“Zero To One” by Peter Thiel


“Our contrarian question—What important truth do very few people agree with you on?—is difficult to answer directly. It may be easier to start with a preliminary: what does everyone agree on? ‘Madness is rare in individuals—but in groups, parties, nations, and ages it is the rule,’ Nietzsche wrote (before he went mad). If you can identify a delusional popular belief, you can find what lies hidden behind it: the contrarian truth.

—Peter Thiel

On the surface, Zero to One is a book of advice for people starting companies. It’s relevant to people outside of Silicon Valley because of Peter Thiel’s grasp on the societal trends that hold back innovation and what needs to change in order to facilitate new and better businesses in America.

Peter Thiel is a venture capitalist who co-founded PayPal in 1998 after graduating from Stanford Law and realizing that work at a big law firm wasn’t what he wanted to do with his life. After selling PayPal to eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion, Thiel co-founded the data analysis company Planatir and was the first investor in Facebook, among other reputable companies. His opinions are challenging precisely because they are ambitious and expect more from the world than to just humming along with the status quo.

The book contains many ideas that are way too perceptive for me to come up with on my own. Among them are that there are two kinds of progress: doing new things vs. copying things that work (think innovation vs. globalization); that the dot com bubble was a moment of unbridled excitement about the future and its implosion has made companies and investors more cautious ever since; competition is the opposite of capitalism (how are you going to make money if you’re so busy competing?); that being optimistic without a definite plan is lunacy—that a better future doesn’t come without great planning and exertion, and much more. The book is a quick read, the tone is lively and the chapters are full of interesting examples that illuminate fresh ideas.

Further Links
Peter Thiel’s Vox interview with Ezra Klein: “I think “big data” is one of these buzzwords that when you hear it, you should almost always think “fraud,” because the problem is actually to find meaning within data. It’s to make big data small. That’s actually the core challenge. It’s not to collect more and more data.”
What the professionals had to say: New York Times Interview and Review of Zero To One.
Peter Thiel’s podcast interview with James Altucher.
Speech given at Stanford like the ones that inspired him to write the book in the first place.

Buy on Amazon: Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future Continue reading

“Average is Over” by Tyler Cowen


“I would bring a hammer.”

—Chess grandmaster Jan Hein Donner, when asked what strategy he would use against a computer

Average is Over is about where trends education and employment are headed. In brief, the book’s thesis is that people who are good at using computers will thrive while those who don’t will fall behind in just about every way imaginable.

Tyler Cowen is an academic economist at George Mason University with an active web presence. His thinking is nuanced and his politics are tough to pin down. I find his writing to be as lively and accessible as it is intellectually stimulating.

The book discusses many trends going on in the world today. Among them is that women on average tend to be better suited for the workplace in 2014, because conscientiousness is more valuable than ever and they’re more so on average than men. Good managers are in demand like never before because of the coordination required to bring together the virtually miraculous pattern of economic cooperation that everything modern comes from. Video games, rather than being a waste of time, reflect modern trends in cognition, entertainment, education, and rapid information processing. In daily life, certain tasks will be more frustrating as services become more automated (think self-check out lanes at the grocery store and talking on the phone to an automated voice recording) but those savings will ultimately lower the cost of living. There’s more, but I won’t spoil it for you.

Further Links:
Tyler Cowen’s blog: Marginal Revolution
Interview with Tyler Cowen
What the professionals had to say: Economist book review
An interesting extrapolation on the effects of inequality in everything, inspired by the book
TechCrunch YouTube interview: “It’s really going to be about motivation and grabbing people’s attention. That’s one thing that software don’t do very well is understand the human element. So if you look at Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, of course he is a tech genius, but the real key part is how he understood psychology and how he grabbed people’s attention. Time doesn’t pile up as much as wealth does, there are only 24 hours in each day. So it’s the people who have that skill—grabbing your attention—who will be the economic winners of the future.
Buy on Amazon: Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation

Continue reading

What I Learned Today

Today I only had time to write down things that deserve further investigation. Among them:

www.duckduckgo.com/, the ad-free and unbiased search engine.

IAC/InterActiveCorp —A company that apparently owns everything on the internet.

Mariana Trench —The deepest part of the ocean, almost 7 miles at the Challenger Deep.

sylvan— an association with the woodland, specifically living in the woods.

empyrean— belonging to or deriving from heaven.

I caught the late showing of Interstellar tonight. It was much better than the previews let on. The movie was mindblowing, go see it.

I will leave you with a poem that was central to the film:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

                                               -Dylan Thomas