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The biggest secret is there are many important secrets left

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This is a post about secret #4 about startups by Peter Thiel. To see all 4 of the secrets start here.

These views and thoughts are all Peter’s and notes are from Blake Master’s. If you find any of these ideas intriguing I suggest reading through the full notes here.

TLDR: The biggest secret is there are many important secrets left. Tweet this.

Secrets answer the question, what important truth do very few people agree with you on? Secrets are the unpopular or unconventional answers to this question.

In a business context, the key question is: what great company is no one starting? If there are many possible answers, it means that there are many great companies that could be created. If there are no good answers, it’s probably a very bad idea to start a company. From this perspective, the question of how many secrets exist in our world is roughly equivalent to how many startups people should start.

Some secrets are small and incremental. Others are very big. Some secrets—gossip, for instance—are just silly.

The purpose of Peter Thiel’s class is to share some secrets about starting a company: Monopolies, Distribution, and Power Laws.

The biggest secret is there are many important secrets left. Everyone used to believe there was many more things to do but now we no longer believe that, its a secret again.

Why do people disbelieve in secrets?
Four primary things have been driving people’s disbelief in secrets.

  • First is the pervasive incrementalism in our society. People seem to think that the right way to go about doing things is to proceed one very small step at a time.
  • Second is that people are becoming more risk-averse. People today tend to be scared of secrets. They are scared of being wrong. Of course, secrets are supposed to be true. But in practice, what’s true of all secrets is that there is good chance they’re wrong.
  • Third is complacency. There’s really no need to believe in secrets today. Law school deans at Harvard and Yale give the same speech to incoming first year students every fall: “You’re set. You got into this elite school. Your worries are over.”
  • Finally, some pull towards egalitarianism is driving us away from secrets. We find it increasingly hard to believe that some people have important insight into reality that other people do not.

Twitter’s secret
The story of web 2.0 and the information age has been the story that, on some level, many small secrets can add up and change the world. It’s easy to make fun of things like Twitter. You’re limited to 140 characters. No individual tweet is particularly important. Most are probably kind of useless. But in the aggregate, the platform has proven quite powerful. Social media has, the story goes, played a non-trivial role in great political transformation and even governmental overthrow.

The secret force behind this web 2.0 empowerment is the fact that there are far more secrets that people think. If things are very different in the increasingly transparent world, it just means that they were covered up before. To the extent that things are not transparent, they are secretive. And all these small secrets add up to something very big indeed.

How to find secrets
There is no straightforward formula that can be used to find secrets. You can’t make a list of them so the only thing you can do is develop a good method for finding important secrets.

From this there are two types of secret

  • Natural secrets, involving science and the world around us.
  • Secrets about people (people won’t tell you or can’t express).

There is something to be said for both approaches. But the importance of human secrets is probably underappreciated. These might be political secrets. Or they might be anthropological or psychological secrets. Here, you just ask the questions and see where they lead. What kinds of things are we allowed to talk about? Are there areas that people can’t look into? What is explicitly forbidden? What is implicitly off-limits or taboo?

On one hand natural secrets are hard but politically safe but human secrets are different, there’s usually much more at stake.


Written by Chris McCann

May 15, 2012 at 5:35 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. […] The most important secret, that many important secrets are still undiscovered. […]

  2. Thanks for writing all of these summarises Chris! I really appreciate it as I’m quite limited for time (exam season), although I do plan on reading all the notes at some point.

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