Substance Over Status

0 and 1 sign

I am attending a conference and Peter Thiel was one of the featured speakers. Peter is one of the top global 100 investors. He co-founded PayPal and he was one of the early investors of Facebook.

He offered a few zingers. When asked about technology trends like cloud and big data, he responded this way:

My bet is always on things that are fact specific, not on buzzwords… as an investor, I am always skeptical of anything that can be described as a trend”¦ I am super skeptical of cloud and Big Data.

He dismissed companies like IBM saying that IBM is a bet that we will keep buying the same kludgy technology from the 70s.

Thiel looks for companies and technologies that deliver an order of magnitude improvement in their market. And he is drawn to companies that hold the promise of establishing a new monopoly.

We live in a financial and capitalist age. We do not live in a science and technology age. We live in an age when people generally dislike science and technology.

He urged people to choose substance over status. And to live today as if you were going to live forever.

I received a copy of his book Zero to One. It is a fairly quick read and definitely thought provoking.

Most people believe competition is a healthy spur to productivity, but I think it”™s mostly dangerous and distracting. In college I spent about half my time reading books; the other half I spent training to make Stanford”™s varsity basketball team. Ultimately, I didn”™t make it. I think I was probably good enough””but that”™s precisely the point: I was unthinkingly competing with better players just so I could get better and compete with them at a higher level. I was never going to be as good as the top guys, and my time would have been better invested elsewhere, but the competitive dynamics acted as blinders.

Something like this is true in business today: on the margin, people pay too much attention to what direct competitors are doing instead of focusing on unique and ambitious plans.

1 reply
  1. Tara
    Tara says:

    This is a great quote. If you’re focused on the competition, you’re distracted from your goal (and your priorities, values, etc). I think comparison can be healthy. It gives you a sense of what to aim for or where to improve. But once you’re competing, you’re no longer focused on doing your best thing, you’re focused on beating your competition.

    I think this is definitely applicable in personal life, too.

    I’d be interested to read that book sometime. 🙂


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