Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and Palantir, says competition is for losers. Zero to One is an exploration of this goal applied to founding a start-up. It’s based on lectures given at Stanford University, which are available online. (Thiel’s co-author is a student who took notes during class, and seems to have prepared the manuscript.)
Zero to One reads like a combination of three books, Seth Godin’s Linchpin, Jim Collin’s Good to Great, and Jordan Peterson’s Twelve Rules for Life, but applied at the company level. Lynchpin gave as career advice to do what is good at, passionate for, and can be get paid for. The goal is to become incomparable to other workers or professionals so that one’s performance cannot be measured by exertion or time on task.
In Good to Great, Jim Collins urges doings this by finding a potential area to become the monopoly supplier of expertise in that is also enjoyable and profitable. Collins calls this the “hedgehog concept“, but this amounts to yoking a potential monopoly with an engine (enjoyment) to get there combined with a pay-off (a profitable market to be a monopoly in).
Thiel ads to this call a ‘greater’ scope — for Thiel the greatness is in the ability to form a company, for Peterson in 12 Rules For Life its in the ability to imitate the Logos. To Peterson “pulling yourself together,” having a more meaningful job, and so on are part of bringing order into chaos. Thiel includes several business guidelines, but I think more important is his view of creation, which mirrors Peterson’s (albeit with tech industry, and not cosmogonic, references):
“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.
It’s easier to copy a model than to make something new: doing what we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But every time we create something new, we go from 0 to 1. The act of creation is singular, as is the moment of creation, and the result is something fresh and strange.”
Given the similarity in their writing, and their politics, and Thiel’s role as an early Facebook investor, Peterson’s visit to Zuckerberg now make more sense to me.
Zero to One is a quick read, and includes many interesting anecdotes about life in Silicon Valley, and some about Thiel’s earlier career as a lawyer. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in self-improvement, technology start-ups, or the higher meaning of business.
I read Zero to One in the audible edition.