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Zero to One

Notes on Startups, or How to Build The Future

By Peter Thiel with Blake Masters
  • Read in 18 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 11 key ideas
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Zero to One by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters

Zero to One explores how companies can better predict the future and take action to ensure that their startup is a success. The author enlivens the book’s key takeaways with his own personal experiences.

Key idea 1 of 11

To imagine what progress the future will bring, you must be able to view the present differently.

Try to imagine the world in the year 2100. What do you see? For most people, the future is a tantalizing topic to think about.

But what do we really mean when we talk about the future?

Clearly, we don’t just think of the passage of time, but the progress made during that time. This progress, that is, the differences from the present, is what really defines the future.

More specifically, it can be divided into horizontal and vertical progress:

Horizontal progress comes from expanding on existing ideas and innovations. Here, globalization is a common driver because it helps spread existing ideas to more people.

Vertical progress, however, comes from creating something new that didn’t exist before, like a new technology or method.

Put another way, horizontal progress is going from one to n whereas vertical progress is going from zero to one.

An example of horizontal progress would be mass-producing phones and distributing them to developing countries; an example of vertical progress would be building a smartphone from a regular one.

As you can imagine, vertical progress is hard to predict because you have to imagine something that doesn’t exist yet. That’s why you can only predict future progress if you’re able to see the present differently.

After all, the future is by definition different from the present, so to imagine it you can’t just focus on the status quo. If you want to imagine what the future holds, you must be able to view the present critically.

The author believes that this is such a crucial ability that, in job interviews, he asks candidates, “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?” Why? Because only a person who can think outside established conventions can see and change the future.

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