Manager focused

Peter Thiel’s Philosophy of Extreme Manager Focus: The Power of “One Thing”

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By Jason Brubaker

Table of Contents

The Problem with Multiple Priorities

You’ve been there. Monday morning team meetings where the question floats around: “What are your top three priorities for the week?”

It’s an age-old managerial tactic designed to help us define our goals and align our efforts. But does it really?

Here’s the thing. When you have three priorities—or worse, five or more—it’s easy to get sidetracked.

You end up focusing on low-hanging fruits, tasks that are easy but not necessarily impactful.

It’s human nature to opt for the path of least resistance, but as entrepreneurs, we need to break this cycle.

Peter Thiel’s Radical Solution

Peter Thiel, the mastermind behind PayPal and an influential tech investor, takes a very different approach.

Peter Thiel, Entrepreneur and Venture Capitalist

Instead of giving you a list of priorities, he’d ask you to focus on one—and only one—thing.

Imagine walking into a meeting with Thiel.

He’d likely cut you off if you started discussing your second or third priority.

As Keith Rabois, a PayPal executive, recalls, Thiel “would refuse to discuss virtually anything else with you except what was currently assigned as your #1 initiative.

Why One Priority Is Better Than Many

So, what’s the logic behind this “one thing” philosophy?

It’s simple: Extreme focus.

By concentrating all your efforts on a single objective, you’re pushing for excellence.

You’re not just juggling tasks; you’re zooming in on what truly matters and tackling it “with extreme dispatch and vigor.”

This approach also aligns perfectly with the concept of ‘flow,’ a mental state where you’re fully immersed and involved in a singular task.

And guess what? When you’re in the flow, you’re more productive, creative, and, ultimately, successful.

Manager focused

The Challenge of Focusing on “The One Thing”

The problem is that focusing on a single priority can be uncomfortable.

What happens if that one thing is complex and difficult?

Rabois explains that employees usually gravitate toward simpler, secondary tasks in such a scenario.

This is where Thiel’s philosophy acts like a gatekeeper.

It forces you to tackle the challenging task that can propel you or your organization to new heights.

Mediocrity Is Not an Option

Thiel believes that if you focus on more than one thing, you’ve settled for mediocrity.

In his own words, “You’ve already blinked.”

We all know that entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart.

So why settle for B+ or A- when you can strive for an A+?

The “one thing” approach aims to set you on the path of true excellence and significant value creation.

The Nuts and Bolts: How to Implement Extreme Focus

Alright, so how can you implement this philosophy in your own life or business?

Here are some practical steps:

Step 1: Identify Your One Thing

The first step is to identify the most valuable contribution you can make to your project or organization. What’s that one thing that could change the game?

Step 2: Clear Away Distractions

This might mean turning off notifications, setting specific ‘focus hours,’ or even isolating yourself to work on that one thing.

Step 3: Give It Your All

Approach your chosen task with extreme dispatch and vigor. Allocate your best resources to accomplish this task. Time, team members, or tools.

Step 4: Review and Adjust

Once you’ve spent ample time on your top priority, evaluate the outcomes. Has it led to a leap in value or transformative change? If yes, great. If not, adjust your focus based on the new insights gained.

Final Thoughts: The Courage to Focus

Embracing the “one thing” philosophy calls for audacity.

It’s more than just defying conventional wisdom; it’s a test of your limits.

It compels you to allocate your resources to a single endeavor with equal chances of falling flat or achieving breakthrough success.

Often, these measured gambles pave the way for extraordinary accomplishments.


The article explores Peter Thiel’s radical “one thing” management philosophy. Thiel, the founder of PayPal, advocates extreme focus on a single priority instead of juggling multiple tasks or goals. This approach aims to push entrepreneurs and organizations toward excellence by concentrating all resources and efforts on the most impactful challenge.

Implementing this philosophy involves identifying your most important task, clearing away distractions, and tackling it aggressively. While it may not suit every role or situation, the “one thing” philosophy challenges us to risk concentrated effort for transformative success. The article suggests that this daring focus can unlock significant value and redefine what’s possible.

Popular Questions

Here are some questions and answers that are related to the content of the article:

  1. What is Peter Thiel’s Management Philosophy?

    Peter Thiel’s management philosophy revolves around extreme focus on a single priority. Instead of juggling multiple objectives, Thiel believes in concentrating all efforts on the most impactful task or goal to drive towards excellence and significant value creation.

  2. How Can Focusing on One Thing Improve My Business?

    By focusing on just one priority, you remove distractions and can allocate your best resources to tackle that task. This pushes the individual or organization to excel in a particular area, which can lead to transformative success and substantial value creation.

  3. What Are the Benefits of Extreme Focus in Management?

    The benefits of extreme focus in management include a heightened ability to tackle the most important and challenging issues directly, thereby achieving higher levels of excellence. It also counteracts the natural tendency to divert attention to easier, less impactful tasks.

  4. How Do You Implement Peter Thiel’s ‘One Thing’ Philosophy?

    To implement Peter Thiel’s ‘One Thing’ philosophy:

    1. Identify your single most valuable contribution or goal.
    2. Clear away distractions like unnecessary notifications or tasks.
    3. Approach your primary task with extreme vigor and commitment.
    4. Evaluate and adjust your focus based on outcomes.

  5. When Is the ‘One Thing’ Management Approach Not Suitable?

    The ‘One Thing’ management approach may not be suitable for roles or scenarios that require multitasking or rapid switching between different tasks. It’s most effective when you can afford to concentrate intensely on a singular, high-impact objective.

  6. What Does Peter Thiel Mean By ‘You’ve Already Blinked’?

    According to Peter Thiel, if you allow yourself to have more than one focus, ‘you’ve already blinked,’ meaning you’ve compromised and settled for mediocrity. His philosophy aims to avoid this by pushing for a singular, intense focus on the most valuable task at hand.

  7. How Can I Achieve a State of ‘Flow’ in Work?

    As Peter Thiel’s philosophy suggests, achieving a state of ‘flow’ can be easier when you’re focusing on a single task. By concentrating all your efforts on one impactful objective, you can attain a mental state where you’re fully immersed and involved in the task, thereby increasing productivity and creativity.


Multiple Priorities: The common managerial practice of setting more than one top priority for a team or individual to focus on.

Peter Thiel’s Radical Solution: An unconventional management philosophy by Peter Thiel advocating for intense focus on just one priority.

Extreme Focus: Concentrating all efforts and resources on a single, most impactful task or objective.

Flow: A mental state where you’re fully immersed and involved in a singular task, leading to higher productivity and creativity.

Mediocrity: The outcome of having more than one focus, according to Thiel, representing a compromise in striving for true excellence.

Value Creation: The ultimate goal of focusing on one thing, involving transformative changes that significantly enhance value for a project or organization.

Identify Your One Thing: The first step in implementing Thiel’s philosophy, choosing the most valuable contribution you can make.

Clear Away Distractions: The act of removing all irrelevant tasks or notifications to concentrate on the primary objective.

Give It Your All: The strategy of dedicating the best resources, time, and effort to achieve the single, identified priority.

Review and Adjust: The process of evaluating the outcomes after concentrating on the main priority, with the option to make necessary adjustments.

Caveats: Exceptions or situations where the “one thing” philosophy might not be applicable, such as roles requiring multitasking.

Courage to Focus: The emotional and mental bravery required to invest time and resources in a single task, risking failure or spectacular success.

Pop Quiz

Peter Thiel’s “One Thing” Philosophy

  1. What is the main tenet of Peter Thiel’s managerial philosophy?
    • A) Focus on at least five priorities.
    • B) Have multiple priorities but work hard on them.
    • C) Concentrate solely on one priority.
    • D) Focus on easily achievable tasks for quick wins.
  2. What happens when you have multiple priorities, according to Keith Rabois?
    • A) Employees become more versatile.
    • B) Employees tend to focus on the easiest tasks, missing out on impactful goals.
    • C) Employees learn to multitask effectively.
    • D) Employees equally divide their time among all priorities.
  3. How does Thiel empower every person in the company with his extreme focus philosophy?
    • A) By encouraging multitasking.
    • B) By allowing employees to choose their priorities.
    • C) By giving each individual a singular focus and clearing away distractions.
    • D) By assigning multiple tasks but tracking performance meticulously.
  4. What outcome does Thiel believe you are accepting if you allow yourself to have more than one focus?
    • A) Versatility
    • B) Excellence
    • C) Mediocrity
    • D) Effective multitasking
  5. What is the primary benefit of focusing on just “one thing,” according to the article?
    • A) It enhances multitasking skills.
    • B) It encourages employees to tackle tasks “with extreme dispatch and vigor,” driving towards excellence.
    • C) It simplifies managerial oversight.
    • D) It allows for easier tasks to be completed quickly.

Answer Key:

  1. C) Concentrate solely on one priority.
  2. B) Employees tend to focus on the easiest tasks, missing out on impactful goals.
  3. C) By giving each individual a singular focus and clearing away distractions.
  4. C) Mediocrity
  5. B) It encourages employees to tackle tasks “with extreme dispatch and vigor,” driving towards excellence.


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