Video: Peter Thiel at Center's 13th Annual Conference
At the Center's 13th annual conference, Mr. Thiel spoke about the role of entrepreneurs in innovation, drawing on his experience with startups and venture capital firms. He began by saying that it is difficult to generalize about the keys to innovation, as many of the most significant advances in science and technology have been one-time events.
Still, he said that the great entrepreneurs do tend to speak about their endeavors in “the definite future tense.” While they’re often seen as risk-takers, he said, these entrepreneurs actually try very hard to anticipate and eliminate all of the uncertainties that could impede their business. “You don’t want to invest in people who are talking too much about probability or risks,” he said. “People who think they’re involved in some kind of lottery ticket dynamic are setting themselves up to get the probabilities wrong.”
Mr. Thiel went on to say that the best way to deal with “the luck that’s built into the nature of the universe” is to “try to model it and get the probabilities right.” Viewing success as dependent on luck can lead to “sloppiness” and “psyching yourself into losing.” “You talk about luck when you’re too lazy to think for yourself and you’re too lazy to think through the various contingencies,” he said. “So it’s a moral failing, not a metaphysical statement about reality.”
He also said that “the question of innovation is incredibly overdetermined.” “If you ask why is there not enough innovation happening, it’s hard to say why...You end up with learned helplessness, there are a lot of regulatory issues,” he said, noting that there’s been more innovation with computers because computers were less regulated than other industries. “We’ve somehow become a risk averse society,” he continued. “The paradox is [that] the external discussion of risk -- including by people who would like for us to take more risk -- is leading to a world with less risk. All the discussion of risk possibly gets heard as, ‘You should just take fewer risks.”
Mr. Thiel concluded by saying, “I’m a big fan of a return to human agency, where the question is not how you’re being buffeted by larger external forces, but how you will master chance and build a better world for tomorrow.”