Peter Diamandis's 9 Rules For Building A Successful Business

peter diamandis

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!

Enter Peter

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.

Rule #1: 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?

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.

Rule #2: “No” simply means begin again at one level higher.

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.”

Rule #3: Patience is a virtue, but persistence is a blessing.

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.

Rule #4: The squeaky wheel gets replaced.

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.

Rule #5: The best way to predict the future is to create it yourself.

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.

Rule #6: An expert opinion is not the final word. 

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.

Rule #7: Most breakthroughs begin as a crazy idea.

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.

Rule #8. If it were easy, it would have been done already.

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!

Rule #9: The world’s most precious resource is a passionate mind.

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.

For more on these lessons and others, check out How To Make A Spaceship.


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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26 Replies to “Peter Diamandis's 9 Rules For Building A Successful Business”

  1. Tim – Just wanted to say thank you for post like these! This is exactly the kind of thing that inspired me to get out there an take action. I was recently able to quit my job after replacing my developer income by starting an Amazon business, and I only spend about 1 hour a week on it so I guess I got you beat! Ha-ha. Now I’m working on an Amazon analytics platform with the rest of my time (I’m sure you can relate with how terrible their analytics are) so I feel like I owe you this thanks at the very least. Looking forward to more great podcasts!

  2. Thanks for the great article! I totally believe in the power of a passionate mind. It truly is the most passionate among us that shape the world.

  3. Powerful Rules! My favorites are 1, 3, & 5.

    Related Thoughts:

    Achievement takes more than one-and-done. It’s takes grit.

    But there’s also one more component: Rest

    Without grit there are no gains. Without rest there is no rejuvenation.

    Habit both and you’ll truly thrive.

  4. Excellent post. One thing I want to add is whenever you face a tough time and your life feels like a rollercoaster, instead of allowing yourself to be absorbed by negativity, distract yourself by investing in healthy habits.

    Wake up early. Eat well. Work out. Take supplements. Socialize. Express gratitude. You will feel rejuvenated and you will re-establish a healthy mindset.

  5. Beautifully simple Mr. Diamandiss. But more important, this is insightful, compelling and practical. Thank you for helping improve our human condition through hard work, innovation, passion, and perseverance. I am inspired and proud to be able to read your work. Now to get more involved. Onward and upward!

  6. hey Tim, Just started listening recently. I am wondering if you have any blog/podcasts discussing bachelorhood! Thanks ahead of time, i’m definitely enjoying thus far.

  7. A passionate mind is potentially incredibly dangerous. Think terrorists and Trump supporters. They’re all incredibly passionate about their causes.

    If you’re inspiring people to be passionate enough to change the world, you’d have to hope that their morals and beliefs of a better world align with your own.

  8. Great wisdom, and i appreciate Tim letting Peter sit in on this one.

    Tim, this Burt Rutan sounds like an interesting guy. Perhaps he should be a guest on the show?

  9. A thought provoking article but some things that seem flawed.

    Rule #4 bothers me. I think it’s very important for teams to have a squeaky wheel or two. Adam Grant and Diego Rodriguez talk about this (sort of) when they say to hire for cultural contribution and not cultural fit. Contributing to a culture sometimes means being squeaky.

  10. Rule no 2 is one I definitely agree with… that’s why one of the things I do to make sure I succeed in my business is make sure I’m speaking with someone who has the power to say yes from the very beginning of a sales funnel.

  11. That may be the most important thing I have ever read on the internet.

    The past ten years have been a fascinating personal journey from a life of mediocrity to a life of excellence. The change began in my early 40’s and continues in my 50’s.

    I have spent a lot of time reading and learning from people of excellence, not the least of them Tim’s podcast interviewees and Tim himself. Much of what I read, hear or see, while important and informative, does not directly align with my personal experiences had along the way.

    Peter’s 9 rules are exactly right. The first is the frame that changes everything. The third and eighth are the two qualities that make the first happen.

    The rest fill in blanks in my personal model that I understood but could not articulate.

    Thank you.

    1. Hi Ron,

      I’m about to turn 43 next week and have begun this serious path of personal development about a year ago (and been stunned at the changes in my life so far).

      Do you have any insights for us blokes who are starting this journey later in life (a lot of Tim’s stuff seems to be directed at the 25 year old) and don’t want to be labelled as just another ‘mid life crisis’?


  12. Some good points but one thing I definitely disagree with (respectfully) is the notion of firing the “squeaky wheel”.

    As Adam Grant and Diego Rodriguez point out, a culture of conformity isn’t ideal. Making it clear that dissent (being “squeaky”) isn’t to be tolerated is a recipe for group think or, worse still, filling your team with “yes” men & women.

  13. Currently in the middle of reading “Bold” by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler so I found this article incredibly topical.

    My question is how do you reconcile such radically differing views from individuals that you respect and trust? For example, Ramit Sethi preaches that “following your passion is a death sentence” whereas Peter says that passion is one of the world’s most valuable resources.

    Thanks for writing this Peter and thank you Tim for posting it!

  14. Peter’s definition of an Entrepreneur really struck me.

    “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.”

    We’ve become so well trained as consumers that we forget everything in our civilization started out as a thought in the brain of another human being. Just because you see things that aren’t there doesn’t mean you’re crazy… it means you’re seeing the possible future.

    So we could see Entrepreneurship as the process of ferrying ideas from the realm of imagination into the realm of reality. That’s pretty fresh.

  15. Hi Tim (and fellow Tim fans), have you ever written anything on how to speed up the process of healing after a long term relationship? Sorry for the off topic post, but I do not know a better channel to try to reach you

    Hi Tim fans, if you are able to lead me towards anything helpful on this topic, I would be very grateful!



    1. No short cuts Healing takes time and may take as long as the long term relationship. Healing for most people takes about 1/2 of the time of the long term relationship

  16. Glad i stumbled across this article. Simple but i can imagine highly effective rules. Passion and persistence are key to achieving anything noteworthy in life.

    Rule #2 is a game changer for me….never really thought about it like that.


  17. I’m a rule #5 guy…making your own future. Creating opportunities. Having the vision to see potential all around you. It’s there. We just need to go for it. Nice job Tim.

  18. Creative ideas are crucial. Exploring the areas where others see nonsense is necessary. Anything is possible, so I guess you could go into business making batteries and try to compete with Energizer and Duracell, but possible does not mean likely and your odds of succeeding in business are much higher if you’re willing to fail a few times trying new things that create radical change. Thank you for sharing these tried and true rules for building a successful business.

  19. I first found out about Peter Diamandis through Joe Polish and the 10x network. He has a really positive philosophy about life and business. Very much worth checking out.

  20. Rule 2 is important. The pressing follow-up question is now how you get into contact with those who matter if the reception assistant does not let you through or for instance a company only has one official number for you to always talk to another person who has orders to not let you through. Every email gets “lost” and real letters go nowhere. Knowing that some receptionist does not make the deals does not help me get to those who do. How do you solve the problem of the receptionist?

  21. I like the passion in the article, but it’s not very practical. Passion, hard-work, persistence, perseverance – great qualities, but it’s hard to see how they are what make people successful. What’s the strategy? What allows me to choose – to go in x direction vs. y?