This is one of the best books to indulge in regardless of where you are in your business journey. If you want to build a better future, you must believe in secrets. The great secret of our time is that there are still uncharted frontiers to explore and new inventions to create. Peter Thiel shows us how we can find singular ways to create those new things.
Zero to One presents an optimistic view of the future of progress and a new way of thinking about innovation, i.e. it starts by learning to ask the questions that lead you to find value in unexpected places. This is a note on startups, because start-up = largest group of people you can convince of a plan to build a different future.
The book starts with a discussion around Peter’s favourite interview question: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” He finds this question challenging because it propels the respondent to reflect and think about knowledge they created themselves (not taught in school) and to become socially unpopular by taking a different stance. However he justifies his approach by concluding that brilliant thinking is rare but courage is in even shorter supply than genius.
Peter attests that all happy companies are different: each one earns a monopoly by solving a unique problem. Evidently, all failed companies are the same: they failed to escape competition. His second favourite question is “What valuable company is nobody building?” The lesson for entrepreneurs is if you want to create and capture value don’t build an undifferentiated commodity business.
Valuable company= Create value + Capture value.
Zero to one’s core message is building a monopoly. Perfect target market for a startup is a small group of particular people concentrated together and served by few or no competitors. Once you dominate a niche market expand to adjacent markets. Last mover advantage is one of the best ways of creating a monopoly. Therefore make the last great development in a specific market and reap the fruits of a mature ecosystem. Peter uses Twitter and traditional publishing houses to drive his point.
If you treat the future as something definite it makes sense to understand it in advance and to work to shape it. However if you expect an indefinite future ruled by randomness, you’ll give up on trying to master it.
Man and machine is discussed in chapter 12 where the dichotomy of complimentary human-machine vs. robots will take our jobs is presented. We learn of the hybrid system called Igor where thousands of credit card frauds on paypal were solved by human analysts who reviewed suspicious transactions flagged by algorithm. The hybrid solution has been used by FBI for detecting fraud and later inspired the creation of Palantir. You have to read MindFck Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America by Christopher Wylie to understand Palantir and the current/ future world, it’s AMAZING!
Peter concludes by saying, the essential first step is to think for yourself. Only by seeing our world anew, as fresh and as strange as it was to the ancients who saw it at first, can both recreate it and preserve it for the future.