I think we all believe that Every one of Today’s most famous and familiar ideas was once unknown and unsuspected. The mathematical relationship between a triangle’s sides was secret for millennia until Pythagoras has to think hard to discover it.
Why aren’t people looking for secrets?
Most people act as if there were no secrets left to find. An extreme example of this is Ted Kaczynski infamously unknown as the Unabomber. Kaczynski was a child who enrolled to Harvard at 16, completed his PhD in math. 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 a press. Kaczynski argued that modern people are depressed because all the world’s hard problems have already been solved. whats left to do is either easy or impossible.
So Kaczynski idea was to destroy existing institutions, get rid of all technology and let people start over and work on hard problems anew 🙂 His methods were crazy but his loss of faith in the the technology frontier is all around us. Its a really bad that one thinks there are no secrets left to think upon and do something new.
What happens when a company stop believing in Secrets?
The sad decline of Hewlett-Packard provides a cautionary tale. In 1990 The company was worth $9 billion. then in 1991 HP released the Deskjet 500C the world’s first affordable color printer. in 1993 it launched OmniBook, one of the first superportable laptops, the next year HP released OfficeJet, the world’s first all-in-one printer/fax/copier. by mid 2000, HP was worth $135 billion.
But starting from 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 HP’s market cap had plunged to $70 billion roughly half of what it had been five years earlier.
HP’s board split into two factions, only one of which cared about new technology led by Tom Perkins, an engineer who joined HP in 1963 to run company’s research division. At 73 year old in 2005, Perkins thought board should identify the most promising new technologies and then have HP build them. But Perkins factions lost out to its rival, led by chairwoman Patricia Dunn. As a result by 2012 HP’s market cap was worth just $23 billion.
Moral of the story is, As a company should always keep chasing new secrets, new opportunities, new technologies and build them all from scratch
The Case for Secrets
Fermat’s Last Theorem after 358 years of fruitless enquiry by other mathematicians the kind of sustained failure. Pierre de Fermat had conjectured in 1637 that no integers a, b and c could satisfy the equation a^n + b ^n = c^n for any integer n > 2. He claimed to have proof but died without writing.
Wiles started working on it in 1986, but he kept it a secret until 1993, when he knew he was nearing a conjecture in 1995. 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.
Similar stories we can see in business ideas, before Airbnb, travelers had little choice, Airbnb saw untapped supply and unaddressed demand where others saw nothing. Same with Lyft and Uber.
Finding Secrets is Key as a Company
there are two kinds of secrets: Secrets of nature and secrets about people. Natural secrets exist all around us; to find them, one must study some undiscovered aspects of physical world. Secrets about people are different, they are things that people don’t know about themselves.
So when thinking about what kind of company to build, there are two distinct questions to ask: What secrets is nature not telling you? What secrets are people not telling you?
If you find a secret; you have two choice, do you tell everyone ? or do you tell no one and keep it with you? If you keep with you alone and try to build something around that secret then think that you are building something from 0 to 1
Reference: Book Zero To One By Peter Thiel
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