Dr. Peter Diamandis (@PeterDiamandis) has been named one of “The World’s 50 Greatest Leaders” by Fortune magazine. In the field of innovation, Diamandis is Chairman and CEO of the XPRIZE Foundation, best known for its $10 million Ansari XPRIZE for private spaceflight. Today the XPRIZE leads the world in designing and operating large-scale global competitions to solve market failures.
Peter has been a guest on the podcast twice (once with Tony Robbins, and again solo), and in this guest post, he shares information he’s never discussed before. Specifically, Diamandis looks back at his XPRIZE experience and the strategic decisions that allowed the foundation to become a success.
Peter knows how to think and play big, and he can show you how to do the same. Enjoy!
The XPRIZE – which launched the private spaceflight industry – was an “overnight success” after 10 years of hard work.
During those 10 years, I recorded a number of “go-to” lessons that I learned and used over and over to help me succeed.
In all, I came up with a list of 28 of those lessons, and they became known as “Peter’s Laws.”
But 9 of them are my favorite, and in this post, I’ll outline them and detail the key takeaways. If you want to learn about all of the lessons, they are highlighted in the book, How To Make A Spaceship, written by Julian Guthrie, with a foreword by Richard Branson and an afterword by Steven Hawking.
One thing is clear from my XPRIZE story: attitude is the ball game. Mindset matters. It’s everything. It might be cliché, but whether you think you can or you can’t—well, you’re right.
Your mindset is more important than anything. It’s even more important than technology or income. I hope that these will clarify your vision and be useful to you.
Society teaches us that when you’re given a choice, you have to choose one. Why? Why do you have to choose?
But you should be asking, “Why choose?”
All throughout graduate school, I was told, “Go to school or start a company.”
For me, the answer was both. In fact, I started three companies while in grad school. Steve Jobs did the same with Apple and Pixar. Elon Musk is running Tesla and SpaceX; he’s also chairman of SolarCity. And Branson — well, Branson’s Virgin Group has started over 300 Virgin companies and built eight different billion-dollar companies in eight different industries.
So, I challenge you: When someone says choose vanilla or chocolate, say, “I’ll have them both, please.” Multiple projects lead to multiple successes.
When someone says “no” to your request, often it’s because that person isn’t empowered to say “yes,” and the only person who can say “yes” is the person at the top of the food chain.
This is one of the reasons it took me 10 years to get Zero Gravity Corporation, my commercial parabolic flight company, started. I had to battle an entire FAA bureaucracy that insisted it was not possible to operate large-scale zero gravity flight operations for the public, despite the fact that NASA had been doing it for 40 years.
Ultimately, because there was some risk, none of the mid-level bureaucrats had the power to say “yes.” At last, my request made it all the way up to the FAA Administrator, an amazing woman who told me, “Of course, you should be able to do this – let’s figure out how.”
If I had to name my superpower, it would be persistence – not giving up, even when everyone tells me it isn’t going to work.
My most important successes (companies like the Zero Gravity Corporation, XPRIZE, and Planetary Resources) have taken me 10 years or more to implement.
What good is patience without persistence? Doing anything big and bold in life is hard work, and learning to persist is fundamental to your success.
Another name for this superpower is ‘grit.’ This is your will to keep pushing, iterating, and taking the next step in the face of hardship.
Remember that failure is only inevitable when you give up.
In this age of abundance, where you can access whatever you need, whenever you need it… don’t settle. Demand the best.
It used to be that the supply of talent, technology or treasure (i.e. money) was scarce. That is no longer the case.
If someone or something in your organization is a squeaky wheel, rather than tolerating or greasing them, you’re probably better off finding someone who fits your team’s ethos, vision and mindset.
Would you rather spend your time with your best performers helping them grow and get even better, or spend time with your squeakiest wheels dealing with their issues?
Your time as a leader is limited – use it to build an incredible team.
The future is not written. It’s not preordained. It unfolds as a result of our actions… the choices we make and the risks we take.
This is actually the model for my life. I wanted to predict a future in which there would be private commercial spaceflight, so I launched the $10 million XPRIZE. Private spaceflight simply didn’t exist.
I’ve predicted a future in which we’ll have asteroid mining, so I cofounded Planetary Resources. I want to live a long and healthy life, so I cofounded Human Longevity, Inc.
Ultimately, isn’t this exactly what it means to be an entrepreneur? An entrepreneur clearly envisions the future and becomes so enamored with it that they turn their thoughts into reality and will the future they desire into existence.
When I announced the XPRIZE, many of the “experts” in the aerospace industry explained to me why I was naive and wouldn’t succeed.
In 1714, when the Longitude Board (composed of the world’s greatest Royal Astronomers) saw a working clock built by watchmaker John Harrison meet all of the requirements of the Longitude Prize, they refused to pay him the purse because they were absolutely sure it would be won by an astronomer.
In a rather perverse twist, an expert is massively disincentivized to promote someone else’s radical and disruptive solution. This is because new inventions that result in wholesale change cause a shift where “experts” can be transformed into “has-beens.”
Some experts are therefore inspired and committed to keeping things exactly the way they are. That’s why it’s important to always think in terms of what can be done.
I first heard a variation of this concept from Burt Rutan, the man who designed and built SpaceShipOne, the brilliant launch vehicle that won the $10M Ansari XPRIZE.
As Rutan explained it to me – as described in How to Make a Spaceship – a small incremental improvement is not a breakthrough.
For example, a computer that is 50% faster than last year’s model is predictable and expected. But going from computers based on vacuum tubes to computation based on silicon wafers is a breakthrough.
So my question to you is: Where in your organization do you allow for crazy ideas to be tried and tested? How are you creating space for yourself to imagine and experiment with crazy ideas?
If you don’t try this — if you are risk adverse and stick with safe, proven steps — then you’re ultimately stuck with incremental progress, not breakthroughs.
One more thing: Burt Rutan also likes to say he finds breakthroughs where others see nonsense. It’s no surprise that he has six first-of-a-kind planes in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
Doing anything big and bold is hard work.
Going after an easy, quick win either means you’re not trying to change the world or you’ve got a false grip on reality.
With five billion connected people with access to Google and Amazon Web Services, you can expect that the easy stuff has been tried and conquered.
If you’re working on something you truly care about solving, it’s hard to do and you don’t see anyone else trying, that’s a pretty good indication that you’re on a path to solve something significant and worth pursuing.
Don’t fear hard work. Celebrate it as a measure of the size of the dent you are making in the universe!
I’m often struck by the ability of a single individual to change the world.
Think Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Elon Musk, Larry Page, Richard Branson, Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi, to name a few. They each started with no money or technological advantage, just passion and perseverance.
Ultimately, three things make anything possible: People, technology, and money. If you have the right people and enough money, you can create the technology — that’s called innovation. If you have the right people and the right technology, you can attract the funding — that’s called venture capital.
But money and technology alone, without the persistent and passionate human mind driving you forward, will never change the world.
Doing something big and bold — taking risks that benefit you and can benefit society — means overcoming extraordinary hurdles.
It means attacking a challenge with all of your energy and focus, and many times remaining motivated for a decade or more.
Such passion and commitment can only come when you are emotionally committed with all of your heart and soul. And this level of commitment only materializes when your goal is powered by intense emotional energy.
There is nothing more powerful in your life than a cause you would willingly die for, whether it is your family or a belief you hold fundamental to your existence.
Following this passion is how you create a world worth living, a life that wakes you up in the morning and gets you excited.
I was lucky to find one of my abiding passions in childhood. I watched the landing of Apollo 11 in July 1969 and knew I had to get to space and get my friends there too. Listen to your heart, and don’t let those dreams die.