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Definite and optimistic outlooks of life


Depending on one’s beliefs about the definiteness of the future, and their outlook (optimism/pessimism), we can have four different scenarios.

Indefinite pessimism: the future will be bad, and I have no idea what to do about it. A good example are Europeans: they react to things as they happen and hope things won’t get worse.

Definite pessimism: the future will be bad in a known way, and I need to prepare for it. An example is China: they have experienced intense poverty and can project how it looks like in the future. Therefore they work hard to avoid it. They copy everything that worked well in the West: capitalism, factories, skyscrapers.

Indefinite optimism: the future will be better but I don’t know how, so I make no plans. I strive to prepare for everything. An example is high-performing students today: they gain diversified general knowledge, and go on to work as consultants or banking investors, keeping their options open. This might be a byproduct of Baby Boomers born in the 50s: things got better every year of their early life, without them causing it through their actions. So they had great expectations and few plans.

Definite optimism: the future will be better, if I plan and work to make it so. People-from-15th-to-20th-century-believed-that-luck-was-to-be-mastered-and-dominated. Each generation’s inventors and visionaries until 1960s surpassed their predecessors. Today, great plans from unknown people are mocked and long-range visions from powerful people are considered hubris.

In an indefinite world, money is more valuable than what you can do with it, because it provides unlimited optionality. In a definite future, money is a means to an end.

In today’s philosophy, politics, and business, everyone glorifies processes and shies away from plans.

Indefinite optimism is the only view of the future that cannot work: how can the future get better if no one plans for it?

Side note on startups:

Lean startups that adapt and evolve in an ever-changing environment making minimum viable products and iterating to success are the hallmark of indefinite optimism: we don’t know what will work so let’s just try things and see what sticks. But why would you expect a business to succeed without a plan to make that happen?

Founders only sell when they have no concrete visions of the company. The acquirer usually under or overpays. Definite founders with robust plans don’t sell, because they know what they will do with their company.

Steve Jobs was a definite optimist. Above all, he was a grand designer. He planned everything meticulously.


  • Zero to One, Peter Thiel

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