Warren Buffett inspires me.
I’m a documentary buff, so I was excited to watch “Becoming Warren Buffett,” a candid portrait of how the young man from Omaha (he still lives there!) became America’s most famous investor, with a Forbes-estimated net worth of $74 billion. The HBO film premiered earlier this year, and a recent 12-hour flight to Heathrow gave me the perfect chance to enjoy it. As I reflected on the film -- and several other Buffett-related items I read over the summer -- I was reminded of three essential (and timeless) lessons.
Surround Yourself with Great People -- and Praise Them Often
Among the many great people Buffett surrounded himself with was his first wife, Susie. (The documentary is as much a love story about Buffett's relationship with Susie as it is a story about his business success.) Susie, who passed away in 2004, was a major supporter of Glide, an organization I’m passionate about. Every year Glide auctions a lunch with Warren Buffett, netting north of $2 million for Glide’s many programs.
Buffett, as you may know, has promised to give away 99% of his fortune. To date he’s given away nearly $25 billion, and with compounding interest (one of Buffett’s early lessons) another $100 billion will be disbursed. At the end of the documentary there’s a list of over 60 causes he’s already contributed to, including: inmate education, refugee support services, just and sustainable food economies, adolescent girls’ rights, and nuclear disarmament.
I love this quote from Susie: “You don’t want to think you wasted a lot of your energy, love, and time on something useless.”
And what does Buffett say about her? “What happened with me would not have happened without her.”
I love that Buffett regularly heaps praise -- lots of praise -- on his team at Berkshire Hathaway. Now, you may think, “Yes, but other CEOs do that, too.” True, but for those CEOs someone is suggesting or crafting those shout-outs. With Buffett, you get the feeling he personally writes them. In speaking of Ajit Jain, a 30-year Berkshire veteran who runs part of their insurance business, Buffett said: “If there were ever to be another Ajit and you could swap me for him, don’t hesitate. Make the trade!”
Focus on the Positive Forecast to Overcome Fear
Buffett’s much anticipated -- and widely circulated -- letter to shareholders in Berkshire Hathaway’s annual report should be required reading for anyone in business, at any stage of his/her career. Had I started reading his letters 20 years ago, I undoubtedly would be smarter -- and probably have a few more coins in my pocket today.
Buffett acknowledges there will be economic interruptions from time to time, noting one of my favorite topics: fear. In acknowledging that market declines -- even panics -- will occur in the future, he reminds us that during such scary periods, “Widespread fear is our friend, and personal fear our enemy.”
Personal fear, of course, is one of the key inhibitors to Getting Shit Done (GSD). Every outcome has a positive or negative forecast, yet we often default to the negative one. Why? Blame it on our negativity bias, a survival mechanism that’s hardwired in our brain. If you find yourself defaulting to the negative, try giving an equal amount of time to the positive forecast and be open to the possibility that things will turn out well.
And that brings me back to Buffett and his unflagging belief in America. In his most recent letter he remarked, “Babies born in America today are the luckiest crop in history.”
Keep Reading to Keep Learning
There’s a great moment early in Becoming Warren Buffett when Buffett says, “I like to read a lot.” One of my favorite scenes involves his sharing highlights from a book he read as a young boy: A Thousand Ways to Make A Thousand Dollars.
After finishing the documentary I wanted to read and learn something new -- especially after reading an interview connected to the film’s premier. Buffett, who turned 87 last month, commented, “I do not feel that my life is past its most interesting points.”
Reading, of course, always seems to be high on everyone’s to do list but somehow falls “below the line” of what we actually do. If you can identify with that challenge, check out one of my other standout reads of the summer: Books for Living by Will Schwalbe. Schwalbe notes in the intro: “I think we need to read and to be readers now more than ever.”
The book contains 26 succinct chapters connected to key life themes, including connecting, recharging, and mastering the art of reading (naturally). Each chapter summarizes Schwalbe’s favorite book for that topic. For example, Schwalbe selected The Importance of Living by Lin Yutang for the theme of slowing down. I’ve just started Lin’s book, and I’m sure I’ll have more to share in a future blog or video.
As I think about these three lessons -- surround yourself with great people, focus on the positive, keep reading -- I’m reminded of their importance in building resiliency. Resiliency is essential to peak performance and, of course, to GSD. As we prepare to put a “!” on 2017 and prepare for the year ahead, look to where you can incorporate (or reinforce) one of these essentials.