It’s Not Rocket Science

“Ef, It’s Not Rocket Science!

That was what Rome Chopra (my Boss, CEO, and, yes, friend) said to me a few months ago as we were discussing a micro-strategy related to a potential marketing tactic for Ziplyne.

“Of course, it’s not Rocket Science,” I thought.

Season 18 Episode 22 GIF by The Simpsons

And then another thought took over…”Why the heck do people use that phrase anyway about things that have nothing to do with Rocket Science?”     

It would stand to reason that the phrase is not that old, because rockets themselves aren’t that old. One theory has the quote’s origin attributed to President Eisenhower but that is likely an urban legend. In fact, the believed earliest documented appearance of the quote appearing in print is from a 1985 article in The Doylestown (PA) Daily Intelligencer quoting of all people a local football coach:  “Coaching football is not rocket science and it’s not brain surgery. It’s a game, nothing more.

So this much is known, somewhere along the way “Rocket Science” supplanted “Brain Surgery” as society’s benchmark for a herculean task. But why?   

To answer the question I decided to go straight to the source and ask the opinions of a few people in my network who, unlike me, actually had a good working knowledge of rocket science.  

“In my opinion, it’s actually kind of a silly expression,” said Tom Solomon, a Professor of Physics and the Physics & Astronomy Department Chair at Bucknell University. “People are likely hinting that physics-related tasks are ones that people should be intimidated by. But physics is actually very accessible and it’s all around us.”

Others agreed.

According to Marieke Thomas, who teaches Physics at The Bronx High School of Science, “Rockets are actually one of the easier systems to model.”

And as George Mason University Physics Professor Benjamin Dreyfus put it bluntly, “Rocket science is *not* complicated!”

Deserved or not, the phrase has built up a mystique, including (and perhaps especially) among non-scientists.   

One has to wonder if part of the aura is due to the fact that so much of the natural science world is connected to the social sciences and humanities in subtle, yet legitimate ways.

To that end, I decided to dig deeper and explore if in fact there are some lessons from rocket science in my very “non-rocket-sciency” job.    

Here’s what the Rocket Scientists had to say about that:

“Rocket science has a lot to do with precise timing and direction,” said Dreyfus. You need just the right trajectory to not miss the launch window.  I imagine lessons are probably very applicable to product launches as well.”

He wasn’t alone in observing the synergies between physics and marketing.    

“Launching a rocket requires an immense amount of energy and burning through a lot of fuel,” noted Thomas. “Strong product launches often similarly require huge poolings of energy and burning through capital but at the same time they can often become easier to maintain over time…Perhaps analogous to the fact that as the rocket gets higher, it faces less resistance from the gravitational pull of the earth and the weight it is required to carry becomes lighter.”

And Dr. Solomon (whose larger thoughts on science and miracles can be viewed in this demonstration) tied it together as such, “Gravity and marketing are both fascinating and are both miracles!”

So maybe I am a rocket scientist after all…Maybe we all are! 

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