Zero to One begins with what Peter Thiel calls the contrarian question (and it’s a question he asks during job interviews): “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” This question serves as the basis for Thiel’s business ideas.
The contrarian truth can be political, social, or financial. I have used the contrarian question without knowing it existed for my own journalism. “What important stories are the media refusing to cover?”
Thiel later applies contrarian thinking to starting a company, “The business version of our contrarian question is: what valuable company is nobody building?”
While we take PayPal for granted, the idea of sending money via email was a contrarian truth. It’s obvious to us now. It wasn’t obvious then.
PayPal had to pay people to use their serve ($10 for each new user, with a $10 affiliate bonus for every friend you referred.) If you have to pay someone to use your product, then clearly it’s ahead of its time.
“Most answers to the contrarian question are different ways of seeing the present; good answers are as close as we can come to looking into the future.”
Today a contrarian truth could be that BTC and other cryptocurrencies are the future. When I mentioned opening a BTC account, most people told me it was a scam and crazy. Maybe they are right, or maybe BTC is the future.
My own contrarian truth hit me years ago. I believed that masculinity and free speech were the future. Rather than write a general-interest mindset book, I put a Gorilla on the cover and sold my book primarily to a male audience. People said this was crazy, bad branding, and that I’d alienate 50% of my potential audience (women).
Men loved Gorilla Mindset and I have a large female audience, too.
Thiel is a magician (masculine archetype)
Zero to One mentions the word secret dozens of times. There’s an entire section devoted to secrets, and Theil asks in his book, “Why aren’t people looking for secrets?”
Those who have read Carl Jung or “King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine,” would see Thiel is a magician.
Indeed Zero to One is premised on the idea of alchemy. When you take a business from 0 to 1, you create something out of nothing.
(Guardians of the Secret, Jackson Pollack)
What is your contrarian truth?
When I ask that question, even of people anonymously, the answers are often disappointing – too banal.
Finding a contrarian truth requires you to love secrets, to marvel at life’s mysteries. Without that genuine curiosity, you’re unlikely to see what others miss.
A contrarian truth should be shocking and outrageous, as by definition you are going against the crowd. As Thiel later writes, “If you can identify a delusional popular belief, you can find what lies hidden behind it: the contrarian truth.”
What is Peter Thiel’s mindset?
On conflict. “Sometimes you do have to fight. Where that’s true, you should fight and win. There is no middle ground; either don’t throw any punches, or strike hard and end it quickly.”
On free will. “You can expect the future to take a definite form or you can treat it as hazily uncertain. If you treat the future as something definite, it makes sense to understand it in advance and to work to shape it. But if you expect an indefinite future ruled by randomness, you’ll give up on trying to master it.”
On vision. “In the 1950s, people welcomed big plans and asked whether they would work. Today a grand plan coming from a schoolteacher would be dismissed as crankery, and a long-range vision coming from anyone more powerful would be viewed as hubris.”
Go from Zero to One.
Zero to One is a must-read for anyone who wants to think more deeply about the world. Yes, there’s a lot of stuff in there about start-ups and business, and that’s what most reviews focus on.
(You read Danger & Play because, as Theil observes, “If you want to create lasting value, don’t build an undifferentiated commodity business.”)
Most news and commentary is a commodity business. Why read Carlos Slims blog (NYT) when you can read Jeff Bezos blog (WaPo)? It’s the same SJW, anti-Trump hoaxes. The same is true of Vice, Buzzfeed, and Daily Beast. If every newspaper except for one failed, would anyone notice or care? If every basic bitch blog except for one closed down, what would be lost?
The Internet commoditized the distribution of facts. The "news" media responded by pivoting wholesale into opinions and entertainment.
— Naval (@naval) May 26, 2016
I treat a business book like a work of philosophy, which the financial and tech press lacks the intellectual depth to do.
Zero to One is not another basic bitch business book. It’s a work of philosophy by a philosopher.