Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future

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The great secret of our time is that there are still uncharted frontiers to explore and new inventions to create. In Zero to One , legendary entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel shows how we can find singular ways to create those new things. 

Thiel begins with the contrarian premise that we live in an age of technological stagnation, even if we’re too distracted by shiny mobile devices to notice. Information technology has improved rapidly, but there is no reason why progress should be limited to computers or Silicon Valley. Progress can be achieved in any industry or area of business. It comes from the most important skill that every leader must master: learning to think for yourself.

When peter Theil interviews people, he likes to ask them what unique truth they know that very few people agree upon. When we have learned something to be true, it is also something that a majority of people have agreed upon.

Horizontal progress is easy to imagine. That is when you improve something that you already know works. That will take you from A-Z. Vertical progress is harder because you need to do something that has never been done before. That will take you from Zero to One. China is prospering by horizontal progress. Globalization has allowed this to happen. By copying or improving something that already exist, you will not get ahead. Technology is what has taken you from Zero to One. You can have both horizontal and vertical progress, one at a time, or neither. Right now, we experience globalization, but limited technology progress. The progress has mainly been made in IT. The future depends on technology – not on globalization.

Doing what someone else already knows how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But when you do something new, you go from 0 to 1. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. Tomorrow’s champions will not win by competing ruthlessly in today’s marketplace. They will escape competition altogether, because their businesses will be unique. 

What Thiel is after is the revitalization of imagination and invention writ large. He offers plenty of practical insider advice, to be sure: A startup flawed at its foundation cannot be fixed. Unless your company is publicly held, your board shouldn’t exceed five people. There’s also the typical serving of iconoclastic ideas—namely that competition is a deceptive, destructive ideology, and monopoly is the true condition of any successful business. But Thiel is also upfront about the limits of what he can tell aspiring entrepreneurs: There’s no special formula he can impart because every innovation is unique, and “no authority can prescribe in concrete terms how to be innovative.”

Zero to One presents at once an optimistic view of the future of progress and a new way of thinking about innovation: it starts by learning to ask the questions that lead you to find value in unexpected places.

Author    : Peter Thiel and Blake Masters
Publisher    : Crown Business
Publication date    : September 16, 2014
Pages    : 224 (first edition)
ISBN    : 978-0804139298

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