I recently took 20 Peking University students for a Q&A with Warren Buffett in Omaha (see write-up here). And I thought one of the most interesting parts was his comments on the importance of becoming the best version of yourself.
The discussion started with a question he put to the students. If you could invest in only one of your fellow classmates, who would you choose? If you could buy say 10% of the future earnings of just one classmate, who would you choose? What would you look for?
It͛’s a pretty fun question to think about. Would you choose the person with the highest IQ? The person with the highest grades? The person with really successful parents?
His point was that you would probably not look at such things You would think about personal qualities. Who is the hardest working student? Who is the one with the best daily habits? Who is the person that everyone wants to work with? His mentioned that you might look for the person who was the most effective. But the point is that the decision would mostly be about personal qualities, not business metrics or test scores.
He went on to talk at length about how you want to become the person that other people would choose. You want to become the best version of yourself, over time. I came away with three sort of lessons / tips on this.
Tip 1: Ask yourself “would this person hire me?”
He spoke about his friend Tom Murphy, a Berkshire board member who used to be Chairman and CEO of Capital Cities. He said Tom is someone that virtually everyone likes. And he is someone Warren said he would basically do anything for. He said Tom is someone that just turns people on.
So how does Tom do this? Why is he so well liked by everyone? It wasn’t that clear from his comments. But my take-away was that Tom excels at getting the best out of other people.
Myself, I am not naturally good at this. I tend to be inward focused. But Warren mentioned one trick is to ask yourself “would this person hire me?” I have been trying this for the past week and I find it does work. In any conversation, it keeps me thinking about how the other person perceives me and if I am helping them. Have I brought out something positive in them? Am I being helpful? Am I acting in a way such that they would be happy to have me on their team or project?
I really liked Warren’s point that you want to try and be the person that everyone in class would invest in. And you always want to try to be moving in that direction.
Tip 2: Don’t be someone that turns people off.
Buffett raised another interesting question which was: Which one of your classmates would you sell short? That is pretty funny and a great question. He said you would probably sell short the person that turns you and other people off.
Of course, as soon as he said this, everyone (including myself) immediately wondered “is it me?”. And I also immediately thought of a couple things I do that probably do turn people off.
The take-away here is maybe you aren’t the person everyone would invest in. But you can definitely avoid being the person people would short. And that is a great question to ask: are you turning people off? With a couple of habits? A lot? A little?
Fortunately, avoiding this is actually pretty easy to do. It’s just a matter of not doing certain things. I made a list of things to stop doing on the plane out of Omaha.
Tip 3: You can get there step-by-step.
He made the point that these are all things you can choose to be in life. They are actually under your control and are not that hard to change. You can be the jerk. Or you be fair. You can be short with people. Or you can be patient. And so on. These are all qualities you can develop. And you can also easily avoid the qualities and habits that turn people off.
He recommended that you start with one habit to change. Just pick one thing, like being more charitable or patient. And the nice part is that the things that you do for others will come back to you. If you put something out like charity and affection, it will come back to you much more. So it’s almost naturally easy to change with that sort of feedback.
Finally, he also mentioned you should hold yourself to “high but not impossible standards”. Don͛’t try to be perfect. Just keep aiming toward the person you want to be. Basically, he says human behavior is not complicated.
I thought that was all really helpful. And I’ve already dialed it into my weekly calendar. We’ll see how it goes.
Thanks for reading, Jeff
I write and speak about Chinese consumers and digital China.