12 Lessons Peter Thiel Has Taught Me About Life, Philosophy, and Entrepreneurship

I’m a huge huge fan of Peter Thiel– in terms of his optimism, his view on the future, and his personal courage to stand up for unpopular ideas (but ideas he truly believes in):

Thiel Interview

Pictures from Founders Fund Manifesto:

1. Intense need

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Work on things that you believe the world has an ‘intense need’ for. But also make sure it isn’t “too dangerous” — something that won’t kill you.

2. Go ahead and build it!

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Don’t wait around, go ahead and build what you want to build!

Recognize you can change the world. But it is hard to change things.

Peter teaches us:

You can change the world, and you don’t need to ask for permission.

3. Incredibly optimistic and bullish

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If you wanna make a change in the world, you must be incredibly optimistic and bullish for your present opportunities, and the future!

4. Don’t be a specialist; be a polymath

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Polymath: A polymath is a person of much-many (poly) learning (manthein=learning).

The problem with modern education: it forces us to specialize. My theory–

We need specialists in modern society, because capitalism requires lots of specialized cogs and gears to keep the whole capitalist engine running.

However if you want to become the most epic person possible– don’t specialize yourself into a hole. Rather, be a polymath. Study anything and everything which interests you.

For example, I studied Sociology as an undergraduate (because I suckered myself into thinking “I am not good at math”). But the best way I have been able to accelerate my personal learning is the time AFTER I graduated! Since graduating in 2010, the last 8 years I have delved deep into all these random topics:

  • Physics
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology
  • Neuroscience
  • Cinema
  • Computer science (algorithms, AI, machine learning)

By studying a wide variety of various things, you can ‘cross-pollinate‘ between these random fields, and come up with new ideas!

5. Conformity problem

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Conformity: To conform means (con=together+form).

Do you want to conform to the masses, or would you rather relish in your uniqueness?

The problem is that in modern society, we are all brainwashed to think the same way. Thus, we fall victim to ‘group think’, and we lose the faculty of thinking for ourselves.

Steve Jobs taught us to ‘think different’– but it looks like the modern ethos is: “Think same.”

Education is good– but too much education is toxic.

Lesson: Spend less time learning from others, and spend more time thinking for yourself.

6. More impressive to be in the minority

Avoid the mob. A thinker Peter Thiel recommends is René Girard. Girard created a theory called ‘mimetic theory‘ — in which much of human behavior is via mimesis (playing “mime”, or copying others). This includes copying the desires of others.

The practical question is this:

Do you desire because you truly desire it, or because you are suckered into thinking you want it, because we subconsciously follow the desires of others?

For example, in modern capitalism, we desire all these things like big houses, fancy cars, high-tech devices. But do we intrinsically desire these things, or have we been brainwashed into desiring them?

Peter Thiel mentions the ‘madness of crowds’ — the idea in which Nietzsche said:

Madness is rare in the individual, but with the crowd– madness is the norm.

Which means this:

When humans join ‘mob-behavior’– our individual actions turn a bit insane.

Consider in the past, the insanity of ‘lynching mobs’, or any other irrational violent behavior.

In practical terms:

Don’t get suckered by peer pressure to fit in.

7. What is ‘technology’?

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Peter Thiel defines technology as a tool to do more with less.

I like this idea. The problem in modern society is that we try to do more with more.

With modern techno-society, we desire more. More of more. Perhaps, we should seek to have less– but to make a greater impact with less?

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For example, I like the trend that our devices are getting lighter, yet are becoming more powerful! My 13” MacBook Pro (Touch Bar) is insanely powerful, yet smaller in footprint to a 13” MacBook Air– and yet somehow it is the same weight! This is amazing to me.

Phone cameras are fantastic– phones are so small, yet the technology keeps getting better for image quality! I also like the trend that digital medium format cameras are getting smaller and cheaper, and the image quality is getting better and better!

Practical thoughts:

  1. Don’t seek “bigger and better” — seek “smaller but stronger, or more powerful”.
  2. Don’t seek to accumulate more stuff. Instead, seek to REMOVE/SUBTRACT superfluous stuff from your life. But the few things you own; make sure you have the best.
  3. Small is often better– and stronger.

Or another practical idea (productivity):

How to do more, with less time.

Or with philosophy:

How to live more, with less bullshit.

8. Contrarian thinking

To think like a contrarian (contra, contrarius– means ‘against’).

Thus a contrarian is someone who thinks against what everyone else thinks or believes!

This is the tricky thing– I don’t think it is productive to think different for the sake of thinking differently. Instead, what it means is this:

If you have any contrarian opinions or ideas, don’t censor yourself!

9. Long ideas

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Apple took 20-30+ years to gain market dominance. Same with Amazon (20+ years).

We must think the long game– long-term thinking. Yet the problem is that human bias prevents us from thinking long.

Peter Thiel encourages us to focus on ideas– to discover more truth, ideas, and productive knowledge.

I love Peter’s optimism– he tells us:

We are not at the end of history!

A lot of techno-nerds in Silicon Valley feel like we have already discovered all the knowledge in the world. Sometimes I get suckered into thinking this as well– which is very depressing, and de-motivational.

For example, we already think all of Planet Earth has been discovered. Yet, there is still so much hidden knowledge that we haven’t discovered!

Remember the saying by Xenophanes (philosopher who is even more old-school than Socrates) who said:

“The gods did not reveal from the beginning, all things to us; but in the course of time, through seeking we may learn, and know things better…

Which means:

Never stop seeking knowledge and wisdom. In the process of seeking and staying hungry for newer sources of knowledge, we continue to learn and truly understand things better!

Discovering new knowledge is hard and difficult. Yet this is what makes it fun and rewarding!

10. Don’t compete

You don’t need to compete. By trying to compete, you get distracted. Rather than building what you truly want to build for the sake of it, you try to compete with others– and thus, getting stuck in a little competition bubble, instead of just paving new ground by yourself!

11. Why hasn’t society, our environment, and society changed more?

This is something I think about a lot– why hasn’t our world changed more than what past futurists believed in?

For example, in 2018 — we were promised flying cars. All we got is electric scooters.

Lesson: Try to do or make new things which are truly transformative– rather than iterative.

12. Don’t be a lemming

Thiel mentions the ‘tyranny of place’, felt pigeon-holed to Silicon-Valley Group-Think, and thus left for LA.

An outsider perspective is healthy. Don’t look too much around at other people. Focus on your own life task– and create the future today.

Continued learning

Get Peter’s book, ‘Zero to One‘.

Thank you Peter!

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