What Warren Buffett Can Teach You About Life
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Today at a Glance
- Warren Buffett is the most famous investor of all time. He is a treasure trove of frameworks, ideas, and insights, most of which apply well-beyond investing.
- Today's piece shares 8 of my favorite frameworks from the so-called Oracle of Omaha, including their application to your business, career, and life.
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I have long been a student of Warren Buffett.
I knew who he was growing up, but only truly immersed myself in his writing and insights beginning in 2012, when I sat down and read every single one of his annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholder letters in an effort to better understand the principles of investing.
At the time, I was reading and studying his work through a solely investing-focused lens. I wanted to understand how the most famous and successful investor of all time thought about businesses and the stock market.
But over the years, as I continued to study his work, and continued to formulate my own perspectives, I came to realize that the application of Warren Buffett's frameworks, ideas, and insights extends well-beyond investing.
In today's piece, I'd like to share 8 of my favorite frameworks from the so-called Oracle of Omaha.
Let's dive right in...
Wait For Your Pitch
"The stock market is a no-called-strike game. You don’t have to swing at everything – you can wait for your pitch."
I'm a former baseball player, so you'll have to forgive me for starting off with a baseball metaphor...
The application of this insight extends far beyond the realm of stock market investing.
It's easy to fall into the trap of swinging at every single opportunity that comes your way. Early on in your career, it might even be productive (taking on more opportunities can expand your luck surface area!). But as you progress, it's critical to become deliberate about which opportunities you choose to take on.
Don't be afraid to have free time in your schedule. View it as a "call option" on future interesting opportunities. If you take on every 1x opportunity, you'll find yourself incapable of jumping at the 10x opportunity when it pops up.
By having free time, you have the headspace and bandwidth to take on those 10x opportunities when they come your way.
In the long run, life doesn’t reward you for the number of swings you take, it rewards you for your outcomes.
Focus on identifying the most attractive pitch. When it comes, swing hard and don’t miss it.
Make Time Your Friend
"Time is the friend of the wonderful business, the enemy of the mediocre."
Replace "business" with "human" and this quote is even more powerful.
The goal is to let compounding work in your favor. The greatest returns in your life will come from the long-term compounding of positive daily actions.
I have a rule I call the Invested vs. Spent Test: Time is either *invested* or *spent*. Invested time—actions that compound. Spent time—actions that don’t. When choosing what to do, prioritize investing time, not spending it.
The worst decisions are made when you're seeking instant gratification. Growth takes time—don’t be in a rush.
Set up your life to compound value over the long-term. Play long-term games with long-term people.
Make time work for—not against—you.
Optimize Value Capture
"Opportunities come infrequently. When it rains gold, put out the bucket, not the thimble."
I have a theory: the most successful people in the world don't necessarily create the best opportunities—they simply create the most effective value capture out of the opportunities they create.
Imagine two people:
- Person A: Creates a new business line within a big company. Gets $1 million one-time bonus for the idea and a 20% pay raise for running the business line.
- Person B: Has idea for new business line within a big company. Leaves and starts a new startup on the basis of the idea. Eventually sells the startup to the big company for $100 million.
Same set of circumstances, but Person B optimized value capture.
This doesn't necessarily mean you should always go out on your own and start things, but it does mean you should focus on creating structures that enable you to capture more of the value you create.
Think about your value capture more deeply as you pursue new opportunities and ideas. You won't regret it.
"The most important thing to do if you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging."
If you're anything like me, you probably have a bias for movement. This is good when things are going your way, as your movement and action compounds on itself and creates momentum.
But when things turn against you, your bias for movement can be a negative.
When you find yourself in a tough situation, the first thing to do: pause, step back, and take a breath.
I have found that my tendency is to want to keep moving, but more often than not, that additional movement digs me deeper into the hole (rather than the desired impact of pulling me out of it).
Learn to step away—take a walk, turn off your phone, whatever it takes to separate yourself physically and emotionally from a situation.
When you find yourself at the bottom of a hole, first stop digging—then figure out how to climb out of it.
"Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful."
This is perhaps one of the most well-known investing adages of our time—it tends to pop up on Twitter when markets are at the top (stop being greedy) or at the bottom (stop being fearful).
I think it's more interesting to consider its broad application to life:
Following the crowd is easy, but it's a recipe for average outcomes.
If you want to achieve asymmetric outcomes, you have to learn to think independently. You have to learn to do your own work and come to your own decisions.
You can't rely on others. You have to develop your own maps.
Remember: Your unique perspectives are your edge—but only if you harness them effectively.
Protect Your Circle of Competence
"Risk comes from not knowing what you're doing."
Self-awareness is one of the non-obvious common traits of the world's highest performers.
It's partially about knowing what they know—but it's more so about knowing what they don't.
World changers don't win by playing every game. They win by only playing games they are uniquely well-suited to win.
Be ruthlessly honest about what you know (your circle of competence) and what you don’t.
"It's only when the tide goes out that you discover who's been swimming naked."
Find a balance between pushing yourself for growth and being completely out of your depth. Never put yourself in a high-stakes position to get caught swimming naked.
Before playing any new game, always ask: Is this a game I truly understand? If not, don't play it.
Never let FOMO dictate what games you play—that's just gambling.
Two rules here:
- Identify your games and play them well.
- If you're offered entry into a game that's not yours, say no.
Follow those two rules and you'll always make it.
Reputation Really Matters
"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently."
If more people followed this rule, the world would be a much better place.
The first step is to identify your core principles and values. Companies have a written mission statement and core values—you should too!
Two potential approaches:
- One-Time Approach: Sit down on a weekend and write out the ~10 core values that you want to guide your career and life.
- Over-Time Approach: The next time you have an interaction that cements a core value, add it to your list. This allows you to avoid the intimidation of having to come up with a list in one sitting. It allows you to have your daily interactions inform your list.
Once you have your list, keep it front and center.
In every interaction—big or small—always act in accordance with your list of principles and values.
Your character is your fate.
Invest In Yourself
"The most important investment you can make is in yourself."
The final—and perhaps most important—insight:
You will never find a better investment than an investment in yourself.
Always make time to read, to think, and to learn. Surround yourself with amazing people who push you to become better.
Every single day, invest in you.
Those are 8 of my favorite frameworks from Warren Buffett that apply well-beyond investing.
I'd love to hear from you:
- What are your favorites?
- What am I missing from the list?
Tweet your replies to me @SahilBloom or reply to this email and I'll do my best to get back to everyone!
Fun P.S. I was extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Warren Buffett in 2019 at the Berkshire Hathaway Annual Meeting. It was a thrill—a moment I will never forget. He was just as warm and thoughtful as I imagined. Here's a cool photo from the event!