Source: Zero To One
If you’ve never listened to Peter Thiel you have missed out.
He’s the billionaire known for starting Paypal with Elon Musk and for being one of the first investors in Mark Zuckerburg and Facebook (he bought 10% of Facebook for $500,000, haha).
I think Thiel might be one of the top ten smartest people living on planet Earth today.
For today’s Book-of-the-Day, I was reading his book, Zero to One.
I was also watching a few video interviews he did that had tremendous insight into his genius brain. Here are 11 things I wrote down about Peter’s perspective on life:
1. Avoid extreme worldviews: “Extreme pessimists find no point in doing anything. And extreme optimists find no need to do anything. They both converge on doing nothing.”
2. Conventional wisdom leads to you competing for something worthless: “Elite students climb confidently until they reach a level of competition sufficiently intense to beat their dreams out of them. Higher education is the place where people who had big plans in high school get stuck in fierce rivalries with equally smart peers over conventional careers like management consulting and investment banking. For the privilege of being turned into conformists, students (or their families) pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in skyrocketing tuition that continues to outpace inflation. Why are we doing this to ourselves?”
3. His advice to his younger self: “If you ever have to choose between status or substance, choose substance.” He says we will all face that choice and our tendency is to go with social proof (what the masses perceive as the right choice) but we should avoid this.
4. The world’s getting better: In 1840 the average Swedish woman lived to 46. Now it’s risen to age 87. Life expectancy’s gone up 2.5 years per decade.
5. The modern education system is similar to the Church in the Dark Ages centuries ago: Peter compares it this way, “It had become a very corrupt institution. It was charging more and more for indulgences. People thought (In the 1500’s) they could only get saved by going to the Church, just like people today believe that salvation involves getting a college diploma. And if you don’t get a college diploma that you’re going to go to hell. I think my answer is, in some ways, like that of the reformers in the 16th century. it is the same disturbing answer — that you’re going to have to figure out your salvation on your own.
6. Why nerds seem to be so successful in life: Thiel observed how many big entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg have Asperger Syndrome (which makes them socially awkward but less sensitive to societal norms), “We need to ask, what is it about our society where those of us who do not suffer from Asperger’s are at some massive disadvantage because we will be talked out of our interesting, original, creative ideas before they are even fully formed?
7. The most important question you can ask yourself: “Tell me something that’s true that very few people agree with you on.” This is a very tricky question to answer. Try it. (Remember that it has to be something that is true not something made up)… The reason this is such a vital thing to ask is that most big breakthroughs come from catching trends that the average human doesn’t have the vision or contrarian viewpoint to see. Allan Nation used to tell me the same thing about my business ideas, “Tai, if you tell your neighbor your idea and they think there is no risk in doing it, then you are too late. You missed the trend.”
8. Would he go to a university again if he could do it all over?: “It’s possible I would do it again,” he said, but also that he would, “think about it much harder. I would ask questions, ‘Why am I doing this? Am I doing this just because I have good grades and test scores? And because I think it’s prestigious? Or am I doing this because I’m extremely passionate about practicing law? So I think there are good answers and there are bad answers and my, sort of, retrospective on my early 20s is that I was way too focused on the wrong answers at the time.
9. Seek no competition: “Most business books tell you how you should compete more effectively, and mine goes somewhat against the grain to tell you that you should not compete,” Thiel says, “Figure out something that nobody else is doing and look to create a monopoly in some area that’s been underdeveloped. He goes on to say: “Every moment in business happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.”
10. It’s not an education that you want, it’s knowledge: Peter explains, “I don’t like the word education because it is such an extraordinary abstraction. I’m very much in favor of learning. I’m much more skeptical of credentialing or the abstract called education. So there are all these granule questions. Like, what is it that you’re learning? Why are you learning it? Are you going to college because it’s a four year party? Is it a consumption decision? Is it an investment decision, where you’re investing in your future? Is it insurance? Or is a tournament, where you’re just beating other people? Are our elite universities really like Studio 54 where it’s like an exclusive night club?” This is why I speak about knowledge so much. The world is now entering into the age of the “Knowledge Society.” It’s not the information age anymore. It’s the knowledge age…
11. Being part of something new and exciting is the best way to control your life’s destiny: “A startup is the largest endeavor over which you can have definite mastery. You can have agency not just over your own life, but over a small and important part of the world. It begins by rejecting the unjust tyranny of chance. You are not a lottery ticket.” A lot to think about.
Always ponder what geniuses say. It’s the quickest way to get smarter.