I’ve been reading and watching a lot of Munger and Buffett lately – Youtube videos, the PaineWebber initiation on Berkshire, Poor Charlie’s Almanack (I bought a signed copy!) and the recently released HBO documentary on Warren Buffett. There are two lessons that have really resonated with me from those materials: first, that hard work plus patience plus intelligence is the holy grail of investing and and second, that it’s vital to treat people right.
The first lesson may seem obvious but actually executing it is one of the hardest things to do. It really is like sailing between the mythical Scylla and Charybdis. Patience and waiting for the right opportunity can easily translate into laziness, lack of learning and waiting for the obvious (hint: in an efficient market, free $ rarely comes along). Meanwhile, constantly learning and working hard builds up a desire for action – after all, people are wired to expect results when they work hard. Getting the balance right, above all, is a test of character.
The second lesson came from a story about Charlie Munger that goes something like this – Charlie had borrowed someone’s car to go on family vacation. At the end of the vacation, Charlie was running late to the airport so his son wondered why the family was stopping for gas. Charlie told his son, “Son, you borrow a man’s car, you return it full of gas.” Again, a very simple idea. To me it means going the extra mile to respect other people… to not take them for granted.
In modern society, businesses (e.g., car rental) have obviated many things that used to require the help of the community (borrowing, etc.). While radical self-reliance is good, fostering good relationships is better. And there’s no better way than to go the extra mile and really send that signal to other people. I thought of one friend’s habit of sending hand-written thank you notes. And another’s habit of sending pdf updates via email. I like both of those approaches a lot and hope to do something similar – Christmas cards or high end wine?
So what else am I thinking about? I was thinking that I’m grateful for my life here in SF. I recently visited a friend in Michigan. He has a terrific life – nice house, nice car, great wife and surrounded by friends and community. But coming back, I felt mentally ragged and unhappy and unrested. My mind drifted to the painful topic of past girls and unsuccessful relationships. I realized the reason my mind had drifted was that actually my stay was not as enjoyable as a weekend in SF. There were so many things I’ve become accustomed to – quality food, stimulating culture, interesting people and most of all the mentally stimulating sense of possibility.
I sense a subtle shifting of gears in my outlook. I’ve begun to value continuity in my SF life – I have things to do here that extended trips elsewhere distract from. In many cases, the things that I am doing are not new things, they’re building things, 1 to N type of things. Where previously that was boring, now I somehow don’t mind – I’m ready to build. And it’s not unrelated to the Buffett/Munger lessons. Above all, those men prized continuity and compounding in their lives. I mean really really understood the power of compounding and the metaphorical “snowball” effect. And I think I am starting to as well.
My one concern is whether my efforts at work will really compound. Learning is paramount for me there. Anyway, dub dub
Edit: it’s interesting because in terms of looking for real estate, I’ve often spent time looking and thinking about how much of a bargain Oakland is. BUT I’ve realized that moving over there and losing my friend network is more costly than the $x it takes to stay here. I need to build a network in SF and I should be willing to invest $ to do it. If I end up spending more to stay in SF and it means I meet the right girl, it will absolutely be worth it.