Thursday, March 21, 2013

What can tech billionaires teach us about success?

Hi, Everyone:

I want to talk with you about something that can change each and every one of our lives, right now, today. But you'll have to give me a few seconds of geekdom to explain the thinking behind this life-changing information. I've been blogging and spreading my optimism about the recent explosion of futuristic technologies for a while now. The emergence of viable space exploration plans, solar power, electric cars, Google's virtual reality glasses and Martin's real-life jetpacks are all going to change our lives...soon. Apple's iPads and iPhones and even Facebook have already changed the landscape of human life. Before that, there was the advent of the PC computer, video games and, of course, the internet.

But today, I'm not here to talk about technology. What I want to discuss is the mindset of the new technical entrepreneurs that have begun to push mankind's future forward at a much faster pace than ever before. And I believe that by sharing this mindset, we can all live and function like mini- or maybe even full-fledged billionaires.

First, let's start with my version of a series of charts that Peter Thiel shared at 2013's South by Southwest (SXSW) convention. SXSW is a music, film and interactive conference that takes place every spring in Austin, Texas. It has become a huge magnet for the tech geniuses of our time. Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal, was also the first outside investor in Facebook, way back when it was just a tiny startup. As President of Clarium Capital, Managing Partner of The Founders Fund and Investment Committee Chairperson for Mithril Capital Management, he is now involved with dozens of similar tech companies. In short, Peter is worth an estimated 1.5 billion dollars and, being only in his mid-forties, seems to just be getting started. Here's a version of Peter's chart from the convention:

(concept courtesy of Peter Thiel and SXSW)
I have been saying for a long time that these new tech entrepreneurs have a different worldview than the rest of us, and this is largely it. Let's talk about the text in the pink. For the longest time, the US and populations of other developed countries saw the world through a prism of everything getting better. Each generation felt the future was bright and getting brighter. They had optimism and a clear vision of good things to come. That can be found on the above chart in the upper left: "Positive with Direction." To US citizens, that was the way our world looked for most if not all of the 1900s and even into the early-2000s. People in this mode had a clear and positive view of the future and worked steadily toward it.
But then something happened. Our world economy began to sink, and today most US citizens have moved into the mindset in the upper right: "Positive but Aimless." We are still optimistic (largely because it's a habit, I suspect) but we aren't really sure why.
Bear with me, I promise the theory will be over in a just a few more words. Then we'll talk about changing our lives, right now!
According to Peter, most of the rest of the developed world, China, India, Europe, etc... feel much less positive about the future. They believe things will probably get worse, even if they're not exactly sure how. These people fall into the lower right hand category: "Negative and Aimless."
Now the worst category of thinkers would be in be the lower left: "Negative with Direction." These people are not only pessimistic about the future, they are also certain that it's going straight to doom and gloom. They have a vision...but it's for disaster.
The terms within the quadrants describe which types of companies/systems generally thrive in each of the four environments. Of course, we all understand that "Wartime Rationing" means that almost no company is doing well.
The "Insurance" section also makes sense. People that believe the future is bleak and uncertain will likely invest in insurance to cover those losses. In that quadrant, insurance companies will be the big financial winners. Peter Thiel believes this is why Warren Buffet's largely insurance-centric companies have done so well, because so many countries currently have a bleak outlook on the future.
The upper-right quadrant is for companies that are optimistic but lack vision. They tend to spread their product development out among many lines (think Sony) and assume that some percentage of their goods will sell well. In truth, those successes are not at all certain, and the companies earning most in this environment are the legal and financial firms in the background.
Finally (yes, we're near the end of the background stuff), companies that are "positive with direction" have a clear vision for the future and develop specific plans to get there. Pixar's and Apple's high-quality successes come to mind.
The exciting thing is that anyone with clear vision and direction can not only survive but thrive in any of the four environments. That means that simply by changing our mindset we can enjoy the same bright and definite futures as those positive tech companies.
I hate to complicate the issue, but there is one more key difference in the way modern tech entrepreneurs think. Elon Musk (SpaceX, Tesla Motors, SolarCity) says that his successes largely boil down to a single thing: he does not reason by analogy; he instead reverts to the scientific method. What that  means is that his companies do not look to the success or failure of any other company or product to manage their own plans. They instead assume a strong direction and then focus on solving whatever problems they need to to get there. Tesla Motors, for instance, doesn't care that GM's Volt can only travel 40 miles on a charge. Nor does it care that Toyota's RAV4 EV has a range of only 100 miles. Tesla started from scratch and built an all electric car that can travel an average of 240 miles on a single charge. One man traveling at 18mpg actually went 400 miles on a single charge, recently. The Tesla Company set out to solve the need for one-charge traveling range from the ground up. It created an all-new aluminum frame, new battery designs and the most light and streamlined chassis it could conceive.
What does this mean for us? Two things. First, there are companies--dozens of them--that are pushing the edges of science and are perfecting products previously believed impossible (aforementioned Martin Jetpacks and Google virtual reality glasses, are two good examples) so there is reason to believe that whole new industries with hundreds of thousands of jobs will continue to emerge.
More importantly, what if each and every one of us were to examine our lives? What if we decided to be in the quadrant of optimists with a clear direction for our future? What if we followed Elon Musk's advice and ignored all the outside evidence about what was possible or impossible and instead focused on the maximum possible that we can accomplish? You might be the next JK Rowling, Tom Cruise or Elon Musk. You might have the most amazing idea for creating a bakery, a garden or an industry that could change the world. What if you decided to unleash all of your talents in a planned and positive way and that you were not going to take 'no' for an answer? What if you could find a way to truly make your core dreams come true? 
I sincerely think you can. 
How about we both start right now?!


  1. Awesome post, Tim. Glad I stopped in. I feel better already. Now off to google “Martin Jetpack."

    1. Great to hear from you, Stephen, and I'm jealous that you're just now learning about the Martin Jetpack. I was giddy when I first realized the damn things were working and coming to market shortly. If you need a quick summary, I addressed them a few blogs back Today's blog is going to address Google's secret X-lab (it's for real) the space elevator they're working on and a new lab product release to be announced sometime this month :-)

  2. Long post, but worth the read, Tim! Thanks for giving me a jolt of positive energy! Wishing all your dreams come true! Now, go be brilliant!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Sharon. These days, I'm all about excitement and positive direction. Life is simply too short to focus on the negative. I hope that you, too, reach amazing heights of success, and that you'll visit again and keep us posted :-)


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