Book Review

Book Review: Zero to One by Peter Thiel

Title: Zero to One : Note on Start Ups, or How to Build the Future

Authors: Peter Thiel

Publisher: Random House

Genre: Entrepreneurship & Business, Non Fiction

First Publication: 2014

Language: English


Book Summary: Zero to One by Peter Thiel

If you want to build a better future, you must believe in secrets.Book Review - Zero to One by Peter Thiel

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.

Peter 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.

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.

Zero to One by Peter Thiel presents at once an optimistic view of the future of progress in America 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.


Book Review: Zero to One by Peter Thiel

Prior to this book, which has received enormous buzz and effusive praise, for whatever reason I thought of Peter Thiel as a stuffy businessman rather than a brilliant thinker. I associated him more with his investing career than his experiences as a founder of Paypal and Palantir. Zero to One by Peter Thiel is one of the best business books for entrepreneurs written in recent times. In this book he wears both hats, and he also takes turns as a historian, futurist, and cultural psychologist and anthropologist. His ideas and prescriptions are as wide-ranging as they are concrete and actionable. From the ideal size of a startup’s board of directors to the future of humanity, Peter Thiel holds very little back and mostly manages to tie all this theory together into a practical, coherent worldview.

The biggest theme in the book Zero to One by Peter Thiel, as the title aptly suggests, is that ambitious people should strive to create new things in the world that have the potential to move humanity forward by an order of magnitude. We should be creating one of something where there were zero before – as opposed to going from 1 to n (or more aptly, from n-1 to n). The highlighted examples of going from 0 to 1 include Google, Facebook, SpaceX, and Paypal. Examples of going from n-1 to n include the myriad of clean-tech companies started in the past several years, as well as restaurants, consultancies, and law firms.

“The best entrepreneurs know this: every great business is built around a secret that’s hidden from the outside. A great company is a conspiracy to change the world; when you share your secret, the recipient becomes a fellow conspirator.”

In the book Zero to One by Peter Thiel, Author uses recent history to persuasively argue that the world (and especially the USA) is stuck in a cycle of n-1 to n thinking which is based on its particular outlook on the future. He divides the world’s attitudes toward the future into four categories, along two axes – indeterminate vs. determinate, and optimism vs. pessimism. A determinate outlook says that we can affect how the future turns out, while an indeterminate outlook says that things are more or less left to fate. You can be either optimistic or pessimistic about either of those views. America, Peter Thiel says, has since the 1980s been stuck in a malaise of indeterminate optimism – we still feel that the future will be better than the present, but we have no idea how it’s going to happen.

In Zero to One by Peter Thiel, many of Thiel’s ideas are a bulwark against indeterminism and a call to determinate optimism. We can use powerful tools like:

the complementarity of humans and computers
the benefits of having a monopoly (as opposed to profit-draining pure competition)
the secrets about people and our world that are yet to be discovered
the excitement of a conspiracy to change the world

“The most valuable businesses of coming decades will be built by entrepreneurs who seek to empower people rather than try to make them obsolete.”

To make and execute bold plans that have the potential to fulfill our optimism about the future. And the way to do this is through a startup. The second half of Zero to One by Peter Thiel is mostly an overview of what works and doesn’t work when you are trying to do something as audacious as take the world from 0 to 1. This culminates in Peter Thiel’s seven big questions that a startup must ask itself in order to pull this off:

  • Can you create breakthrough technology instead of incremental improvements?
  • Is now the right time to start your particular business?
  • Are you starting with a big share of a small market?
  • Do you have the right team?
  • Do you have a way to not just create but deliver your product?
  • Will your market position be defensible 10 and 20 years into the future?
  • Have you identified a unique opportunity that others don’t see?

If you want to read something clear and comprehensive, that’s not afraid to question received business wisdom and make bold prescriptions for creating new companies, new products, new industries, new anything, and above all will make you think, you’ve come to the right book, Zero to One by Peter Thiel.

Buy Now: Zero to One by Peter Thiel

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