Saturday, June 11, 2022


 The movie Apollo 13 vividly captures the story of the moon-bound spacecraft's successful return to earth after it suffers an explosion. There's a scene in the movie where the character based on aerospace engineer Gene Kranz, the flight director at Mission Control, grabs a piece of chalk and draws a simple diagram on the blackboard.

The drawing was actually a map showing the damaged spacecraft's path from the outer space, around the moon and back to the earth's surface. This trip is expected to take more than 2 days if everything went as per the plans.
Throughout the movie, Kranz returns to this goal on the blackboard. In the chaos that the team deals with in ensuring spacecraft's safe return to earth, the simple diagram helps the team focused on the right problems.

I find this story fascinating more as it brings to the fore a few mental models that i introduce in this note. Mental Models are simply the tools that you can use to improve your ability to effectively make decisions. Lets look at a few of them:

1. Walt Disney's Rule suggests that If struggling to think clearly about a subject, draw it out. Before Disney built his media empire, he had it all drawn out first in his head and then diligently on a piece of paper (checkout Drawing as a means to bring clarity is an effective yet an underrated tool. Drawing ideas helps you slow down and think through before taking on mighty problems. As in the case of Apollo-13 where a drawing kept the entire rescue mission on track.
What was the last project you worked on where a simple drawing paved the way forward ?

2. Occam's Razor: Simple assumptions are more likely to be correct than complex assumptions. In Apollo13, a drawing really helped simplify assumptions/eliminate ambiguity while dealing with a complex recovery mission. When in doubt, lean in towards simplicity.

3. Hofstadter’s Law: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law. To counter the effect of this law, Elon Musk suggested If you have a project, combat Hofstader's Law by setting a ridiculously ambitious deadline. Even if it takes 3x longer than the deadline, you're ahead of everyone else.
Elon's law was evident in Apollo13 movie though the deadline there was forced by situation but it helped achieve mighty progress.

Catch a few more mental models here (thread by George Mack) and in my sketch summary-

What are some of the mental models you routinely use ? Please comment and share.

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