How To Change Your Mindset: Peter's Laws
Mindset matters. It's everything. This blog is about my mindset for success – I wrote them down long ago and called them "Peter's Laws." They represent the way I look at life and I want to share them with you!
While I was a graduate student at MIT and working on a startup I called International Space University, one of my cofounders, Todd Hawley, put a copy of Murphy's Laws on the office wall.
Do you know Murphy's Law?: "If anything can go wrong, it will."
Just think of how awful it would be to actually believe this nonsense?
My reaction when I saw the Murphy's Law poster was first to laugh out loud, then to get angry.
I went to the white board behind my desk and wrote: "If anything can go wrong, Fix It! (To hell with Murphy!)"
Then above the quote wrote, "Peter's Law"
Over the years that followed I started collecting "Laws"… principals and truisms that led me (and others I studied) to be successful. I wrote them down and today I have 28 of them listed here. In this blog I'd like to share with you a select eight of them and what they mean to me.
1. If anything can go wrong, fix it! (To hell with Murphy): Success means being able to deal with failure, iterating, fixing and trying again. It's the fundamental process that drives all of Silicon Valley. Living life or running any company with the defeatist attitude proclaimed by Murphy's Law is a formula for disaster. Sure, stuff goes wrong, expect it, learn from it and most of all, fix it.
2. When given a choice – take both! Society teaches us that when you're given a choice you have to choose one. Why? Why do you have to 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 with Apple and Pixar. Elon Musk is running Tesla, SpaceX and is Chairman of Solar Cities. Branson, well… Branson's Virgin Management group has started over 300 Virgin companies, and has 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."
3. Do it by the book…but be the author! Doing anything new and bold in life typically means entering unchartered waters and writing the rules yourself. Don't be afraid to invent. There is no book, no rules, for where you are taking your life. My favorite Joseph Campbell quote comes from his classic book The Hero's Journey. The quote reads as follows: "Each entered the forest at a point that he himself had chosen, where it was darkest and there was no path. If there is a path it is someone else's path and you are not on the adventure." If life is anything it is an adventure. So don't do it by someone else's 'book', don't take someone's already traveled path – instead, write your own book, be your own author and enjoy your own adventure.
4. If you can't win, change the rules. Often it seems that society sets it up where you can't win, where the rules are written for someone else to win. Most people blindly follow the rules. But at the end of the day, many social rules were made at a different time and in a different situation that may no longer apply today. So, if you can't win — consider changing the rules. This is exactly what I had to do in starting Zero-G and the X PRIZE. It's what you're going to have to do to impact the world as well.
5. If you can't change the rules, ignore them. I am not trying to incite anarchy here. But sometimes if you can't change the rules, you just need to ignore them. Many rules were written during a different era -- remember that at one point slavery was legal, and that women couldn't vote -- or written to keep the incumbents in charge, blocking innovation. Thomas Jefferson knew that. Some 30 years after the Declaration of Independence, when the young United States had already changed greatly, he knew that its founding laws shouldn't be set in stone. As he wrote in 1816, "I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."
6. "No" simply means begin one level higher. When you go to someone who says "No," often it's because this person isn't in a position 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-G, my commercial parabolic flight company, started. I had to battle an entire bureaucracy that insisted it was possible to operate a large scale zero-g operations for the public, despite the fact that NASA had been doing it for 40 years. All the lawyers said to me: "Show us, Peter, where it says you can have an airplane flying parabolic flight in the Federal Aviation Regulations?" My response, of course, was: "Show me where it says I can't." Ultimately because there was some level of risk involved, and this was "unusual," to say the least, none of the midlevel bureaucrats involved had the power to say "yes" to my requests. In the final result, my request made it all the way up to the FAA Administrator -- Marion Blakey -- an amazing woman (who is now president and chief executive officer of the Aerospace Industries Association) who told me, "Of course, you should be able to do this – let's figure out how." She had the power to say "Yes." Ultimately you've sometimes got to take it all the way to the top, to the person who's got the authority and is willing to take the risk.
7. When in doubt: THINK! So many people don't stop to think. You're concerned, you're worried, you care about what other people think, but you never stop to think for yourself about what you want. Not: What do my folks want? What does my partner want? But: What do I want to do? What's in my heart of hearts? So, whenever I am in doubt, I really stop and I think about it.
8. The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself. Think about this one second: 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 to a great degree. I wanted to predict a future in which there would be private commercial spaceflight so I launched the Ansari X PRIZE. I've predicted a future in which we'll have asteroid mining, so I cofounded Planetary Resources. Ultimately isn't this exactly what it means to be an entrepreneur? To see the future and become so enamored of it that you turn your thoughts into reality and you will it into existence?
In my next blog, I'm going to share another six Peter's Laws -- I hope you find them as worthwhile and useful as I do.
NOTE: Over the next year, I'm embarking on a BOLD mission -- to speak to top CEOs and entrepreneurs to find out their secrets to success. My last book Abundance, which hit No. 1 on Amazon, No. 2 on the New York Times and was at the top of Bill Gates' personal reading list, shows us the technologies that empower us to create a world of Abundance over the next 20 to 30 years. BOLD, my next book, will provide you with tools you can use to make your dreams come true and help you solve the world's grand challenges to create a world of Abundance. I'm going to write this book and share it with you every week through a series of blog posts. Each step of the way, I'll ask for your input and feedback. Top contributors will be credited within the book as a special "thank you," and all contributors will be recognized on the forthcoming BOLD book website. To ensure you never miss a message, sign up for my newsletter here.