Peter Thiel Encourages Students to Plan Ahead

Thiel Business School
Dillon S. Plunkett

Peter A. Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal and first outside investor in Facebook, questions how entrepreneurs and business ought to divide their focus between globalization and pushing technology and innovation at the Business School yesterday. His talk was hosted by the Harvard innovation lab.

Peter A. Thiel, cofounder of Paypal and one of the initial investors in Facebook, encouraged students to look at life with a more definite vision for their long-term future during a talk at Harvard Business School on Thursday.

Thiel started off by sharing an anecdote about Facebook, recalling when, in 2006, Yahoo offered $1 billion to acquire the company.

In what Thiel considers to be the “single most important decision Facebook ever made,” CEO and founder Mark E. Zuckerberg did not sell his company. “There were many points when they could, but they never sold the company,” Thiel said.

At the time, Thiel argued in favor of the money, he said. But Zuckerberg, at age 22, offered the counter argument of “‘Why should I sell? I like this company,’” Thiel said.

Thiel praised Zuckerberg’s long-term outlook on life, which he described as “definite.”


The indefinite view, by contrast, is more common in American society. It describes a probabilistic outlook, by which people make choices without knowing what will happen to them, he said.

People who approach the world with a definite view in America, Thiel said, are “treated with mild contempt.”

But people in some countries adhere to more definite plans. “China has a very definite view of the future,” Thiel said. Among the Chinese, “there’s a sense of what China will look like in 20 years,” he said.

Compared to China, Thiel believes, the U.S. does not have any sense of what America will look like in the future—in terms of the government, or technology, or anything.

On an individual level, Thiel said people should have an idea of where they want to be in the long term. He advised having a 20-year plan, rather than a short-term plan for the immediate future.

He made an analogy to chess, in which the best players plan several steps ahead.

“In any given position, you want a plan,” he said.

Thiel was also critical of the social focus on college campuses, which he said is not conducive to fostering development.

He distinguished between two categories of development, based on what he described as buzz words: globalization, the spread of ideas, and technology, the generation of new ideas.

College is more negative for technology and more positive for globalization, he said.

“Globalization is copying things that work,” he said. “Technology is going from zero to one, doing new things.”