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Zero to One

Zero to One by Peter Thiel is an interesting take on entrepreneurship and what it takes to succeed. I think the book can be read in a few different ways. I don’t think you should take it as gospel and many lessons in the book can be turned around (and that is also something he does to illustrate ‘bad/conventional’ startup advice). What I do think that it shows is a blueprint for how many venture-funded startups could succeed.

// I think I already summarised the book sometime back. Will have to find it.

“What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”


In Loonshots we’re taken on an innovative journey by Safi Bahcall. In the book, he argues how we can stimulate loonshots (moonshots, innovative new products, high chance of failure) on a personal and company level. He talks about the ingredients for loonshots, uses many examples (which can be a bit too detailed), and makes you want to start your own loonshot factory.

From my (read: Queal’s) perspective, I have mixed feelings about the need and viability of loonshots. What if innovation and progress are made in small steps? Bahcall does mention this in the book and I think he is also on board with this concept. He calls them franchises (making the next iteration/update of an original product). If the distinction (1 or 0) is a bit artificial, I will leave in the middle. Let’s just say the book focuses on one end, the loonshots.

Here are some ingredients/concepts from the book:

  • False Fail: When a valid hypothesis yields a negative result in an experiment because of a flaw in the design of the experiment.
    • The example here was that statins didn’t go through the phase where they tested on rats, it turned out they were a bad analogy for a human body and only through someone trying it out again on chickens (and 3 more failures, something he mentions many times), did it move forward.
    • Another one I heard before, was the mention of social networks and why some people did invest in Facebook, they saw that the failure was in how earlier social networks executed their strategy, not in that the idea was bad. (see more here)
  • Phases of organisation: When an organisation is considered as a complex system, we can expect that system to exhibit phases and phase transitions — for instance, between a phase that encourages a focus on loonshots and a phase that encourages a focus on careers.
    • Here there is also a large section (to the end) on how companies can encourage loonshots, they mostly focus on preventing incentives (behavioural economics) for making a career.
    • One example is DARPA where someone works on a project (no chance to move up) for some years before rotating out again.
  • Separate artists and soldiers: Make sure that the people working on the loonshots (artists) don’t need to fulfil the same metrics as the people bringing in the immediate profit (soldiers).
    • Do love them equally (example used was how Steve Jobs only focussed on the artists)

This being said, a very interesting book, but maybe not very much applicable for myself (at this moment).

How Advertising Will Heal the World and Your Business

“85.4% of the respondents believe that ‘living a meaningful life’ is important.” – Mark Woerde

Lessons learnt: People want to do good, make a meaningful impact. Time and money keep us from actually doing this. Incorporate prosocial behaviour into your company.

Will advertising heal the world?

If the premise of your book is: advertising will heal the world (and your business), then you’ve got big shoes to fill. Mark Woerde takes on this challenge and is actively living the life. Does this mean that his book fully delivers on the promise, maybe. Between the cross-sectional research with quite socially favourable questions (of course everyone wants the world to be a better place) and lack of concrete advice, (more) examples or case-studies, he does get his point across. It’s not only we the people that should treat our world better, brands also have a role to play.

A key observation to make, before diving deeper into the book, is that today is the perfect time to be a prosocial brand. We (in the rich countries) don’t have to worry about our next meal, a roof over our head or the possibility of a bomb killing us. It’s the time of abundance and we have the luxury of being able to think about other people. Woerde states that living a meaningful life should be the base of Maslow’s Pyramid. I disagree and think that it’s something that is more to the side. First, you care for the physical safety of yourself (and your family), and on top, we think about the self-actualization of yourself and others around you.

So why do we help others? Where do these feelings originate? As always this question is answered by both nature (e.g. your genes) and nurture (e.g. your upbringing). The nature argument revolves around how groups have evolved and who in the groups have survived. Woerde argues for survival of the kindest, see The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins for other arguments. He also argues that prosocial behaviour is promoted via stories. I tend to agree and recommend reading Just Babies by Paul Bloom to learn more about how nature and nurture interact.

A wiser way to spend $450 billion

The book (or actually half of it) is about how to better spend your advertising budget. Woerde is even more ambitious than that and argues that prosocial causes can be made the main course of your brand or even your company. But how does it help your company? This is answered by the following response from the survey: 64% of people state that it makes sense to buy prosocial brands over brands that are not. I think that there is a small flaw in the logic.

People want to buy the ‘better’ brand, but most probably will not because of at least two reasons. The first is that they don’t think. In the supermarket, they will buy the same brand they bought last time. Your brain is configured to be as efficient (lazy) as possible, you won’t consider all brands of peanut butter when you are getting a new jar. The second is that they have an economic incentive to not buy your prosocial brand. What if the local brand is as good, doesn’t save children in Africa, but saves you 50%, many people would go for that brand. This in no way means that there are no prosocial brands, nor that they shouldn’t be there. It does mean that not 64% of the purchases in your grocery store will be to these brands.

But when they are they can be to three kinds of prosocial brands. The first is a donating prosocial brand. These brands ‘simply’ donate to good causes. The second is prosocial service brands. These brands actively help society by offering a service (for free). The third (and arguably best) category consists of meaningful prosocial brands. These brands incorporate their social effort with active participation by themselves and their clients. Pampers, for instance, made sure that each pack of diapers equalled one vaccine.

“Branding is not merely about differentiating products; it is about striking emotional chords with consumers. It is about cultivating identity, attachment, and trust to inspire customer loyalty.” – Nirmalya Kumar

The Social Business Enterprise

An audacious goal for your (or any) company would be to become a social business enterprise. This means that the social goal should be primary to your business (financial) goals. Some businesses are doing this with their brands. For instance, Unilever uses iodized salt to combat iodine deficiency in Afrika. But would it be feasible for your own brand?

To that questions, I remain lacking an answer. Firstly because every company has her own business model, own vision and own challenges. Second because it’s not clear for me how the book has helped me in transforming my company to become a more prosocial brand. It did help me confirm my positive feelings about donating 10% of my income, but I’m not sure how my company could become more prosocial.

Despite my critical review, I do think that this book has great value. It’s a kickstarter for a social debate on what companies are, what they should do and how they can help better the world. Maybe a second book should start with more examples and reasons for companies to become more prosocial. After that, it could tackle the advertising issues and show how the prosocial brands always end on top.


I heard about this book via Cortex, a podcast discussing work (and life) habits of CGP Grey and Myke Hurley (of podcasting and Youtube fame). In the episode, they discuss the book and lay out what they both had taken home. Although Triggers falls right into the business self-help category, it seemed that the message was somehow clearer and more pronounced than in other books. So I decided to check it out.

Before you’re even on the first page of this book, you’re impressed by the praise written by some incredible people. It includes many top CEO, world leaders, and great thinkers. These are only three that stood out to me the most:

The book, Triggers – Creating behaviour that lasts – Becoming the person you want to be, is structured in four parts:

  1. Why don’t we become the person we want to be?
    • Hint: it’s our environment
  2. Try
    • Hint: active daily questions
  3. More structure, please
  4. No regrets

In short, the book can the summarised as follows. It’s very hard to change your behaviour as an adult. We are influenced greatly by our environment and willpower is unlikely to help you in the long term. You’re a good planner, but your doer needs a coach to close the feedback loop. And with active daily questions, you can actively work to change your behaviour.

There are some immutable laws of behaviour change:

  • Meaningful behavioural change is very hard to do
    • We can’t admit that we need to change
      • (e.g. my body looks fine, smoking helps me socialise, I’m fine in my current job)
    • We don’t appreciate inertia’s power over us
      • It takes an extraordinary effort to stop doing something in our comfort zone, in order to do something that is good for us in the long run
    • We don’t know how to execute a change
      • You need motivation, understanding, and ability
  • No one can make us change unless we truly want to change
    • Change has to come from within
    • You really have to mean it
    • And you have to have buy-in from your partner or co-workers
  • Behaviour change is simple, but far from easy

We have many beliefs that stop behaviour change in its tracks:

  • If I understand, I will do
    • There is a difference between understanding and doing
    • We are confused about this difference
    • Personal note: I understand so many things about startups, life, fitness, etc. But doing them is whole other thing
  • I have willpower and won’t give in to temptation
    • We chronically underestimate the power of triggers in our environment
    • Few of us will foresee the challenges we will face
    • We have overconfidence in our abilities
    • Personal note: has anyone seen Temptation Island?
  • Today is a special day
    • Excusing our momentary lapses as an outlier event triggers a self-indulgent inconsistency which is fatal for change
    • Change doesn’t happen overnight
  • At least I’m better than…
    • We trigger a false sense of immunity
  • I shouldn’t need help and structure
    • We have contempt for simplicity and structure
    • See: The Checklist Manifesto – Atul Gawande
    • We think we are better than the rest, we lack humility
  • I won’t get tired and my enthusiasm won’t fade
    • Self-control is a limited resource, that will deplete
  • I have all the time in the world
    • We underestimate the time it takes to get anything done
    • We believe that time is open-ended and sufficiently spacious to get things done
    • This will lead to procrastination
  • I won’t get distracted and nothing unexpected will occur
    • There will be a high probability of many low-probability events
    • Example: there is a small change you will get a call from someone specific, but there is a high chance that you will get a call from anyone this week
    • This will lead to unrealistic expectations
  • An epiphany will suddenly change my life
    • Sure it happens, sometimes
    • But in most cases, it leads to magical thinking
  • My change will be permanent and I will never have to worry again
    • We have a false sense of permanence
    • If we don’t follow up, our positive change doesn’t last
    • When we get there, we cannot stay there without commitment and discipline
  • My elimination of old problems will not bring new problems
    • We don’t understand that we will have future challenges
    • Once we are in a new situation, other problems will prop up
  • My efforts will be fairly rewarded
    • Our dashed expectations trigger resentment
    • Getting better should be its own reward
  • No one is paying attention to me
    • We falsely believe that we’re in isolation
    • But people always notice
  • If I change I am “inauthentic”
    • You stubbornly stick to your old behaviour
    • You try and use that to justify why you can’t change
  • I have the wisdom to assess my own behaviour
    • We are notoriously inaccurate in assessing ourselves
    • We have an impaired sense of objectivity

Internally we have a lot of rationalisations. But we are also unaware of how our environment shapes our behaviour:

  • Our environment is at war with us
  • It’s a nonstop triggering mechanism whose impact on our behaviour is too significant to be ignored
  • Small tweaks in the environment can change everything
  • We choose to place ourselves in an environment that, based on past experience, will trigger bad/old behaviour
  • Example: bedtime procrastination, we prefer to remain in our current environment
  • The environment is situational, it’s a hyperactive shape-shifter
  • And a changing environment changes us
  • Our environment is a relentless triggering machine

We can identify our triggers with feedback loops:

  • Feedback teaches us to see our environment as a triggering mechanism
  • A feedback loop comprises four stages: evidence, relevance, consequence, and action
  • Behaviour follows a pattern
  • You could say that it’s a complex adaptive system (The Quark and the Jaguar)

What if we could control our environment so it triggered our most desired behaviour?

Trigger: Any stimulus that impacts our behaviour

  • It can be direct or indirect
    • Direct: you see a happy baby, you smile
    • Indirect: you see a family photo, thinking, you call your sister
  • It can be internal or external
    • External: from the world via our senses
    • Internal: from thoughts and feelings
  • It can be conscious or unconscious
    • Conscious: requires awareness
    • Unconscious: e.g. weather
  • It can be anticipated or unexpected
    • Anticipated: e.g. reaction to a song
    • Unexpected: sudden realisation (falling stair example)
  • It can be encouraging or discouraging
    • Encouraging: maintain or expand what we’re doing
    • Discouraging: stop or reduce what we’re doing
  • It can be productive or counterproductive
    • Productive: push us towards becoming the person we want to be
    • Counterproductive: pull us away
    • We want short-term gratification, we need the long-term benefit
    • We define what makes a trigger productive (and encouraging)
      • These last two make a quadrant of wants/needs
      • Using this quadrant you can identify your habits

There is a step (impulse, awareness, choice) between trigger and behaviour.

  • We are not only driven by the triggers/antecedents/cues
    • See: The Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg)
    • His idea: keep the cue (trigger), change behaviour (routine), keep the consequence (reward)
  • With interpersonal behaviour, there is more to the routine
    • Impulse: your first reaction, not always the best
    • Attention: our awareness and thus ability to make;
    • Choice: to react automatically or do something different

We are superior planners and inferior doers

  • How is your planner going to deal with your doer?
  • Measure your need, choose your style
    • Directing: giving instruction, one way
    • Coaching: helping, working together
    • Supporting: offer support where needed
    • Delegating: give an assignment, step away
  • This is based on Ken Blanchard (One Minute Manager) situational leadership
  • And also applies to yourself (the planner and doer)
    • The planner intends to change our behaviour
    • The doer actually makes change happen

We must forecast our environment

  • Anticipation
    • We can think, beforehand, what to do in an environment
  • Avoidance
    • In many cases, it’s best to avoid a situation
    • E.g. don’t take the route via the supermarket when we’re hungry
    • We rarely triumph over an environment that is enjoyable
    • Inertia is partly to blame
    • Temptation can corrupt our values
    • Because of our delusional belief that we control our environment, we choose to flirt with temptation rather than walk away
    • In many cases, it’s best to selectively avoid instead of always engage
  • Adjustment
    • If forecasting is successful (after anticipation and avoidance) we can adjust our environment

Behavioural change can happen in 4 different ways (Wheel of Change)

  • Creating: when you add new (positive things). This can be stopped by inertia. You need an impulse to start adding or inventing.
  • Preserving: Keep what is already working. Not messing up a good thing.
  • Eliminating: Sacrifice something we like or are good at, to have something better in the future (this is difficult to do).
    • This reminds me of the 80/20 rule (The One Thing), stop doing some ‘good’ things, so you can have the time to do ‘great’ things.
  • Accepting: Accept reality. Don’t do wishful thinking.

How do we get to change? By trying.

One of the most important (and again, difficult) things about change is that you need to follow-up. One excellent way of doing that is by asking active questions.

Only when there were active follow-up questions, did training within an organisation work.

The format for active questions is: Did you do your best to…? or Did I do my best to…?

Here are some examples of the engaging questions:

  • Did I do my best to set clear goals today?
  • Did I do my best to make progress toward my goals today?
  • Did I do my best to find meaning today?
  • Did I do my best to be happy today?
    • Book: Stumbling on Happiness – Dan Gilbert (TO READ&LINK)
    • Finding happiness (and meaning) where we are
  • Did I do my best to build positive relationships today?
  • Did I do my best to be fully engaged today?

Active questions reveal where we are giving up. In doing so, they sharpen our sense of what we can actually change. We gain a sense of control, personal ownership, and responsibility instead of victimhood.

You can use the daily active questions to compare yourself against yesterday (or last week).

But beware, it’s tough to face the reality of our own behaviour – and our own level of effort – every day.

When making your own questions. Feel free to start with those above and add ones that reflect your objectives. Are you learning to meditate? Add it to the list. Want to lose weight? Add it to the list. Tired of being late all the time? Add it to the list.

The daily active questions help us in 4 ways:

  • They reinforce our commitment
  • They ignite our motivation where we need it, not where we don’t
    • They work on intrinsic motivation
  • They highlight the difference between self-discipline and self-control
    • Self-discipline refers to achieving desirable behaviour
    • Self-control refers to avoiding undesirable behaviour
  • They shrink our goals into manageable increments
    • They neutralize the archenemy of change, impatience

Daily active questions compel us to take things one day at a time.

Scores for the daily active questions need to be reported somewhere, preferably that is to someone else.

That person will be your coach. This can be a professional coach, a friend, a lover, or an accountability buddy.

The coach bridges the gap between your visionary Planner and the short-sighted Doer.

But first, you have to admit that you’re fallible, that you’re not perfect, and that you’re weak. You can’t do it on your own, and that is ok. Even Marshall Goldsmith pays someone to call him every evening and go through the daily active questions.

“When we dive all the way into adult behaviour change – with 100 percent focus and energy – we become an irresistible force rather than the proverbial immovable object.”

For the past months, I have been using the daily questions. First I had too many (for myself) and now have about 6 per day. I think that on 80% of the days I answer them and use them as a reflective moment (become the coach). I have an external coach for sports, and I (want to) share my goals with Lotte as so to better reflect on them and work towards them. 

Update May 2019: I still use the system and today will update the 6ish goals. I also use a checklist for my stretches and weightlifting exercises. It’s become quite ingrained in my routine. I could do it a bit better by completing it at the beginning of the evening/at the end of activities and not before I go to bed (when I sometimes forget to do it).

Update August 2020: Still using the system, and doing it every day. Have updated it several times and still very happy with the format.

Update December 2020: Still going strong, daily. Updated it today and now at 8 questions that provide a feedback loop for several aspects of my life.

Update January 2024: Still doing (nearly) daily check-ins with slowly (every 2-3 months) changing questions. It just works.


Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink turns motivation upside down. Pink dissects motivation, throws out the old stick-and-carrot and replaces it with autonomy, mastery, and purpose. More illuminating than Drive would be quite the performance. It is based on rigorous science, yet is able to convey one clear message. Motivation needs to be rethought; we are working with an outdated system and need to reconsider how we motivate people.

The old system is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. The latter depends on stick-and-carrot motivation. They offer large rewards for (individual) performances, but at the same time scare people with threats of layoffs. This system is based on extrinsic motivation and belongs in the 20th century. Yes, it does work there, the stick-and-carrot approach works for left-brain tasks. People work faster and faster when they are rewarded more and more for mechanical tasks. The question now is; how many jobs fit this description?

Almost all jobs in the current workforce ask for (rudimentary) cognitive skills. In the 21st century work consists of right-brain tasks. Instead of a narrow focus (stick-and-carrot), the jobs of today require creativity, problem-solving skills and novel approaches. The famous candlelight problem beautifully showcases this effect. When participants are presented with the classical problem they perform better when given no reward than when given a reward. And between a low and large reward there is a negative relationship; the larger the reward, the longer participants took to solve the problem. Only in the special (20th century) situation where the candles and pins were taken out of the box (making the solution obvious) did rewards have a positive impact.

Motivation in the 21st century should consist of three integrated parts. The first is autonomy; being free to choose what to do. The second is mastery; becoming better at something. The third is purpose; doing something that matters. Drive perfectly explains the three concepts and in the end, gives advice on how to activate the three areas to their full potential. Daniel Pink has written five books to date, he was the speechwriter for Al Gore and definitively knows his way with words. He has made Drive into a clear and concise book that achieves great explanatory power.

The Book: Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us – Daniel Pink – ISBN-10: 1594484805| ISBN-13: 978-1594484803

More on Drive:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc – Drive animated

http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html – TED Talk by Daniel Pink

http://www.danpink.com/ – More on Daniel Pink