5 Life Lesson from the Greatest Investor: Think Like Warren Buffett

Warren Buffet isn’t a psychic, but he does have a knack for predicting the future.

His eye for savvy investments has earned him the nickname “Oracle of Omaha”—along with a net worth of US$50 billion.

Buffett has never been shy about sharing his common-sense business strategies; he’s famous for writing to shareholders once a year to explain his thinking. In the process, he’s left the world with a wealth of business knowledge. Get inside the mind of a legendary investor with the lessons and quotes below.

Lesson #1: Choose a Good Path

Do What You’re Good At

“There’s a whole bunch of things I don’t know a thing about.” “I just stay away from those.”

We all have our talents. For his part, Buffett realized long ago that he was very good when it came to investment. Ever since then, he’s been focused on that, staying within what he calls his “circle of competence.” You should do the same. Identify your strengths and then stick to them.

Find and Follow Your Passion

“Do what you’re passionate about.” If you do this, there will be few people competing with you or running faster than you.

When you complete a task that you’re passionate about, you’ve got more energy than when you started. Buffett doesn’t get tired of his job because he actually enjoys what he’s doing. He has said, “I get to do what I like to do every single day of the year,” and that at Berkshire Hathaway they enjoy “the process far more than the proceeds.”

I know that you’ve heard it before, but there’s really no greater way to ensure the success of your business than by founding it on something that you are truly passionate about. As Buffett said, “Without passion, you don’t have energy.” “Without energy, you have nothing.”

Knowing When to Abandon Ship

“If you’re in a boat that leaks all the time, it’s more likely that changing boats will be more useful than trying to fix the leaks.”

Every business will someday face adversity, just as every boat will eventually spring a leak. You should never let your business drown just because an unexpected problem arises.

But if your business isn’t getting any traction at all, maybe the underlying model is making everything more difficult than it has to be.  Instead of expending all of your energy trying to keep a sinking ship afloat, seek out a better model.

Lesson #2: Keep It Simple

Make things easy on yourself.

“There seems to be some perverse human characteristic that likes to make easy things difficult.”

People often make work more challenging than it needs to be. Have you ever spent hours and hours working on a project that you knew you could have completed in thirty minutes? Don’t languish with unproductive habits or inefficient systems. Find ways to work that make your job easy.

Pick Low-Hanging Fruit

“I don’t look to jump over 7-foot bars; I look around for 1-foot bars that I can step over.”

If there’s an apple within your grasp, you’re not going to reach for a ladder.

Buffet adopts a similar strategy while investing: he doesn’t make risky investments because he doesn’t have to. Good companies make him money, but great companies make him more of it. Whether in investments or business, focus your efforts on where you get the most bang for your buck. Pass on lofty challenges.

Simpler is better.

“The business schools reward difficult, complex behavior more than simple behavior, but simple behavior is more effective.”

The day traders who buy stock are making their job very difficult. They study pages of market analysis and work 40 hours a week just trading. If you’re good with complicated data, you’ll make some short-term gains that way. But you could also take Buffett’s lead and tune that noise out.

Berkshire Hathaway makes its stock purchases based on just one thing: the intrinsic value of the company. Buffett buys stock in companies that have good fundamentals and a track record of growth. Pretty straightforward. People love to come up with complex formulas, but most success in business is simple common sense.

Two Simple Rules:

“Rule No. 1: Never lose money. Rule No. 2: Never forget Rule No. 1.”

Lesson #3: Character is Good for Business

Don’t swim naked.

“It’s only when the tide goes out that you learn who’s been swimming naked.”

Before the global recession of 2008, financial institutions were making risky investments and pretending that they were safe. It worked for a while. But the thing about the tide is that eventually it goes out. When that happens, the only thing that will matter is the true value of your investments.

Resist the urge to put up a faux exterior. If you conduct your business solidly through and through, you’ll have nothing to worry about when the water gets shallow.

Look out for the customer.

“Decide early in life to make your money by selling things that you really believe are good for the customers.”

Profit is a symptom. It happens naturally whenever a company provides value to their customers.

The best way to make money is to offer a product or service that’s truly good for the people who use it. One way you’ll know you’re onto something is if you actually want to use it yourself.

“You can’t make a good deal with a bad person.”

When Berkshire Hathaway acquires a company, Buffett makes the deal in person and seals it with a handshake. Because he only wants to buy businesses run by good people, he enjoys getting to know the management of a company personally. For Warren, personal integrity really matters.

He’s realized that being a good guy pays off. Taking shortcuts may pay off in the short term, but they always come back to haunt you eventually. So act with good character and only associate with businesses that do the same.

Good business is contagious.

“Hang out with people better than you.” “Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours, and you’ll drift in that direction.”

Don’t be intimidated by working with people who are smarter than you. On the contrary, surround yourself with the brightest and most productive people you can find.

Not only will they push your business to new heights, but their good habits will rub off on you. Few factors have a greater impact on our behavior than the behavior of our peers.

Lesson #4: Think Long-Term

Be Patient

“No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things just take time.”  “You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”

We live in a world of instant gratification. But short-term thinking can only lead to short-term success. If you want the type of consistent growth that creates true wealth, you must recognize that real success takes time. No matter what you do today, you can’t build a million-dollar business before you go to sleep.

So don’t try to rush something that can’t be rushed. Instead, commit yourself completely to the long haul.

Look Ten Years Out

“Our favorite holding period is forever.”

A stock’s holding period is the time between its purchase and sale.  When Berkshire Hathaway makes a decision to buy stock in a company, they intend on owning it for the next ten years—and preferably even longer than that.

This long-term perspective gets them thinking about the factors that really matter, like the quality of the company’s business model and management. Long-term thinking is more than just a good strategy for investors. Life is a long-term game, so start thinking about where you want your business to be in ten years.

Keep your reputation

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” “If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

A business’s assets will come and go, but a bad reputation is like a stain you can’t wash out.

All it takes is one slip-up to do permanent damage to your reputation. That’s a big problem because people won’t work with a company they don’t trust. So don’t let yourself get sloppy. Cultivate an ethic of quality work.

“Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”

What’s the best part about building a successful business? It isn’t the money, and it isn’t the freedom. It’s the fact that you’ve provided a huge amount of value to a huge number of people.

Starting a business is like planting a seed. With proper care, it will still be making the world a better place long after you leave. Buffett’s legacy doesn’t stop with his businesses, either. Like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, he’s pledged to give half of his wealth to philanthropy.

Lesson #5: Develop a Mindset of Wealth

“I always knew I was going to be rich.” “I don’t think I ever doubted it for a minute.”

I’ve already written about how being totally confident can help you bend the universe. Believing that you will succeed is the first step to making it happen.

Tune Out the Noise

“Let blockheads read what blockheads wrote.”

The more successful you become, the more haters you’ll have. You don’t have any control over what other people say, but you can choose to ignore their negativity.

Know when to tune in and when to tune out. If someone gives you constructive criticism, then you should do everything you can to learn from it. But when criticism is unjustified or comes from jealousy, it will only be a distraction to listen to it.

Accept that you’re not perfect.

“I’ve made lots of mistakes. I’m going to make more. It’s the name of the game. You don’t want to expect perfection from yourself. You want to strive to do your best. It’s too demanding to expect perfection from yourself.”

You’re only human. You’re going to make some big mistakes.

Even an investment genius like Warren Buffett doesn’t win them all. He has accepted that fact, and he doesn’t beat himself up when things don’t turn out like he had hoped. It’s exhausting to expect perfection from yourself. Be satisfied with your best effort.

Be Happy

“I am not inclined to make myself unhappy.” “I sort of accept things as they come.”

If every one of his businesses went bankrupt tomorrow, Buffett would still be smiling. His happiness doesn’t come from seeing green arrows next to his investments. It springs from his unflappable optimism and buoyant spirit.

There’s no greater gift you can give yourself than personal happiness. But if you’re not happy now, no amount of money or success is going to change that. Be thankful for what you have, live with passion and purpose, and accept things as they come. Happiness will follow.

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