Can Sheep Keep Secrets?
When threatened, sheep will group together because they can’t defend themselves very well. A lone sheep is more likely to be attacked. This “herd mentality” might make sheep seem dull-witted and meek, but actually it’s their best defense.
At times, going along with the group can be not so bright. Remember your mother asking what you would do if all your friends jumped off a cliff?
Blindly following can lead to bad moves—author Peter Thiel describes one such situation in his book “Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future.” He details the death of many solar cell companies that all marched to the same tune about the huge opportunity for wealth and success in the solar industry. Thiel says part of their downfall was being caught up in a trend. “Each of the casualties had described their bright futures using broad conventions on which everybody agreed,” Thiel writes.
With everyone clamoring for a piece of the solar pie, when that pie proved to be much smaller than originally thought, a lot of companies went hungry.
To avoid this type of hype and loss, Thiel argues that companies should be more like lone wolves than sheep in answering the last in a series of questions that he calls “the secret question.” “Great companies have secrets: specific reasons for success that other people don’t see,” he writes. It’s vital to identify a unique opportunity; to work to solve a problem others aren’t addressing.
In our infancy at ROUSH CleanTech, our problems were remedial — establishing a capable supply chain; developing calibration software that improved propane autogas drivability; creating a field operations network that supported day-to-day operations; providing adopters key data.
Now, with this “blocking and tackling” in place, we turn our sights to technical innovation to create enhancements that will further clean up emissions and make the nation’s domestic fuels more affordable.
As I wrap up this series of blog posts on the seven questions Thiel poses in his book, I hope you’ve found plenty of fuel for thought. (You can find the eight-part series here.) But here’s one more point to ponder: Could you set your company apart by solving a problem no-one else is looking at?