Peter Thiel’s Question

Peter Thiel and Elon Musk at PayPal

Peter Thiel’s favourite interview question is:

‘What is one thing that you believe that almost no one agrees with you?

At first it seems like a disarmingly easy question to answer, but on closer inspection it turns out to be an incredibly hard question to answer. The social dynamics of the question are that if you have a good answer to the question, the interviewer should disagree with your answer.

The question tests 2 things: The first is ‘contrarian thinking’. The first way in which someone fails to answer the question is by saying a conventional statement that a lot of people agree with, such as “the higher education system is not fit for purpose”, “we should do more about climate change”.

This question also tests whether someone is able to determine what is true. People will say something that is obviously false: ‘the earth is flat’, ‘the US never landed on the moon’. A lot of people disagree with their statement but it is not useful because it is not correct.

This question asks you to identify an unpopular or contrarian truth. Peter Thiel believes the basis of any great business is some Secret that is true that no one or not many people believe. Peter Thiel answers his own question:

  • A lot of people think this question is easy to answer but it is actually quite hard
  • People think that competition and capitalism are synonyms but they are antonyms
  • Every company is either a monopoly or never escapes the fundamental sameness that is competition

Naturally the next question is what things do I believe that almost everyone disagrees with me on. 

  • Most think the answer to a problem should come from the existing actors inside that area, but I think that answers must come from outsiders
  • Most people think that if they intend for something to happen that this makes it more likely to achieve their purpose but I believe that intention is largely irrelevant
  • Most people think to have a successful life is to limit or remove the amount of negative influences, events but I believe that negative events are important
  • Most people think that the worst reaction that you can receive from others is to be ridiculed but I believe ridicule is a good sign that you are engaged in something new and interesting
  • Most people treat Kanye West as a joke/crazy but I treat him seriously (as of December 2022, Kanye has gone AWOL, and I might need to reconsider this)

It’s a question that we should all ask ourselves:

What one thing do I believe that almost no one agrees with me on?