Tag: Innovation

The Single Best Interview Question You Can Ask

In Peter Thiel’s book, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future — more of an exercise in thinking about the questions you must ask to move from zero to one — there is a great section on the single best interview question you can ask someone.

Whenever Peter Thiel interviews someone he likes to ask the following question: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?

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 agreed 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.

The most common answers, according to Thiel, are “Our educational system is broken and urgently needs to be fixed.” “America is exceptional.” “There is no God.”

These are bad answers.

The first and the second statements might be true, but many people already agree with them. The third statement simply takes one side in a familiar debate. A good answer takes the following form: “Most people believe in x, but the truth is the opposite of x.”

[…]

What does this contrarian question have to do with the future? In the most minimal sense, the future is simply the set of all moments yet to come.

We hope for progress when we think about the future. To Thiel, that progress takes place in two ways.

Horizontal or extensive progress means copying things that work— going from 1 to n. Horizontal progress is easy to imagine because we already know what it looks like. Vertical or intensive progress means doing new things— going from 0 to 1. Vertical progress is harder to imagine because it requires doing something nobody else has ever done. If you take one typewriter and build 100, you have made horizontal progress. If you have a typewriter and build a word processor, you have made vertical progress.

best interview question peter thiel

At the macro level, the single word for horizontal progress is globalization— taking things that work somewhere and making them work everywhere. … The single word for vertical, 0 to 1 progress, is technology. … Because globalization and technology are different modes of progress, it’s possible to have both, either, or neither at the same time.

Peter Thiel
Here is Thiel’s answer to his own question:

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.

The Creative Process in 10 Acts

“It’s good to understand that it’s all a process and it’s going to take you to a new place.
And I try to remind myself … to enjoy the process.”

***

In this short video, Tiffany Shlain, founder of the Webby Awards, offers creative process in ten acts based on her experience in film and art. Consider this an extension to Graham Wallace‘s model of the four stages of the creative process and how we gain creative insight.

1. The Hunch
Any project starts with a hunch, and you have to act on it. It’s a total risk because you’re just about to jump off a cliff, and you have to go for it if you believe in it.

2. Talk About It
Tell your family, tell your friends, tell your community … they’re the ones who are going to support you on this whole treacherous journey of the creative process, so involve them, engage them.

3. The Sponge
I’m going to tons of art shows, I’m watching a lot of movies, I’m reading voraciously. I’m asking questions … and I’m just sponging up ideas and trying to formulate my own idea about the subject.

4. Build
I love the word filmmaker because it has maker in it. My team and I are … building an armature — the architecture for the project.

5. Confusion
Dread. Heart of Darkness. Forest of fire, doubt, fear, every project has this stage for me. But as hard as it is — and it is really hard — any project always gets infinitely better after I’ve rumbled with all of my fears.

6. Just Step Away
Take a breather — literally just step away from the project. And I’ll build this into the schedule. Let it marinate — don’t look at it or think about it.

7. The Love Sandwich
To give constructive feedback, always snuggle it in love — because we’re only human, and we’re vulnerable … Set expectations for where you are in the project, then ask questions in a way that allows for the love sandwich: First, “What works for you?” Then, “What doesn’t work for you?” Then, “What works for you?” again. If you just ask people for feedback, they’ll go straight for the jugular.

8. The Premature Breakthroughlation
You’ll find in a project that you’ll have many small breakthroughs — and you have to celebrate those breakthroughs, because they’re ultimately going to lead to the big breakthrough, which will happen.

9. Revisit Your Notes
I always do this throughout the project, but especially during that last home stretch. Those late nights. Usually near a deadline. … I revisit all my notes and think back, and always find a clue — that missing link that brings it all home.

10. Know When You’re Done

Peter Thiel: Zero To One

Peter Thiel’s book, Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future, is about building companies that create new things. But more than that, there is a lot of wisdom in this book.

We look to models of success — be they companies, prescriptions, or people and we attempt to blindly copy them without understanding the role of skill versus luck, the ecosystem in which they thrive, or why they work.

We want the shortcut. We want someone to give us the map without understanding the terrain.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen companies attempt to solve innovation — as if it were a mathematical formula — with a version of Dragon’s Den or 20% innovation time.

It doesn’t work.

Zero to One

Every moment happens only once.

The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.

So why do we copy?

[I]t’s easier to copy a model than to make something new. Doing what we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But every time we create something new, we go from 0 to 1. The act of creation is singular, as is the moment of creation, and the result is something fresh and strange.

We are unique. We are the only animals that build by creating something new.

Other animals are instinctively driven to build things like dams or honeycombs, but we are the only ones that can invent new things and better ways of making them. Humans don’t decide what to build by making choices from some cosmic catalog of options given in advance; instead, by creating new technologies, we rewrite the plan of the world. These are the kind of elementary truths we teach to second graders, but they are easy to forget in a world where so much of what we do is repeat what has been done before.

We are all searching for the elusive formula — the things that if only we’d do them we’d become successful. This is why we flock to the bookstore to learn about how Google innovates only to find that blindly applying the same prescription results in no more success than taking a polar bear and putting it in the desert. There simply is no formula for success. Giving up that notion might be the most helpful thing you can do today.

The paradox of teaching entrepreneurship is that such a formula necessarily cannot exist; because every innovation is new and unique, no authority can prescribe in concrete terms how to be innovative. Indeed, the single most powerful pattern I have noticed is that successful people find value in unexpected places, and they do this by thinking about business from first principles instead of formulas.

In his wonderful book of Fragments, Heraclitus writes: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

If every moment happens only once, where does this leave us? These are the questions we must explore.

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future is worth reading in its entirety.

Rory Sutherland Offers 4 Interesting Reads

I asked Rory Sutherland (Vice Chairman: Ogilvy & Mather) what books stood out for him last year. I’ve had the privilege of chatting with Rory a few times now and I think you’ll agree, like most farnamstreeters not only is he exceptionally smart but he’s an awesome person.

I think you’ll enjoy his reply:

Gerd Gigerenzer’s Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions is a wonderful book; the concept of defensive decision-making which he describes within it is alone worth the cover price. As an additional bonus, you get a very valuable lesson in the interpretation of statistics, a field of mathematics which – I think it is now almost universally agreed – is given too little time and attention in schools.

Pathological Altruism, edited by Barbara Oakley et al, is a wonderfully broad book – but built around a single insight. That, just as apparently self-interested acts can have benign consequences, the reverse is also true. We tend to think that altruism is something to be maximised – but in fact it needs to be calibrated. A very important book.

Peter Thiel’s Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future is an excellent book from someone who seems to understand what Fitzgerald called “the whole equation” of a business: in this case it isn’t movies but technology. A very enjoyable book of just the right length.

Finally I immensely enjoyed the manuscript of Richard Thaler’s upcoming book Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics. I have not laughed so much in ages as when reading his chapter describing how the Economics Faculty of the University of Chicago tried to agree on the allocation of offices in their new building. No, it did not go well.

Ten Pairs of Opposite Traits That Creative People Exhibit

This beautiful excerpt from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention beautifully illustrates why it’s so hard to pin down creativity and creative people. His book passes the Lindy test — it was written many years ago, which is incredible in today’s world of pop psychology.

Are there no traits that distinguish creative people? If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it would be complexity. They show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are segregated. They contain contradictory extremes – instead of being an ‘individual’, each of them is a ‘multitude’. These qualities are present in all of us, but usually we are trained to develop only one pole of the dialectic. We might grow up cultivating the aggressive, competitive side of our nature, and disdain or repress the nurturant, cooperative side. A creative individual is more likely to be both aggressive and cooperative, either at the same time or at different times, depending on the situation. Having a complex personality means being able to express the full range of traits that are potentially present in the human repertoire.

  1. Creative individuals have a great deal of physical energy, but they are also often quiet and at rest.
  2. Creative individuals tend to be smart, yet also naive at the same time.
  3. A third paradoxical trait refers to the related combination of playfulness and discipline, or responsibility and irresponsibility.
  4. Creative individuals alternate between imagination and fantasy at one end, and a rooted sense of reality at the other.
  5. Creative people seem to harbor opposite tendencies on the continuum between extroversion and introversion.
  6. Creative individuals are also remarkably humble and proud at the same time.
  7. Creative individuals to a certain extent escape this rigid gender role stereotyping [of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’].
  8. Creative people are both traditional and conservative and at the same time rebellious and iconoclastic.
  9. Creative persons are very passionate about their work, yet they can be extremely objective about it as well.
  10. The openness and sensitivity of creative individuals often exposes them to suffering and pain yet also a great deal of enjoyment.

Seuss-isms: A Guide to Life for Those Just Starting Out and Those Already on Their Way

Seuss-isms

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, was the famous children’s book author. He was also a philosopher. Seuss-isms! A Guide to Life for Those Just Starting Out…and Those Already on Their Way offers a taste of some of his wit and wisdom.

Be True To Yourself

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
Oh, the Places You’ll Go

Listen to Good Advice

Then he spoke great Words of Wisdom
as he sat there on that chair:
“To eat these things,” said my uncle,
“you must exercise great care.
You may swallow down what’s solid …
BUT … you must spit out the air.”
My Uncle Terwilliger on the Art of Eating Popovers

Think Before You Speak

My father had warned me, “Don’t babble. Don’t bray.
For you never can tell who might hear what you say.”
My father had warned me, “But button your lip.”
And I guess that I should have. I made a bad slip.
Steak for Supper

Tell the Truth

“Stop telling such outlandish tales.
Stop turning minnows into whales.”
And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street

Focus

This was no time for play.
This was no time for fun.
This was no time for games.
There was work to be done.
The Cat in the Hat Comes Back

Don’t Be Afraid to Accept Help

I floated twelve days without toothpaste or soap.
I practically, almost, had given up hope
When someone up high shouted, “Here! Catch the rope!”
Then I knew that my troubles had come to an end
And I climbed the rope, calling, “Thank you, my friend!”
I had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew

Expect the Unexpected

I heard a strange ‘peep’ and I took a quick look
And you know what I saw with the look that I took?
A bird laid an egg on my ‘rithmetic book!
Marco Comes Late

Try New Things

I do not like
green eggs
and ham!
I do not like them,
Sam I am.

You do not like them.
So you say.
Try them! Try them!
And you may.
Try them and you may, I say
Green Eggs and Ham

Take Chances

The places I hiked to!
The roads that I rambled
To find the best eggs
that have ever been scrambled!
If you want to get eggs
you can’t buy at a store,
You have to do things
never thought of before.
Scrambled Eggs Super

Reading Expands Your Horizons

The more that you read,
the more things you will know.
The more that you learn,
the more places you’ll go.
I Can Read with My Eyes Shut!

Be Grateful

When you think things are bad,
when you feel sour and blue,
when you start to get mad …
you should do what I do!
Just tell yourself, Duckie,
you’re really quite lucky!
Some people are much more …
oh, ever so much more …
oh muchly much-much more
unlucky than you.
Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?

Embrace your strengths

Shout loud, “I am lucky to be what I am!
Thank goodness I’m not just a clam or a ham
Or a dusty old jar of sour gooseberry jam!
I am what I am!
Happy Birthday to You

Be Proactive

UNLESS someone like you cares a whole lot,
nothing is going to get better,
It’s not.
The Lorax

Remain Humble

The rabbit felt mighty
important that day
On top of the hill
in the sun where he lay.
He felt SO important
up there on that hill
That he started bragging
as animals will …
The Big Brag

Learn to Improvise

“All I need is a reindeer. …”
The Grinch looked around.
But, since reindeer are scarce, there was none to be found.
Did that stop the old Grinch?
No! The Grinch simply said,
“If I can’t find a reindeer, I’ll make one instead!”
So he called his dog, Max. Then he took some red thread,
And he tied a big horn on the top of his head.
How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Seuss-isms! A Guide to Life for Those Just Starting Out…and Those Already on Their Way dispenses invaluable life advice like only Dr. Seuss can.