Summary of 'Zero to One', Chapter 1: the challenge of the future

Human progress is either copying or creating. Global progress since 1971 has been copying, by globalization. The only exception is computing, which has had many creations. Creations come from small groups, because large groups can’t think anew. Startups are defined by both properties: they’re small, and they create instead of copy.

I ask this job interview question: “what important truth do very few people agree with you on?” Answers are hard, because they are necessarily unpopular. Good answers are predictions of the future.

Human progress takes two forms:

horizontal      vertical
copying         creating
1 to n          0 to 1
globalization   technology

These two forms are orthogonal. Since 1971, progress has been globalization, with the exception of computers. People think this will continue, but actually technology matters more. Globalization is unsustainable without technology. The 1960s generation was visionary, people expected sci-fi futures. Actually, our world is about the same as that of 1970. Only our smartphones distract us from that.

Startups are about technology, not globalization. Most tech has come from small groups (<10 people). Creating as 1 person is hard; creating as 1000 people is hard; creating as a small group is best. A startup is about thinking anew. Beware: small is not good because of “agility”; small is good because large groups cannot think anew.


I wrote this because I felt like it. This post is my own, and not associated with my employer.

Jim. Friends.