Moving from Zero to One

Peter Thiel's "Zero to One" challenges long-held assumptions on innovation and progress, encouraging us to think differently.

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Co-founder of PayPal Peter Thiel's excellent and challenging book Zero to One has been met with glowing reviews (e.g. as found in The Atlantic). In it, Thiel challenges some long-held assumptions on innovation and success, including the difference between going from 0 to 1 (true innovation) and 1 to n (scaling and globalizing). He doesn't discuss culture  much, but I found his brief discussion of his interview process captivating, which he uses to open the book. When talking with potential employees, Thiel makes a point of asking the following question:

"What important truth do very few people agree with you on? The 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." (5)

It's a fantastic question that can get us thinking outside the box and moving away from our assumptions we come to believe are true, especially when biased by "groupthink." And Thiel is right to emphasize the necessity of courage in answering the question, let alone in the process of creating new and sustainable value in general. Using this way of thinking, how can we build the courage to challenge the status quo and move from 0 to 1? How do we create cultures of courage? Think about your answer to this question and share below or on Twitter/G+. #dare2design

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Photo of Elysa

Great interview question. Culturally, I'd wonder how often people feel able to speak that one, potentially contentious, truth in the face of their colleagues. I'm fortunate to currently work with people who come to expect me to disagree with them, and therefore invite me to join many meetings/conversations-- so that they might learn from multiple perspectives.

I'd think that a culture that is open to listening to disruptive thinking could be one that is open to to disruptive doing.

Photo of Moss

I'm a big fan of the question too, in that it's remarkably difficult to answer. I'm especially fond of how it forces is to break the "echo chamber" that we all too frequently get stuck in. You've raised an excellent point that a culture of listening is essential for a culture of "disruptive action" (love that term!). Perhaps the kind of culture you describe that's more open to questioning assumptions is biased toward taking action to test them, in opposition to the kind of culture that continually builds on them. I really like this idea and want to build on it in our next phase; thanks for sharing!