Ozan Varol is a rocket scientist, award-winning law professor, and author of non-fiction books. A native of Istanbul, Turkey, Ozan grew up in a family of no English speakers. He moved to the United States by himself at 17 to attend Cornell University and major in planetary sciences. While there, he served on the operations team for the 2003 Mars Exploration Rovers project that sent two rovers to Mars. He later became a law professor to influence others to make interplanetary leaps on this planet. He has written numerous award-winning articles that are taught in colleges and graduate schools. His work has been featured in domestic and foreign media, including BBC, TIME, CNN, Washington Post, Slate, and Foreign Policy.

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  • Sustaining excellence =
    • The ability to learn from failure – “Failure sucks and shouldn’t be celebrated. We must learn from it.”
    • “Learn fast, don’t fail fast. We need to get better with each iteration.
    • Breakthroughs should be evolutionary, not revolutionary
  • How success can lead to failure
    • The Challenger Explosion – A string of successes discounted the role that luck played in the process
    • “Just because you’re on a hot streak doesn’t mean you’ll beat the house.”
  • Post mortem – A Latin phrase for “after death.” Instead of a post mortem, do an “after action review.”
    • Review after all actions whether they succeeded or failed.
  • The “Kill The Company” exercise
    • Ask the people within your company what they would do to compete and beat your company… And then do that.
    • Mark Zuckerberg does this with acquisitions (WhatsApp, Instagram). One of his greatest fears is becoming the next MySpace.
  • As a mid-level manager: Put yourself in the position of your customer. Why are customers justified in buying from our competitions? “They see something we’re not seeing.”
  • Growing up in Istanbul, Turkey. It was a culture of conformity. Ozan did not fit in. In fact, he was assigned a number in school and that was used to call on him instead of his name.
    • His parents let him choose which school he went to and he remembers feeling so empowered by them for having a choice. He wanted more of that.
      • So he decided to come to the United States for college and attended Cornell.
  • Ozan blindly applied for a job that didn’t exist by emailing Steve Squyres (he was in charge of a NASA funded project to send a river to Mars). And he acted on his dad’s advice, “you can’t win the lottery if you don’t buy a ticket.”
  • “Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.” – Carl Sagan
  • In the modern world we look for certainty in uncertain places. We search for order in chaos. The right answer in ambiguity. And conviction in the complexity.
  • We should be fueled not by a desire for a quick catharsis but by intrigue. Where certainty ends, progress begins.
  • “The great obstacle to discovering was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. – historian Daniel J Boorstin
  • It takes courage… Often times there is a failure of courage. Have the courage to take action when the rest of the world is standing still.
  • Ask yourself two questions:
    • What’s the worst that can happen?
    • What’s the best that can happen?
  • Adopt an experimental mindset – Frame your actions as experiments. Don’t be afraid to try new things…
  • “The way you figure out what’s right is to try to prove it wrong.”
  • The goal? “Find what’s right, not to be right.”
    • Ask people who disagree with you… Why? Have a mindset to learn from them.
    • “Tell me what’s wrong with this…” Be a work in progress.
  • “All progress happens in uncertain times.”
    • “It’s bizarre. People prefer certainty of bad news instead of the fear of the unknown.”
    • “Be curious about tomorrow.”
  • Think: “What problems can I solve right now?”
    • It is not helpful to try and solve something that you cannot control.
  • Diversify your identity and services — This allows you to be flexible and not depended on one stream of revenue.
  • “All of our differences are minimized when we zoom out.” The Apollo 8 mission gave us an opportunity to look at the Earth from afar (mission to go near the moon). Jim Lovell could cover up the earth with his thumb. It put things in perspective.
  • Rocket science teaches us about our limited role in the cosmos and reminds us to be gentler and kinder to one another.
  • Here is WHY joining a Learning Leader Circle is a good idea…

Resources:

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Episode 216: Jim Collins — How To Go From Good To Great

Episode #300: AJ & Keith Hawk – How To Instill Work Ethic & Curiosity In Your Children

Episode #363: Admiral William McRaven – The Bin Laden Raid, Saving Captain Phillips, & Leadership Lessons For Life