October 17, 2014

startup school

Students learning about startups. Credit: Robert Scoble / Flickr Creative Commons

The last half century has been a time of unprecedented invention and technological change. But recently we've mostly been benefiting from changes that are more virtual than physical.

Peter Thiel made his fortune as a co-founder of PayPal — but now he says that we need to focus a bit less on the online world and a little more on the world around us.
 
“I would like us to go back to the 1950s or 60s understanding of technology as encompassing both atoms and bits. And the hope is that we’re going to have progress in both in the decades ahead,” says Thiel, author of Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.
 
Ground transportation, for example, hasn’t changed much since the Model T started rolling off the assembly line, but Thiel sees hope with developments like Google’s self-driving car – which is dependent on both virtual and real world innovations.
 
Educated, But Unprepared
 
The question of whether we'll continue to get breakthrough technologies depends on many factors. But our current education system just isn't preparing the kinds of future innovators we need, believes Thiel, a long-time critic of American education.
 
Thiel, who is well-known for offering a fellowship that gives 20-25 students $100,000 to drop out of college and pursue their own projects, says too many are entering — and leaving — universities without much thought or purpose.
 
College has “become an automatic track that’s become very disconnected with the world itself,” Thiel argues, with students using the four years there “as a substitute for thinking about the future.”

Still, Thiel does teach a class on entrepreneurship at Stanford. “You have to reach the people however you can,” he insists.
 
What’s Next
 
Thiel’s familiar with the cutting edge – he has invested in SpaceX, Facebook, and LinkedIn – and he sees biotech as a real opportunity.
 
“It’s been an area that’s been really bombed out for 15 or 20 years, but when you actually look at the science, a lot of it seems that it could work.”
 
And although the clean tech bubble burst, Thiel says that fracking will only give us a few years before clean energy will need to be back in the pipeline.
 
The Question of Luck

Warren Buffett has talked a lot about the role that luck has played in his life and in amassing his wealth. But Thiel says that successful people often credit too many of their accomplishments to luck.
 
“There are a lot of really interesting things he [Buffett] has figured out and so when he says that it’s just a matter of luck, he’s obscuring a lot of his biography.”
 
Ultimately, Thiel wants us to stop looking at where we came from and look toward the future “as something we will try to determine and control – where we will make our own luck.”

startups, Business, Peter Thiel, Education

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