I recently finished Peter Thiel’s book Zero To One. As a whole, this work is an exercise in the type of thinking which, in Thiel’s view, leads to a successful start-up. Behind this, however, is the positive idea that we as individuals must create the future if there is to be one. The future does not just happen; rather, it must be made, and starting a business is the most effective way to accomplish that.
We as individuals must create the future if there is to be one.In the words of Thiel, himself a billionaire co-founder of PayPal and Palantir as well as a Facebook investor and board member, a start-up is “the largest group of people you can convince of a plan to build a different future.” Put another way, a start-up is an organization or business small enough to have direct exchange of ideas and be free from bureaucratic hell, but large enough to benefit from teamwork and multiple heads.
As Thiel and history show us, new technologies, and thus a society of increased wealth and opportunity, almost always originate in small organizations which are nimble and able to take risks. That ability to act is critical for what Thiel calls going from 0 to 1.
There are seemingly two paths we can take to the future. We can simply copy and perhaps slightly improve on what already exists, going from 1 to n, or we can create something completely new that doesn't exist today, going from 0 to 1. The latter is actually the only true path to the future, properly defined as a point ahead of us in time which is different from our own.
Creating something entirely new is the only true path to the future, properly defined as a point ahead of us in time which is different from our own.This simple yet incredibly insightful notion has grave implications for the way most people think change happens today. Many people today would say that great change happens in the streets, at the ballot box, or in the halls of Congress.
This is an error. Activism, voting, and politics in general are necessarily reactive and reactionary. They are only able to respond to developments that have already happened – usually in a scramble to ban something that threatens the status quo.
At best, these methods can bring you from 1 to n; at worst (and more likely), they will just keep you at 1. At the heart of this fact is that government and activists don't produce anything. They take the creations of others and tax it, regulate it, or protest it. This is not how the future happens.
The future belongs to those who can take Thiel's contrarian mantra of, "What important truth do very few people agree with you on?" transform it to, "What valuable company is nobody building?" and then have the vision and the skill to create it. This is how the future happens. How we go from 0 to 1.
If public transportation is a nightmare, then create an app to circumvent the regulatory structures and connect drivers directly to riders.
Unhappy with credit card companies' monopoly on online purchases and want an alternative method to buy goods services over the internet? Create a system that allows you to send and receive payments online.
Are inflationary, state-controlled currencies destroying economies and our ability to effectively create wealth? Create a crypto-currency that can't be manipulated by politicians and bureaucrats.
Are universities an ineffective and over-priced way to prepare young people for the job market and life in general? Then create a company that bypasses the traditional education system and gives people the skills and real world experience needed to be successful.
Create Your Own Future
Create the future you want to see instead of simply reacting against the present.Uber, PayPal, Bitcoin, and Praxis are just a few examples of going from 0 to 1 and creating the future you want to see instead of simply reacting against the present. Education is critical and activism may sometimes be necessary, but to truly change the world, it takes innovative and inventive ideas being relentlessly pursued and put into action. It is companies like these which palpably improve our lives and change the world for the better.
If you want to see the world become a certain way, then go make it that way. What truth do you realize that current conventional thinking denies? What valuable idea is not being turned into a successful business? What is everyone else wrong about? This is where your thinking should start. Create, invent, and never let your principles be detached from your productive work. Go from 0 to 1.