What’s Peter Thiel’s Secrets?


晨山资本 合伙人


Peter Thiel指出,你无法完全基于众所周知的事实创建一家伟大的公司。那么,在他眼中,成功企业的秘密究竟是什么呢?

本文编译自亿万富翁Peter Thiel的《从0到1》(Zero to One,有删节),原著基于其斯坦福大学创业课程的授课笔记整理而来。Peter是极为成功的创业者(PayPal与Palantir)、投资人(Facebook)、政治活动家(Trump竞选早期在硅谷的重要支持者)、慈善家和作者。

Every great business is built around a secret that’s hidden from the outside. 
A great company is a conspiracy to change the world. 


Every One of today’s most famous and familiar ideas was once unknown and unsuspected. mathematical relationship between a triangle’s sides, for example, was secret for millennia. Pythagoras had to think hard to discover it. If you wanted in on Pythagoras’s new discovery, joining his strange vegetarian cult was the best way to learn about it.

Today, his geometry has become a convention—a simple truth we teach to grade schoolers. A conventional truth can be important—it’s essential to learn elementary mathematics, for example—but it won’t give you an edge. It’s not a secret.
Remember our contrarian question: what important truth do very few people agree with you on? If we already understand as much of the natural world as we ever will—if all of today’s conventional ideas are already enlightened, and if everything has already been done—then there are no good answers.
Contrarian thinking doesn’t make any sense unless the world still has secrets left to give up. Of course, there are many things we don’t yet understand, but some of those things may be impossible to figure out—mysteries rather than secrets. For example, string theory describes the physics of the universe in terms of vibrating one-dimensional objects called “strings.” Is string theory true? You can’t really design experiments to test it.
Very few people, if any, could ever understand all its implications. But is that just because it’s difficult? Or is it an impossible mystery? The difference matters. You can achieve difficult things, but you can’t achieve the impossible.
Recall the business version of our contrarian question: what valuable company is nobody building? Every correct answer is necessarily a secret: something important and unknown, something hard to do but doable. If there are many secrets left in the world, there are probably many world changing companies yet to be started. This chapter will help you think about secrets and how to find them.

Why aren’t people looking for secrets? / 人们为什么不致力于发掘问题和秘密?

Most people act as if there were no secrets left to find. An extreme representative of this view is Ted Kaczynski, infamously known as the Unabomber. Kaczynski was a child prodigy who enrolled at Harvard at 16. He went on to get a PhD in math and become a professor at UC Berkeley. But you’ve only ever heard of him because of the 17-year terror campaign he waged with pipe bombs against professors, technologists, and businesspeople.

In late 1995, the authorities didn’t know who or where the Unabomber was. The biggest clue was a 35,000-word manifesto that Kaczynski had written and anonymously mailed to the press. The FBI asked some prominent newspapers to publish it, hoping for a break in the case. It worked: Kaczynski’s brother recognized his writing style and turned him in.
You might expect that writing style to have shown obvious signs of insanity, but the manifesto is eerily cogent. Kaczynski claimed that in order to be happy, every individual “needs to have goals whose attainment requires effort, and needs to succeed in attaining at least some of his goals.” He divided human goals into three groups:
1. Goals that can be satisfied with minimal effort;
2. Goals that can be satisfied with serious effort; and
3. Goals that cannot be satisfied, no matter how much effort one makes.


1. 稍作努力即可达到的目标。
2. 持续努力才能达到的目标。
3. 如何努力都不可能达到的目标。
This is the classic trichotomy of the easy, the hard, and the impossible. Kaczynski argued that modern people are depressed because all the world’s hard problems have already been solved. What’s left to do is either easy or impossible, and pursuing those tasks is deeply unsatisfying. What you can do, even a child can do; what you can’t do, even Einstein couldn’t have done. So Kaczynski’s idea was to destroy existing institutions, get rid of all technology, and let people start over and work on hard problems anew.
Kaczynski’s methods were crazy, but his loss of faith in the technological frontier is all around us. Consider the trivial but revealing hallmarks of urban hipsterdom: faux vintage photography, the handlebar mustache, and vinyl record players all hark back to an earlier time when people were still optimistic about the future. If everything worth doing has already been done, you may as well feign an allergy to achievement and become a barista.

The world according to convention / 依据「传统与常规」运转的世界

How must you see the world if you don’t believe in secrets? You’d have to believe we’ve already solved all great questions. If today’s conventions are correct, we can afford to be smug and complacent: “God’s in His heaven, All’s right with the world.”
In economics, disbelief in secrets leads to faith in efficient markets. But the existence of financial bubbles shows that markets can have extraordinary inefficiencies. (And the more people believe in efficiency, the bigger the bubbles get.) In 1999, nobody wanted to believe that the internet was irrationally overvalued. The same was true of housing in 2005: Fed chairman Alan Greenspan had to acknowledge some “signs of froth in local markets” but stated that “a bubble in home prices for the nation as a whole does not appear likely.” The market reflected all knowable information and couldn’t be questioned. Then home prices fell across the country, and the financial crisis of 2008 wiped out trillions. The future turned out to hold many secrets that economists could not make vanish simply by ignoring them.
在经济学方面,不相信秘密的存在,导致人们盲目相信市场的有效性。但是金融泡沫的存在表明市场有时根本不起作用。(相信市场有效性的人越多,金融泡沫就越大。)1999年,没人愿意相信人们对网络经济估值过高。无独有偶,2005年,房地产业遭遇相同问题。美联储主席艾伦· 格林斯潘不得不承认“当地市场出现了金融泡沫的迹象”,但声称“就整个国家而言,房产价格泡沫不会出现”。市场反映所有可知信息,而且不容置疑。然而随后全美房价下跌,并导致了2008年的金融危机,造成数万亿美元的损失。这一事实表明,仍存在很多未被完全理解的机制(“秘密”),经济学家不能继续掩耳盗铃,假装视而不见了。
What happens when a company stops believing in secrets? The sad decline of Hewlett-Packard provides a cautionary tale. In 1990, the company was worth $9 billion. Then came a decade of invention. In 1991, HP released the DeskJet 500C, the world’s first affordable color printer. In 1993, it launched the OmniBook, one of the first “superportable” laptops. The next year, HP released the OfficeJet, the world’s first all-in-one printer/fax/copier. This relentless product expansion paid off: by mid-2000, HP was worth $135 billion.
当一个公司不再通过挖掘新的秘密或者“秘方”来保持竞争力,又会怎么样呢?惠普的悲惨下滑就是个警告。1990年,这家公司价值90亿美元。接下来的10年是发明创造的10年。1991年,惠普发明了喷墨打印机(DeskJet 500c)——世界第一款价格亲民的彩色打印机。1993年,它推出了OminiBook 笔记本电脑——早期“超便利”的便携式电脑之一。1994年,它推出了印表机(OfficeJet)——世界第一台集打印、传真、复印于一体的机器。不停的产品拓展,最终得到丰厚回报:到2000年年中,惠普价值达到1350亿美元。
But starting in late 1999, when HP introduced a new branding campaign around the imperative to “invent,” it stopped inventing things. In 2001, the company launched HP Services, a glorified consulting and support shop. In 2002, HP merged with Compaq, presumably because it didn’t know what else to do. By 2005, the company’s market cap had plunged to $70 billion—roughly half of what it had been just five years earlier……As a result, by late 2012 HP was worth just $23 billion—not much more than it was worth in 1990, adjusting for inflation.

The case for secrets / 探索秘密

You can’t find secrets without looking for them. Andrew Wiles demonstrated this when he proved Fermat’s Last Theorem after 358 years of fruitless inquiry by other mathematicians—the kind of sustained failure that might have suggested an inherently impossible task……He needed brilliance to succeed, but he also needed a faith in secrets. If you think something hard is impossible, you’ll never even start trying to achieve it. Belief in secrets is an effective truth.
不探索是发现不了秘密的。数学家安德鲁· 怀尔斯的经历说明了这一点。在经过358年许多数学家求证无果后(持续的失败可能意味着问题本身可能无解),怀尔斯终于证明了费马大定理(又称费马最后定理,Fermat’s Last Theorem)……他的成功需要智慧,更需要坚信秘密的存在。如果你认为某些困难的事情是无解的,就不会持续努力地做出尝试。只有相信秘密可被发掘、可被解释,才是探索有效进行的关键所在。
The same is true of business. Great companies can be built on open but unsuspected secrets about how the world works. Consider the Silicon Valley startups that have harnessed the spare capacity that is all around us but often ignored. Before Airbnb, travelers had little choice but to pay high prices for a hotel room, and property owners couldn’t easily and reliably rent out their unoccupied space. Airbnb saw untapped supply and unaddressed demand where others saw nothing at all. The same is true of private car services Lyft and Uber. Few people imagined that it was possible to build a billion-dollar business by simply connecting people who want to go places with people willing to drive them there. We already had state-licensed taxicabs and private limousines; only by believing in and looking for secrets could you see beyond the convention to an opportunity hidden in plain sight. The same reason that so many internet companies, including Facebook, are often underestimated—their very simplicity—is itself an argument for secrets. If insights that look so elementary in retrospect can support important and valuable businesses, there must remain many great companies still to start.
商业也是一样。总有一些关于“世界究竟如何运转”的重要真相是人人皆可探求但未经认真审视的,伟大的公司就建立在这些秘密之上。想想硅谷的那些新创公司,正是利用我们周围常被忽略的闲置生产能力。Airbnb成立之前,游客别无选择,只能高价住旅店,而业主也不能轻易且放心地出租自己空闲的房间。Airbnb看到了这个未被开发的服务和未被解决的需求,而其他人则没有看到。租车服务公司Lyft和Uber也是如此。几乎无人能够想象仅靠联系出行的人和愿意载人的司机能创立价值10亿美元的公司。况且,美国已有州际出租车和私人豪华轿车。只有相信并探索秘密才能发现常规之外的,近在眼前却不为常人所见的商机。包括Facebook 在内的众多互联网公司(它们的商业想法都极为简单)常常被低估,这本身就是秘密存在的理由。回头想想:如果看起来如此简单的想法都能支撑起重要而有价值的企业,那么一定还有许多好公司等待我们去创办。

How to find secrets / 如何找到秘密并揭开谜底

The best place to look for secrets is where no one else is looking. Most people think only in terms of what they’ve been taught; schooling itself aims to impart conventional wisdom. So you might ask: are there any fields that matter but haven’t been standardized and institutionalized? Physics, for example, is a real major at all major universities, and it’s set in its ways…… What about something like nutrition? Nutrition matters for everybody, but you can’t major in it at Harvard. Most top scientists go into other fields. Most of the big studies were done 30 or 40 years ago, and most are seriously flawed. The food pyramid that told us to eat low fat and enormous amounts of grains was probably more a product of lobbying by Big Food than real science; its chief impact has been to aggravate our obesity epidemic.
There’s plenty more to learn: we know more about the physics of faraway stars than we know about human nutrition. It won’t be easy, but it’s not obviously impossible: exactly the kind of field that could yield secrets.

What to do with secrets / 当你发现秘密,下一步如何做

If you find a secret, you face a choice: Do you tell anyone? Or do you keep it to yourself? It depends on the secret: some are more dangerous than others. As Faust tells Wagner:

The few who knew what might be learned 
Foolish enough to put their whole heart on show 
And reveal their feelings to the crowd below 
Mankind has always crucified and burned 
Unless you have perfectly conventional beliefs, it’s rarely a good idea to tell everybody everything that you know. So who do you tell? Whoever you need to, and no more. In practice, there’s always a golden mean between telling nobody and telling everybody—and that’s a company.
The best entrepreneurs know this: every great business is built around a secret that’s hidden from the outside. A great company is a conspiracy to change the world; when you share your secret, the recipient becomes a fellow conspirator.
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