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Permanent Preparation: An Astronaut’s Thoughts on Mastery and Risk Mitigation

Referenced by an investor who has just read Colonel Chris Hadfield’s book An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything. 


“The ratio of prep time to time on orbit is many months to a single day in space.”

As Canadian Colonel Chris Hadfield states in his book and TED presentation below, astronauts spend their lifetime preparing themselves to travel to space “eventually” – actually, some of them never get to go. The book has pretty good advice to everyone: from teenagers to business leaders. But it is definitely a must read for investors.

Essentially, the book can be summarized as: Never stop getting ready

“To me, it’s simple: if you’ve got the time, use it to get ready. (…) I picture the most demanding challenge; I visualize what I would need to know; how to do to meet it; then I practice until I reach a level of competence where I’m comfortable that I’ll be able to perform. It’s what I’ve always done, ever since I decided I wanted to be an astronaut in 1969, and that conscious, methodical approach to preparation is the main reason I got to Houston. I never stopped getting ready.” 

One thing that is usually taken for granted from the investing standpoint is the amount of tacit knowledge you need to build-up for decades in order to be able to discern signal from noise when and where it matters. Since you can only grasp what you are already prepared to see, the most relevant “investment” of your life is probably in acquiring and deliberately perfecting the mental models, frameworks and heuristics that might help you see what the market is missing – in a sharp, insightful and relevant way.

Astronauts, intelligence agencies and a few good investors put a lot of emphasis in a process called “Pre-Mortem“, which is basically a group meeting where your team assume you are at some point in the future and that the project actually went wrong. The group mindset is to understand the “Whys”? What assumptions or factors were wrong, not anticipated or weighted accordingly? Why didn’t the investment thesis play out as expected? When the group is cognitively diverse and fully engaged, it can be powerful. Differently from investors and intelligence analysts, astronauts take these exercises way more seriously. It’s like the pig and the chicken “breakfast” story: investors and analysts (chicken) contribute with the eggs and therefore are “engaged” in the breakfast experience. Astronauts (pigs) bring the bacon – they are “fully committed”. If they don’t think through very well the first, second, third order consequences of potential systems and people/group failures, they can actually die.

These couple of posts from a value investing blog are quite sharp on what astronauts might have to provoke and inspire investors.

  1. What Does An Astronaut Has To Teach Investors? – Part I
  2. What Does An Astronaut Has To Teach Investors? – Part II: An Ode to Preparation