Month: November 2016

3 Thoughtful Questions for Entrepreneurs


After reading a thoughtful book, I find it tough to remember what I actually read a couple of weeks later. So after reading Zero to One by Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal and Palantir, I decided to write down three nuggets for entrepreneurs worthy to chew over. If you don’t see yourself as an entrepreneur, take advice from Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn: we are all entrepreneurs of not only our businesses, but also our personal and professional lives.

  1. Are We Making Vertical or Horizontal Progress?
    I tend to think about progress as generally making something faster and better – faster computers or higher buildings. However, Thiel splits it into two:

    • Horizontal progress (traditional idea of progress) is replication or globalization. China built railroads and cities in 20 years that took the United States 100 years by copying. But is there anything new here?
    • Vertical progress (technological progress) are new inventions that change the way we live: the wheel, horse-drawn carriages, automobiles, planes, rockets, and computers.


Entrepreneurs make vertical progress. Most large corporations make horizontal progress.

  1. Is the Future Definite or Indefinite? Optimistic or Pessimistic?
    • The view in China is definite and pessimistic. Its economy has been growing in leaps and bounds, but by following the footsteps of American growth the past century. Rapid growth is unsustainable, so what is next?
    • American baby boomers saw the world as definite and optimistic. Job security is guaranteed as long as you worked hard and moved up the ranks.
    • Europe is currently in an indefinite and pessimistic mood. The population is aging and growth is slowing, but unsure of what will happen.
    • Americans are indefinitely optimistic. College graduates are taught to diversify their skill sets and wear many hats. Who knows where the bright future will take them next?


These views lead us to the power law, which advises you to make as few investments as possible because 20% of investments reap you 80% of the benefits (Pareto). So should we invest our money and time in a few successful endeavors or in many to hedge our bets? Which view is best to navigate today’s world?

  1. How Do We Uncover the World’s Secrets to Find Success?
    There are three different types of goals:

    • “Goals that can be satisfied with minimal effort”
    • “Goals that can be satisfied with serious effort”
    • “Goals that cannot be satisfied, no matter how much effort one makes”

Entrepreneurs who find goals that can be satisfied with serious effort are the Facebooks and Googles of today.

Do you agree with Thiel’s interpretation of the entrepreneurial world? Are there other concepts you found helpful in starting and managing your business or career?

Zero to One – Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel with Blake Masters

Other Reading

Math Explains Coincidences, Getting Fat, and Death

Curated by CLAI

SURPRISING COINCIDENCES: We tend to fail to understand how the basic laws of probability work and our selective attention, which lead to great surprise at many coincidences. Stunning coincidences are only natural — like stumbling into a close friend halfway around the world or meeting someone with the same birthday can be explained by simple mathematics.

  • In a group of 366 people, there’s 100 percent probability that two people will have the same birthday — since there are only 365 days in a year, excluding leap year. In a group of 23 people, there’s >50% two people in the room have the same birthday
  • We also have selective attention — we notice and remember coincidences, but we hardly ever heed their absence.

Credits: Guillaume Jacquenot (Wikimedia Commons)

FAT TEMPTATION: Drop a bunch of kale into your cart and you’re more likely to head next to the ice cream or beer section. The more “virtuous” products you have in your basket, the stronger your temptation to succumb to vice. When shown a burger, their average guess was 734 calories; when shown the same burger alongside three celery sticks, the average guess dropped to 619. These are not rational calculations; they betray the shortcuts your brain takes in its running tally of vice and virtue.

LIFE EXPECTANCY OF MUSICIANS BY GENRE: Musicians from the older genres – blues, jazz (including bebop and dixieland), country (including country and western, boogie woogie, honky tonk and bluegrass), and gospel (including spiritual and Christian rock) – enjoyed, on average, similar lifespans as those from the U.S. population with the same year of birth and gender.

  • The next group – R&B (including doo wop and soul), pop, folk (including ballad and polka) and world music – had lower life expectancies compared with the U.S. population.
  • Thereafter, the gap between population lifespans and average age of death for the more recent genres – rock (including rockabilly), electronic (including experimental, techno, disco, and funk), punk, metal, rap and hip hop – widens.