Why you should think like an astronaut


The Oscar-nominated movie The Martian showed how just strong the survival skills and ingenuity of an astronaut can be. While, in the end, the film didn’t take any statues home, the book it was based on was widely praised for its commitment to scientific realism  – despite the improbable scenario and its Hollywood ending.

The latest in a long-line of ‘Matt-Damon-needs-to-be-rescued‘ blockbusters, the film ends with an interesting thought:

“You just do the math and solve the problem.
And then onto the next problem and solve that problem.
And solve the next problem too.
And if you solve enough problems, you get to go home.”

While we hope you’re never faced with a real life-or-death scenario  – see Apollo 13 crisis –  the Martian’s never-say-die attitude can help us rethink our approach to the every day challenges life throws at us. 

Practice, Practice, Practice. Then Practice Some More.

Astronauts practice – a lot. Spending days, weeks and months in simulation develops a muscle memory that frees astronauts to cope quickly and efficiently when things don’t go as planned. Preparing for what should happen but still planning for what could happen top on the list of an astronaut’s priorities.

Whatever your path in life, practice, practice and more practice boosts your chances of success immeasurably.  While those pesky “unknown unknowns” will always lurk in the background, planning for contingencies is key.

In spacecraft there are many backup and redundancy systems. In your business plans, your schedule for your adventure trip or even your general life goals, factoring for breakdowns, unforeseen delays, or even complications outside your control (not even astronauts are free from the scourge of unpredictable weather) are all signs of smart thinking.

There might not be a steely-eyed missile man to help you out of a jam, but by developing step-by-step projects, rather than listing a few goals or ambitions, you also improve the odds of success.

A Dozen Reasons Why You Need to Hire Right

12: the number of human beings that have taken a stroll on the moon. There’s a reason that figure is so low (apart from Nasa deciding that going to the Moon wasn’t cool anymore): astronauts go through intensive pre-selection courses before being placed on the training program. Testers look to recruit well-balanced individuals with a sense of purpose and adventure, who aim for the stars, who don’t wait for  guidance, and who can take control of high-stress situations. If you ever encounter a job applicant filling these categories, hire them. Hire them straight away. Such worker relish challenges for the sake of simply being challenged.

Additionally, astronauts-in-training become masters of the rapid nap, thereby helping them increase their alertness, their alacrity and their concentration. A 40-minute nap before a big event or decision can make all the difference to its success or failure. If your team tends to work late hours, then take a cue from astronauts’ reliance on light therapy, a process which can improve and sustain performance late into the evening (or, equally, ward off the gloom of working through those short winter days).

Another tip learnt from time in low gravity is that the faster you go, the harder you bump. Astronauts soon learn to move slowly and with purpose, something anyone on the ground can appreciate.

The Unique Value of An Astronaut’s Outlook

Astronauts are a rare breed. Given their relative rarity and the unique nature of their experiences, astronauts are hugely in demand as speakers.

The likes of Clayton Anderson, Mike Massimino and Buzz Aldrin all give brilliant insights on business, self-reliance, good and bad management practices (Chris Hadfield’s experiences make a great read). While these figures have about them a God-like aura, having gone where no man or woman had ever been before,  they nonetheless keep their heads grounded, appreciating their place on the Earth. Others could do well to learn from their humility; just listen to Edgar D Mitchell:

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it.

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