiration: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.”
• In other words, demanding quality and integrity from all of our people and of all of our products is paramount, and there is no room for second chances, or for tolerance when it comes to an overt transgression that discredits the company in any way. In moments like that, you have to look past whatever the commercial losses are and be guided, again, by the simple rule that there’s nothing more important than the quality and integrity of your people and your product. Everything depends on upholding that principle. 

The book has so many lessons, and great stories. 

I especially appreciated the story of how Robert Iger salvaged the relationship with Roy Disney (the nephew of Walt Disney).  Mr. Iger has a heart of empathy, and that shows in his leadership decisions; especially in this decision.

He also was greatly helped by his close friendship with Steve Jobs.  His stories about that business and personal friendship are worth the price of the book!

Here are a few of the key points I included in my synopsis handout: 

  • a lesson in crisis management
  • after the alligator attack — Within twenty-four hours, they had ropes and fences and signs up throughout the park, which is twice the size of Manhattan.
  • a lesson in Innovation
  • you have to do it
  • you may need a whole new culture to do it; it may be much easier to acquire a true innovation culture than to make a non-innovative culture innovative
  • a lesson in pushing management and decision-making out to the teams…
  • Iger dismantled the strategy and decision-making culture – and he did it in one big swoop!
  • Their dismantled strategy was fairly simple. They were hypervigilant about controlling costs, and they believed in a decentralized corporate structure.
  • They hired people who were smart and decent and hardworking, they put those people in positions of big responsibility, and they gave them the support and autonomy needed to do the job. 
  • Take responsibility
  • In your work, in your life, you’ll be more respected and trusted by the people around you if you honestly own up to your mistakes.
  • What’s not okay is to undermine others by lying about something or covering your own ass first.
  • You will fail – learn from your failures
  • Of all the lessons I learned in that first year running prime time, the need to be comfortable with failure was the most profound.
  • You have got to be aware when the world is changing/has changed
  • Of great interest to me was the fact that almost every traditional media company, while trying to figure out its place in this changing world, was operating out of fear rather than courage, stubbornly trying to build a bulwark to protect old models that couldn’t possibly survive the sea change that was under way. 
  • You only get three — priorities (Disney: High quality branded content; embrace technology; global company)
  • A company’s culture is shaped by a lot of things, but this is one of the most important—you have to convey your priorities clearly and repeatedly. In my experience, it’s what separates great managers from the rest. …If leaders don’t articulate their priorities clearly, then the people around them don’t know what their own priorities should be. 

Here was a real highlight of the book:  he began this book with “The Priniciples,” and he ended it with “lessons to lead by.”  Both of these were great lists, with explanation and commentary.  Her are just a few, from each list:

  • The Principles:
  • Optimism. — Simply put, people are not motivated or energized by pessimists.
  • Courage. — The foundation of risk-taking is courage,
  • Curiosity. — A deep and abiding curiosity enables the discovery of new people, places, and ideas, as well as an awareness and an understanding of the marketplace and its changing dynamics. The path to innovation begins with curiosity.
  • Empathy — essential, as is accessibility. …People committing honest mistakes deserve second chances, and judging people too harshly generates fear and anxiety, which discourage communication and innovation. …Nothing is worse to an organization than a culture of fear. — Empathy is a prerequisite to the sound management of creativity, and respect is critical.
  • The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection. — This doesn’t mean perfectionism at all costs, but it does mean a refusal to accept mediocrity or make excuses for something being “good enough.” …If you believe that something can be made better, put in the effort to do it. …be in the business of making things great.
  • Integrity. — Nothing is more important than the quality and integrity of an organization’s people and its product. …setting high ethical standards for all things, big and small. 
  • Lessons to Lead By:
  • To tell great stories, you need great talent.
  • Now more than ever: innovate or die. There can be no innovation if you operate out of fear of the new.        
  • Take responsibility when you screw up.
  • Be decent to people. Treat everyone with fairness and empathy.
  • As a leader, if you don’t do the work, the people around you are going to know, and you’ll lose their respect fast.
  • A company’s reputation is the sum total of the actions of its people and the quality of its products.
  • You can’t communicate pessimism to the people around you. It’s ruinous to morale.
  • Long shots aren’t usually as long as long as they seem. Take big swings.
  • You have to do the homework. You have to be prepared.
  • If something doesn’t feel right to you, it won’t be right for you.
  • When hiring, try to surround yourself with people who are good in addition to being good at what they do. — Genuine decency—an instinct for fairness and openness and mutual respect—is a rarer commodity in business than it should be, and you should look for it in the people you hire.
  • Most deals are personal.
  • The decision to disrupt a business model that is working for you requires no small amount of courage. — Deal with this kind of uncertainty by going back to basics: Lay out your strategic priorities clearly. Remain optimistic in the face of the unknown. And be accessible and fair-minded to people.
  • You have to approach your work and life with a sense of genuine humility.
  • Hold on to your awareness of yourself, even as the world tells you how important you are.

And here are my six lessons and takeaways:

#1 – You cannot live off of yesterday’s successes.  Innovate or die.
#2 – What is not paid careful attention to…becomes mediocre in a hurry.
#3 – It may not be possible to turn around a dysfunctional culture; especially one which spent a long time becoming dysfunctional.  The answer may be to acquire the culture you need.
#4 – Treat people decently! Cultivate empathy. – Remember the Roy Disney story.
#5 – Cultivate the key relationships.
#6 – A footnote – regarding Marvel, and a dinner which included the two leaders and their wives – (Note: Robert Iger is married to Willow Bay, who is quite accomplished. She is the current Dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism).

And, I wish I had included his strong emphasis on the leader’s need to “take responsibility” in my lessons and takeaways, which comes through throughout the book.  The responsibility is on the leader!

Though I always think it is better for folks to read a book for themselves, there are times when I think my synopsis will give someone “enough” of the book to be more than helpful.  I do believe my synopsis of this book is quite thorough.  But it cannot possibly give you the emotion or the full impact of the stories. This is a very good book.  I encourage you to read it, especially if you are in a position of leadership.


I present synopses of two books a month at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.  My synopsis of this book, with my comprehensive, multi-page synopsis handout and the audio recording of my presentation, will be available to purchase soon at the “Buy Synopses” tab at the top of this page.  Click here for our newest additions.

White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, and The Deficit Myth by Stephanie Kelton – Coming for the August 7 First Friday Book Synopsis (on Zoom)

White FragilityFirst Friday Book Synopsis, August 7, 2020, on Zoom
Time: 7:30 am (Central Time)
Two Books:
White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo, Foreword by Michael Eric Dyson
The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy by Stephanie Kelton
Link to join meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89254017070

Please invite one and all to participate in this session. 


Let me share a few thoughts about White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism  by Robin DiAngelo, the book on race issues that I have selected for the August 3 First Friday Book Synopsis.

This book has been at the top of the best seller lists since the killing of George Floyd in May of this year.  A large number of people are finding this book helpful in thinking about race issues of race in America.

Shortly after the killing of Mr. Floyd, the CEO of American Airlines, Doug Parker, was reading this book on a Southwest Airlines flight, and it sparked quite a conversation with a flight attendant, who is African American.  Dave Lieber wrote about this encounter in this excellent article in the Dallas Morning News: White fragility is something white people must grow out of if we’re to solve racism in America Americans are reading to overcome racism. A best-selling book on the subject is sold out.

This is the second book dealing with issues of race that I will present at the First Friday Book Synopsis.  In July, I presented Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi.  I think that it is important that people concerned about issues of business – and, people concerned about our society – do some reading and pondering about issues raised in books like these.  I hope you will join us for our August session.

Read on…


We did something different for the July First Friday Book Synopsis, and we will continue this pattern for at least three more months.  For 22+ years, we have focused almost exclusively on books that deal with business issues at the First Friday Book Synopsis. Oh, there have been a few wanderings here and there, usually dealing with leadership in sports, or politics, and a few other books that might have seemed a little far afield. But I have always kept the overall subject of business improvement and excellence and success in mind.

But, this is a moment that beckons us to pay special attention to a national problem and challenge. And, it certainly has implications for every business in America.

So, for July and August and September and October, I have chosen to tackle the issues dealing with race in America through my book selections. Thus, one book will be a business book; the other book will be the book on issues of race.

If you were to ask me what is the most important book to read, I would pause, and ask you to reconsider your question. This is an issue that requires more than any one book. You simply will not learn enough to tell you what you need to know with any one book.

Last month, I wrote a blog post about the current best sellers (read that post here). Of the top 15 books on Amazon’s overall list of best–selling books on a recent day (they update this list hourly), twelve of the fifteen dealt with issues of race.

I am not “new” to this; I have some long-term interest in this subject. I have presented books on racism, social justice, and poverty, each month for over 15 years at the Urban Engagement Book Club in Dallas, sponsored by CitySquare. And, in addition to the academic work I did on civil rights rhetoric in my graduate student days at the University of Southern California, my wife and I have taken our vacation trips in recent years to the civil rights cities of Atlanta, Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery, Little Rock, and Memphis. In other words, I have paid attention to this issue for…decades.

For August, I have selected White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. And in September, I will present How to Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.

As for the business book that I have selected for August 7, I will present my synopsis of

The Deficit Myth by Stephanie Kelton. This book deals with bigger issues of the economy, and it jumped right to the New York Times business books best sellers list for July.

Our August 7 meeting will be on Zoom again; 7:30 am. Please mark your calendar now. (Meeting info is below). Come join us!

(The synopsis handouts will be e-mailed out to all a day or two before the event).


This meeting will be available to all for free. If you care to participate financially, you might send $12.00 to the First Friday Book Synopsis through Pay Pal. (Click here for a direct link to send money).

(Note: if you are a non-PayPal person, you can send money through Zelle by using my e-mail address, ).

Thank you to all who have been participating financially in our Zoom meetings. I do appreciate it.

——————–Deficit Myth

Here is the information for the Zoom meeting. Please save it to your calendar.

Randy Mayeux is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: August 7, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis

Time: Aug 7, 2020 07:30 AM Central Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting


Meeting ID: 892 5401 7070

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Meeting ID: 892 5401 7070

Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/keIWxTcJOb


Have you missed our Remote First Friday Book Synopsis sessions? We are now putting the video, on YouTube.

Click here to go to my blog post for links to the last three sessions now on YouTube. (Handouts are also available).

First Friday Book Synopsis now on YouTube – If you missed our live session, catch up here: Stamped from the Beginning and The Ride of a Lifetime, our July session, now available.


Announcement about Success North Dallas

I encourage you to also attend the Success North Dallas meeting, virtual, on Wednesday, July 15, 7:00 am.

Speaker: David Pillsbury, ClubCorp CEO
Topic: ClubLife Redefined
Click here to learn more, and register – SuccessNorthDallas.com


Announcement about the Urban Engagement Book Club
Sponsored by CitySquare

I invite you and encourage you to also attend the Urban Engagement Book Club meeting, also on Zoom, on Thursday, July 16, 12:30 pm.

Speaker: Randy Mayeux
Topic; Book Synopsis of: White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America by Joan C. Williams, foreword by Mark Cuban
Click here to join the meeting:

First Friday Book Synopsis now on YouTube – If you missed our live session, catch up here: Stamped from the Beginning and The Ride of a Lifetime, our July session, now available

The video recording of our July session of the First Friday Book Synopsis is now available on YouTube.  Click here to download the synopsis handout for these two presentations.

The two books are:
The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger
Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

(Each of the two book presentations is around 25-30 minutes in length)

Here is the YouTube link.


Some of what you might do with these recordings.

#1 – You can watch them.  The best way to watch them is to print out the handout in advance, have it in front of you, and follow along as you go.  If you have never seen one of  my presentations, you will see that I am quite handout intensive.

#2 – You can share the link with others.  You may know someone who would like to know the key content of the books being presented.  Please share the link to these presentations with others

#3 – You might use them as a discussion starter for your team.  Some of these presentations are perfect for that.  Get everyone to print out the handout, then watch the video as a group, and then discuss lessons and takeaways and implications for your team.

This is a time for learning and reflection.  My synopses can help.  I hope you find these useful.


Here are the other First Friday Book Synopsis sessions now available on YouTube.
May, First Friday Book Synopsis:
Click here to download the synopsis handout for these two presentations.

The two books are:
The Catalyst by Jonah Berger
The Innovation Stack by Jim McKelvey

Here is the YouTube link:



June First Friday Book Synopsis
Click here to download the synopsis handout for these two presentations.

The two Books are:
Think Like a Rocket Scientist: Simple Strategies You Can Use to Make Giant Leaps in Work and Life by Ozan Varol.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things: Building a Business When There Are No Easy Answers by Ben Horowitz

Here is the YouTube link:

Here is the New York Times list of best-selling business books for July, 2020 – Atomic Habits by James Clear is still #1, in Pandemic America

Atomic HabitsThe New York Times has just published its list of best-selling business books for July, 2020.  Again this month during pandemic season, Atomic Habits is #1 on the list.

My theory on why this is still #1 is simple:  we are all having to work on ourselves, and this means that we need to get rid of bad habits and cultivate good habits – habits that are good for us, and are useful in this new work environment. This book provides genuine help for that quest.

After our August First Friday Book Synopsis, we will have presented 8 of these 10 books at our monthly book event in Dallas.  I have presented Atomic Habits, Dare to Lead, The Ride of a Lifetime, Outliers, Extreme Ownership, and (after our August 7 session), The Deficit Myth. And my former colleague, Karl Krayer, presented Grit and Thinking, Fast and Slow.

Note:  This month’s list includes three books written by women authors.

These eight books provide great insight.  I strongly recommend all eight.  (I’m sure the other two are good books, but I have not read them…).

Here are the ten best selling business books from the New York Times list for July, 2020.  Click over to their site for links to reviews of some of these books.

#1 – Atomic Habits by James Clear
#2 – Dare to Lead by Brené Brown
#3 – The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger
#4 – Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
#5 – Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
#6 – Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
#7 – Hustle Harder, Hustle Smarter by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson
#8 – The Buddha and the Badass by Vishen Lakhiani
#9 – Grit by Angela Duckworth
#10 – The Deficit Myth by Stephanie Kelton


The Deficit Myth is one of my two selections for our August session of the First Friday Book Synopsis

The Deficit Myth is one of my two selections for our August session of the First Friday Book Synopsis

I record my synopses, and make them available for purchase.  Each synopsis come- with my comprehensive, multi-page handout, plus the audio recording of my presentation.  Click on the buy synopses tab at the top of this page.  And click here for our newest additions.

Download the Synopses Handouts for Friday’s Remote First Friday Book Synopsis – July 3, 2020

Well over 100 people are joining us on our “Remote” First Friday Book Synopsis gatherings. We had participants from all over the country. Please share this word far and wide — all are welcome!

Stamped from the Beginning handout cover

Click on image to download synopsis handouts

July 3, 2020 – Zoom
Two Book Synopses: The Ride of a Lifetime by Robert Iger andStamped from the Beginning by Ibram X, Kendi.
Where: on ZOOM
When: This Friday, July 3, 7:30 am
The presentation will conclude shortly after 8:30 am
Speaker: Randy Mayeux

Click here to join in on Zoom:



We are all set for Friday’s Remote First Friday Book Synopsis.

#1 — Download, and print both synopses handouts by clicking here.


If you have ever attended our event, you know that I am handout intensive. You really will be able to follow along better with physical copies of the handouts in front of you. So, if you have a printer, please print the handouts.

#2 — Come on in for conversation whenever you can. I am still new to this whole Zoom practice, but I have enabled the “enable join before host” button. So, you can come in, and talk to folks. I will plan to join the meeting around 7:00, but will keep myself pretty much muted until I begin the program at 7:30. And, I will not “end the meeting” for a while after, if you want to continue conversations with others after we officially conclude.

#3 — Here is the info, with the link to join the gathering:

Randy Mayeux is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

Topic: July 3, 2020 First Friday Book Synopsis

Time: Jul 3, 2020 07:30 AM Central Time (US and Canada)

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 827 8782 8459

One tap mobile
+13462487799,,82787828459# US (Houston)
+16699006833,,82787828459# US (San Jose)

Dial by your location
+1 346 248 7799 US (Houston)
+1 669 900 6833 US (San Jose)
+1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma)
+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
+1 929 205 6099 US (New York)
+1 301 715 8592 US (Germantown)

Meeting ID: 827 8782 8459
Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kbACZGOWfK


Reminder: The cost of this remote meeting is “free.”
But, if you would like to contribute to participate, Randy would welcome you to send $12.00 directly to him through PayPal Click here for a direct link to “donate” thorugh PayPal.

(Note:  you can also send money through Zelle, at Randy’s e-mail address).
(Randy’s e-mail address for PayPal , and Zelle, is ).

Please help spread the word far and wide; help make this a success.


You might want to read this post. It has a printable one-sheet reminder on how to make the most of your remote learning experience.
Remote Learning 101 – Read this before attending your learning session.

Think Like a Rocket Scientist by Ozan Varol — Here are my seven lessons and takeaways

Think Like a Rocket Scientist We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon — We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we’re willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win, and the others, too.
John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962, Rice University

The problem with the modern world, as Bertrand Russell put it, is that “the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” 


Each month, I present two book synopses at the First Friday Book Synopsis in Dallas.  One of the ripple effects of this schedule is that I have to start reading the next month’s books pretty quickly after each month’s event.  Thus, I don’t have the luxury of pausing, pondering, reflecting, thinking about the books that I just presented.  And this is a shame.

In June, I presented two books worth pondering over.  This post is about the excellent book Think Like a Rocket Scientist: : Simple Strategies You Can Use to Make Giant Leaps in Work and Life by Ozan Varol.  It is written by a former rocket scientist – he worked on one of the probes to Mars —  who then went to law school, and is now a writer and professor.

This is a book that says big problems can be solved.  But, to solve them, you have to dream big, and get to work.

In my synopses, I ask: What is the point?
The point of this book is:  We have to make major, massive breakthroughs to actually go forward. To do this, we have to learn how to think like a rocket scientist. 

And I ask:  Why is this book worth our time?  My three reasons for this book are:
#1 – This book provides a short, but quite valuable history of key moments in our exploration of space.  This is worth knowing.
#2 – This book reveals with vivid detail how we close our minds to genuinely new ideas.  We need to combat this tendency.
#3 – This book gives us tangible ways to put thinking-like-a-rocket-scientist into practice.  These are valuable exercises, and worthwhile steps to follow.

In my reading, I highlight many, many passages.  I include a whole bunch of my highlights in my synopsis handouts; a few pages worth.  Here are the best of my highlights from this book; direct excerpts from the book, the “best of” Randy’s highlighted Passages:

• You won’t be a rocket scientist by the end of this book. But you’ll know how to think like one.
• You’ll learn how our obsession with certainty leads us astray and why all progress takes place in uncertain conditions.
• If you stick to the familiar, you won’t find the unexpected.
• As adults, we fail to outgrow this conditioning. We believe (or pretend to believe) there is one right answer to each question.
• “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
• “Discovery comes not when something goes right,” physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn explains, “but when something is awry, a novelty that runs counter to what was expected.”
• Upheaval precedes progress, and progress generates more upheaval.
• “We didn’t know what we were doing when we landed” on Mars, Squyres admits. “How can you know what you’re doing when no one has done it before?”
• “It’s difficult to get a man to understand something,” Upton Sinclair said, “when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
• You switch from being a cover band that plays someone else’s songs to an artist that does the painstaking work of creating something new.
• “My first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom.”
• “The story of the human race,” psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote in 1933, “is the story of men and women selling themselves short.”
• “Most highly successful people have been really right about the future at least once at a time when people thought they were wrong,” Sam Altman writes. “If not, they would have faced much more competition.”
• When we seclude ourselves from opposing arguments, our opinions solidify, and it becomes increasingly harder to disrupt our established patterns of thinking.
• “One mark of a great mind,” Walter Isaacson said, “is the willingness to change it.”
• “One thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination,” Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling once observed, “is to draw up a list of things that would never occur to him.”
• Economist Tyler Cowen wrote a detailed analysis of how, in the lead-up to the 2008 financial crisis, he “badly underestimated the chance that something systemic had gone wrong in the American economy.” Cowen admitted his remorse: “I regret that I was wrong, and I regret that I was overconfident in my belief that I was right.”

And then, in my synopses, I share a few of the notable points and principles from the book.  Here are quite a few from what I shared:

So, what does in means to think like a rocket scientist?  Here is the author’s answer:
To think like a rocket scientist is to look at the world through a different lens. Rocket scientists imagine the unimaginable and solve the unsolvable. They transform failures into triumphs and constraints into advantages. They view mishaps as solvable puzzles rather than insurmountable roadblocks. They’re moved not by blind conviction but by self-doubt; their goal is not short-term results but long-term breakthroughs. They know that the rules aren’t set in stone, the default can be altered, and a new path can be forged.  

  • We need a factor of ten, not a factor of one
  • incremental improvement is fine; until it isn’t
  • we are wired to settle for incremental improvement 
  • It all starts with reasoning from first principles
  • Aristotle, who defined it as “the first basis from which a thing is known.” — René Descartes described it as systematically doubting everything you can possibly doubt, until you’re left with unquestionable truths. 
  • There really is an absolute tendency to stick with, and protect, the status quo… 
  • We really do need to learn some new things…
  • When necessary, we must unlearn what we know and start over. 
  • Richard Branson –
  • you can walk into a room; and walk back out again — Richard Branson writes, “You can walk through, see how it feels, and walk back through to the other side if it isn’t working.”
  • Steve Martin; and Alinea (Restaurant)
  • WHAT’S REMARKABLE ABOUT both Steve Martin and Alinea is that they took a sledgehammer to themselves when they were at the top of their game. 
  • The Kill the Company Exercise – (“Red Teaming,” in the Military exercises)
  • It’s one thing to say “let’s think outside the box.” It’s another to actually step outside the box and examine your company or product from the viewpoint of a competitor seeking to destroy it.
  • X kills entire projects; and rewards those (financially, and otherwise) who call for killing the project… 
  • Keep things simple
  • Every time you introduce complexity to a system, you’re giving it one more aspect that can fail.
  • “Every decision we’ve made,” Musk says, “has been with consideration to simplicity.…
  • the (inexpensive) blanket vs the incubator for newborn babies — The device to provide warmth had to be inexpensive and intuitive so it could be used by an often-illiterate parent in a rural environment without reliable electricity.
  • Beginner’s mind
  • In Zen Buddhism, this principle is known as shoshin, or beginner’s mind. “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.” …encourages its employees to “walk in stupid” every day and approach problems from a beginner’s viewpoint.
  • Use the right words…
  • not what “would” you do; but what “could” you do? — the “could” group stayed open-minded and generated a broader range of possible approaches.
  • Test as you fly…
  • When she started competing, Amelia Boone was a lawyer at a major Chicago law firm. On a typical training day, Boone would go for a run in a wetsuit, dunking herself in and out of the icy waters of Lake Michigan, with the frigid winter wind whipping against her face.
  • If we applied the test-as-you-fly rule, we would practice our speech in an unfamiliar setting, after downing a few espressos to give us the jitters. We would do mock interviews while wearing an uncomfortable suit, with a stranger ready to throw curveballs at us. 
  • Aim for progress – bold progress…
  • But the world doesn’t work this way. Our default mode is regress—not progress. When left to their own devices, space agencies decline. Writers wither. Actors flare out. Internet millionaires collapse under the weight of their egos. 

And I always conclude with this:  Here are my seven lessons and takeaways:

#1 – You don’t have to do things the way they have been done. And, maybe…probably…you should not.
#2 – You don’t have to do the things that have been done.  You can do something new; aomething that has not been done. This might be a very good thing to do.
#3 – You will have blind spots. Identify them. Be very wary of them.
#4 – You really do need to change your mind about something(s) – work on that.
#5 – You will make mistakes.  Learn to learn from them. And when you do, realize that this mistake will not be the last mistake that you make, that you need to learn from.
#6 – Broaden your circle. You need to embrace more divergent thinking.
#7 – You probably need to read more books, and study more issues. Get better at that; get more active at that.

  • And a footnote:
  • Randy’s message to Tyler Cowen would be; you could be wrong again!

I have read so many books dealing with the challenge of innovation; of leaving the status quo behind, and how very difficult that is to do.  This is one of the better books to help you think differently; to help you think like a rocket scientist.


My synopses are available for purchase at the buy synopses tab at the top of this page.  Each synopsis comes with my comprehensive, multi-page handout, plus the audio recording of my presentation.  This synopsis will be added soon.  Click here for our newest additions.