Peter Thiel — the billionaire cofounder of PayPal and Palantir, as well as a powerful venture capitalist and hedge fund manager — is well known for his contrarian, often academic bits of wisdom.
It may come as a bit of a surprise to learn that, despite his focused approach to business, he sees the intense competitiveness often associated with entrepreneurialism to be more of a burden than an asset.
In an episode of author and investor Tim Ferriss’ podcast, Thiel explains some of the basic principles in his new book “Zero to One.” Ferriss asks Thiel about one aspect of his life he would most like to change. Thiel responds:
I would say that when I look back on my younger self, I was insanely tracked, insanely competitive. And when you’re very competitive, you get good at the thing you’re competing with people on, but it comes at the expense of many other things.
So if you’re a competitive chess player, you might get very good at chess but neglect to develop other things, because you’re focused on beating your competitors rather than on doing something that’s important or valuable.
And so I think I’ve become much more self-aware over the years about the problematic nature of a lot of the competitions and rivalries that we get caught up in. And I would not pretend to have extricated myself from this altogether.
I think every day it’s something to reflect on and think about “How do I become less competitive in order that I become more successful?”
Thiel explains in his book that too many Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have become focused on outperforming other companies within even a young industry, confusing competition with innovation. In his book, for example, he writes that Google hasn’t competed in the search business since it significantly leapt ahead of Microsoft and Yahoo in the early 2000s.
“Creative monopolists give customers more choices by adding entirely new categories of abundance to the world. Creative monopolies aren’t just good for the rest of society; they’re powerful engines for making it better,” he writes in his book. It’s a lesson he believes companies as well as individuals should follow if they truly want to push society forward.
You can listen to the rest of Thiel’s insights by checking out “The Tim Ferriss Show” on iTunes.
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