Book Review - The Magic of Thinking Big

Acquire the secrets of success . . achieve everything you've ever wanted

You might have heard about a guy called Elon Musk. He's built a few modest companies, Paypal, Tesla and SpaceX to name three. The aim of SpaceX is to lower the cost of space flight with the long term goal of sending people to Mars. One of the building blocks of this target is the reuse of rocket systems. NASA pioneered some level of reuse with the space shuttle system. The first stage boosters were able to be reused after significant refurbishment, however one guess is that on average, each space shuttle launch cost approximately $1.5 billion![1] SpaceX aim was to vertically launch and land 1st stage rocket boosters. It seems fair to say that there were quite a few experienced engineers who seriously doubted the possibility of such a feat.

There was a chief engineer of another launch provider, I will not say the name, who told me, categorically, to my face, you will never land a first-stage booster. It is impossible, and even if you do it, it will be completely wrecked,” Martin Halliwell, Chief Technology Officer, SES

Luckily Elon Musk wasn't paying attention. In fact it's fair to say he had been busy employing the mindset promoted by Dr David Schwarz, the author of The Magic of Thinking Big. Dreaming creatively, developing confidence, ignoring naysayers including yourself, not making excuses, setting goals, thinking like a leader and finally turning defeat into victory. In 2015 SpaceX successfully landed a first stage rocket. I challenge you to watch this and not experience goosebumps.

In 2020 the approximate cost per mission of Falcon 9 is less than $50 million, 3% of a space shuttle flight, due in no small part to the use of recycled rocket boosters. Currently (2020) SpaceX have reused a rocket booster 49 times.[2]

Written originally in 1959, it's probably fair to say that with The Magic of Thinking Big, the author was early to the positivity game. It is slightly outdated but in a charming fashion - that's a feature not a bug. This book with it's advice, case histories and tools is timeless. It's actually amazing to read while keeping in mind it was written sixty years ago, because it's clear that human nature hasn't changed so much over that timeframe. While thinking about life today, do any of these quotes resonate?

From the preface . .

All around you is an environment that is trying to tug you, trying to pull you down Second Class Street.

Chapter 5 on How to Think and Dream Creatively

“Average” people have always resented progress. Many voiced a protest toward the automobile on the grounds that nature meant for us to walk or use horses. The airplane seemed drastic to many. Man had no “right” to enter the province “reserved” for birds.

Chapter 2, Cure Yourself of Excusitis, the Failure Disease

Health excusitis ranges all the way from the chronic "I don't feel good" to the more specific "I've got such-and-such wrong with me". "Bad" health, in a thousand different forms, is used as an excuse for failing to do what a person wants to do . .

The main premise is that by developing the power of belief, success is inevitable. Your mind is in control of your life trajectory. However, not content to just talk about this or many other concepts as just ideas or theories, the author is full of specific and practical advice, examples and tools to enable anyone experiencing a 'life funk' to head in a more positive direction.

The Thought Factory

At the start of the book, an example of how to understand your mind and to make it work for you rather than against you is given by describing it as a 'thought factory' which has two foremen, Mr Triumph and Mr Defeat.

Both Mr. Triumph and Mr. Defeat are intensely obedient. They snap to attention immediately. All you need do to signal either foreman is to give the slightest mental beck and call. If the signal is positive, Mr Triumph will step forward and go to work. Likewise, a negative signal brings Mr. Defeat forward.

The more you call one or the other, the stronger and more efficient that specific foreman will get, leading to either a positive or negative spiral. As an engineer I've always been fascinated by the concept of positive or negative feedback (thermal runaway for example) and how parallels between the engineering world and specifically the world of personal finance can be drawn, but this shows the concept in the psychological realm. The fact that it doesn't take more than a few seconds to think of an example either in myself or people I know where this characteristic is evident, makes it such an effective concept.

Excusitis

On the subject of examples, how many can you think of where an excuse was offered as a reason not to do something that needed to be done. "I've always dreamed of being a photographer, but I'm too old", or "I really want to ride my bike, but I'm scared of the traffic". The brilliantly termed excusitis, is discussed in all it's glorious forms along with how to conquer it.

  • Health Excusitis - "But My Health Isn't Good." Refuse to talk about your health. The more you talk about it, the worse it gets. Refuse to worry about your health. Be grateful that your health is as good as it is

"I felt sorry for myself because I had ragged shoes until I met a man who had no feet."

  • Intelligence Excusistis - "But You've Got to Have Brains to Succeed." Don't overestimate others and underestimate yourself. Attitudes are more important that intelligence. Thinking is more important that memorising.

the thinking that guides your intelligence is much more important than how much intelligence you may have.

  • Age Excusititis - "It's No Use. I'm Too Old (or Too Young)." Look forward. Work out how much productive time you have e.g. if you're 30, 80% of productive life ahead, 50, 40% (the best 40%).

It's too late only when you let your mind go negative and think it's too late

  • Luck Excusitis - "But My Case Is Different; I Attract Bad Luck". I hear this a lot. This is a timely reminder that more often than not, no luck is involved in the outcome.

Take a second look at what appears to be someone's "good luck." You'll find that not luck but preparation, planning, and success-producing thinking preceded his good fortune.

Action Cures Fear

Using action as a cure for fear was also a highlight of this book for me. The author recounts the time he was watching swimming classes run by the Navy during World War II. Recruits had to jump from a platform into the water six feet below. The fear was real and would sometimes stop them jumping. However when he witnessed the fearful men being 'accidentally' pushed, the fear was defeated. Imagine putting something off in your life due to fear, then watching the situation worsen. This causes more fear making you put it off further. Sound familiar? It's that negative spiral again. Taking action will break that loop and often the fear turns out to be far greater than the reality.

Action cures fear. Isolate your fear and then take constructive action. Inaction—doing nothing about a situation—strengthens fear and destroys confidence.

Thinking and Dreaming Creatively

A while ago, I attended a problem solving course. Methods of coming up with good ideas were discussed and practiced. An example was given of Pacific Power and Light, USA, needing to develop a better solution to removing ice from power lines.[3] The current process was manual, slow and tedious. They ran a workshop where employees from all areas and levels of the business were involved to try and generate ideas. The rules for this session included outlawing judgement and unleashing crazy thoughts. This helps foster a creative environment where tradition and convention can be sidelined to enable fresh new ideas to flourish. The eventual solution came from a secretary whose husband flew helicopters. She suggested that the downwash from a helicopter might clear the lines. The author discusses similar sessions where he described the need to switch the mindset to one of belief in order to kickstart the idea generation process.

When you believe something is impossible, your mind goes to work for you to prove why. But when you believe, really believe, something can be done, your mind goes to work for you and helps you find the ways to do it.

Turning Defeat Into Victory

The power of failure is real. The interesting thing is that 'power' can be either positive or negative depending on your attitude. One of the key differences between successful and average people seems to be the way they view failure. The evidence shows that successful people see it as a fact of life to be embraced and celebrated. Lessons are learned from the experience to enable their next venture, experience, trip or investment to be far superior to their last. They bounce back almost immediately hungry for life's next adventure. Average people (as I write this, I realise this applies to me more than I'd like) fear it and spend considerable effort avoiding it. Embarrassed, they descend into excusitis mode, telling themselves and anyone that'll listen why it wasn't their fault or even worse, hoping that no-one noticed so they don't have to be reminded of it at all. If you're struggling to believe this, read the biographies of the most successful people on the planet and find someone that didn't experience significant failure in their life.

Tap Your Supreme Thinking Power

In the final chapter, How to Think like a Leader, rule number 4 discusses the benefit of taking time out to confer with yourself and tap your supreme thinking power. Introverts arise! He demonstrates how many powerful leaders have a history of spending extended periods of time alone.

. . the successful person in any field takes time out to confer with himself or herself. Leaders use solitude to put the pieces of a problem together, to work out solutions, to plan, and, in one phrase, to do their superthinking

In contrast, he postulates that people that fail to tap their creative power, spend their time conferring with everybody else except from themselves, scared of being alone with their thoughts.

Conclusion

This book is a veritable feast of sense talking. Reviewing it for the second time to write this post, I spotted shiny nuggets of truth that I'd either forgotten or missed the first time. I'd go as far as to say it should be read regularly, maybe once a year. At no point does it descend into that area of unrealistic positive hyperbole, warm fuzzy words with a tentative grasp on reality. This is the product of a well thought out, evidence based approach to a happy and more successful life.


  1. https://qz.com/1016072/a-multimedia-history-of-every-single-one-of-spacexs-attempts-to-land-its-booster-rocket-back-on-earth/ ↩︎

  2. https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/01/last-year-reusable-rockets-entered-the-mainstream-and-theres-no-going-back/ ↩︎

  3. http://singaporeteambuilding.com/teambuilding/brainstorming-in-a-team.htm ↩︎