The Peter Thiel Question

Peter Thiel, the well-known entrepreneur and venture capitalist, shares in the very first paragraph of the very first chapter of his book Zero to One, a question that he asks folks he intends to hire (also known as “The Heretic Question“):

What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

Peter Thiel, Zero to One

As he shares, this question feels and seems easy, at first-blush, but in actuality it’s very, very difficult to answer (especially if it’s the first time you’ve been asked it).

via Zero to One

Thiel explains:

This question sounds easy because it’s straightforward. Actually, it’s very hard to answer. It’s intellectually difficult because the knowledge that everyone is taught in school is by definition agree upon.

And it’s psychologically difficult because anyone trying to answer must say something she knows to be unpopular.

Brilliant thinking is rare, but courage is in even shorter supply than genius.

Pause, for a brief moment, and try answering the question for yourself: What is one thing that you believe to be true that is also unpopular, hard to swallow, or just plain (generally) offensive?

The list gets small, indeed.

As a somewhat-weak example, I recently shared one perspective or belief that I presently hold that is not very popular or universally-shared:

I believe that the most important team members in any business of any size are the folks specifically tasked (via role and/or responsibility) with building and leading community.

In fact, they will (should) be the highest-paid employees on staff.

John Saddington, YEN.FM

My hope is that this position becomes less and less heretical over time as community-centric thinking continues to lodge itself deep into the enterprise.

What is Thiel’s answer to his own question? He shares:

My own answer to the contrarian question is that most people think the future of the world will be defined by globalization, but the truth is that technology matters more.

Without technological change, if China doubles its energy production over the next two decades, it will also double its air pollution.

If every one of India’s hundreds of millions of households were to live the way Americans already do— using only today’s tools— the result would be environmentally catastrophic.

Spreading old ways to create wealth around the world will result in devastation, not riches. In a world of scarce resources, globalization without new technology is unsustainable.

Peter Thiel on Peter Thiel
Makes you think.

There we go.