The Quest for Your Fantastic Future

In the last two weeks, there were four big news items that share something you can apply to your own success.

1.       On Monday, November 9, Pfizer-BioNTech announced their Covid-19 vaccine has been 90% effective in clinical trials.


2.       On Sunday, November 15, the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft carried four astronauts to the International Space Station, in SpaceX’s first fully-operational crewed mission (there was a successful test mission with two astronauts in May).


3.       On Monday, November 16, Moderna announced their Covid-19 vaccine has been 94.5% effective in clinical trials.


4.       Also on Monday, November 16, S&P Dow Jones announced Tesla would be added to the S&P 500 stock index.


These are, all four, amazing accomplishments, both for their significance and for the rapidity with which they created success.

SpaceX was founded in 2002. So while 18 years may not seem rapid, SpaceX is the first private company to send a crew to space. From the beginning of the space race, between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, in the 1950’s, until last week, no private company ever achieved space flight, though many tried (including Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic).

Tesla was founded in 2003. It now has the largest market capitalization of any car company. In fact, Tesla’s market cap is larger than Ford, General Motors, and Fiat-Chrysler, combined.  It is larger than Toyota and Volkswagen, combined. Tesla is 17 years old. By comparison, Ford, GM, and Fiat are each over 100 years old, and Chrysler, Toyota, and Volkswagen are each over 80 years old.

Of course, both Covid-19 vaccines were created this year. In the search for vaccines, scientists often labor fruitlessly for years or decades and still some viruses have no vaccine.

So how did SpaceX, Tesla, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Moderna each reach monumental achievements, and so quickly? Instead of trying to advance the current technology, just one more incremental step, they went back to first principles. First principle thinking involves boiling a thing down to its essential elements – the physics, the chemistry, the biology (see A Place to Stand).

In the beginning, Elon Musk (founder of SpaceX and CEO of Tesla), tried to buy rockets from the former Soviet Union, but they priced him out. On the plane back home, he calculated the cost of all the elements required to build a rocket and figured out that he could build rockets from scratch far cheaper than he could buy them. Later, SpaceX changed the economics of going to space by using first principles to learn to land and reuse rockets. All previous rockets had been one-use, disposable. Similarly, when Musk became involved with Tesla, by calculating the cost of the chemicals, metal, and electronics required to make a battery, he determined that Tesla could create more efficient, less expensive batteries than were then available.

If you are interested in knowing more about Elon Musk, Tesla or SpaceX, I recommend Ashlee Vance’s book Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future.

Both Covid-19 vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech’s and Moderna’s, are unlike other vaccines. Other vaccines work by introducing a “de-weaponized” version of the original virus (e.g. Smallpox, Polio, Influenza) into the body, which then stimulates the production of antibodies. These two new vaccines work almost at the building block level of biology. As you know, DNA is like the policy and procedure manual of biology. DNA tells the cells what to do. But in order for those policies and procedures to be communicated to the body’s cells and systems, DNA has to be “copied and pasted” to the cells. RNA is the copy that gets pasted. The two Covid-19 vaccines are mRNA vaccines. Meaning they work by introducing messenger RNA into the body, which then communicates to the cells that they are to create antibodies, without ever introducing the virus.

We humans naturally get into ruts – routine and rote thinking. We run these little programs in our brains called heuristics, which habituate certain processes. And we have to, otherwise we’d be overwhelmed all the time. The lesson we can apply forward is to intentionally think about how to do things, not in ways that are incremental improvements over the way they’ve been done, but in ways that are monumental improvements, based on first principle thinking. Dig down to the first principles. What are you doing every day that could be done dramatically better by thinking in terms of the desired outcome, not the old routine? And what are you doing every day that could be eliminated completely by finding a better path between start and finish?

Take inspiration from these four recent successes and apply first principle thinking in your quest for your own fantastic future.


Engaged Banker eXperience delivers these and many other strategies, from behavioral science, to all of your bank’s employees, in bite-sized bits, in every learning style, using spaced repetition and synchronous communication. In other words, in a way every person can easily absorb and immediately apply, to their individual success and to the success of your bank.