I just started reading Zero to One, the new book by entrepreneur Peter Thiel. He opens the book with this contrarian question he asks in job interviews: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”
He’s usually disappointed by the answers. He says a good answer takes this form: “Most people believe in x, but the truth is the opposite of x.” He goes on to say that good answers to the question can point us to the future:
“But what makes the future distinctive and important isn’t that it hasn’t happened yet, but rather that it will be a time when the world looks different from today. In this sense, if nothing about our society changes for the next 100 years, then the future is over 100 years away. If things change radically in the next decade, then the future is nearly at hand. No one can predict the future exactly, but we know two things: it’s going to be different, and it must be rooted in today’s world. Most answers to the contrarian question are different ways of seeing the present; good answers are as close as we can come to looking into the future.”
I was 5-years-old when Apollo 11 landed on the moon. I assumed we would all have flying cars and be living in a completely peaceful and prosperous Jetsons-like world by the time I was 50.
But progress in our time has been mostly iterative, fine-tuning of previous breakthroughs, not revolutionary. Cars are a little safer and more comfortable and a bit more energy efficient than when I was a kid, for example. Communication technology has been the exception.
I’m inspired by the possibility of what could be if we put our intellectual horsepower to work on asking better questions about the future.
What do we take for granted that needs challenging? What basic assumptions are just wrong? What could the world look like 50 years from now if we stretched our collective imagination for the best possible options for humanity and all life on this planet?
What is an important truth that most of us are just wrong about?