Sunday, August 02, 2009

Can David Beat Goliath?

Is there any thing in common between Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Sam Walton, Ray Kroc, Bill Hewlett, Michael Jordan, Roger Federer and Tiger Woods? It is beyond reasonable doubt they are wired with the correct ability to do what they are good at. But innate ability only serves us in a limited way if we are in the wrong place at the wrong time and if we don't make full use of the ability. But for the rest of us, ordinary folks, can we - the Davids - defeat the Goliath? Yes, we can if we know the ingredients of what it takes to be great. We may not achieve greatness but if we know what goes into the mix for success, we can achieve reasonable success during our lifetime. But I hope this article would help you to do something better than you otherwise think you'd be able to do, rather than to simply focus on defeating Goliath because it can be too tiring. There are basically two major factors: 1) Things we cannot control and; 2) Things we can control.

We are all born in different eras and different eras requiring different set of talents. In the Roman or Genghis Khan days, courage, fighting skills and a military-minded person would be the sort of skills needed for greatness. Warren Buffett, if he were born in those days, rather than now, would end up as a nobody. When we are born has an effect on the level of success.

If we work it backwards, both Warren and Gates, besides having the talent, they had the luck to meet the right person and school, who gave them the opportunity to learn and to practice at what they were good at. It also happened that they were born in the golden years for the sectors they were wired for: Warren's case - he was born in 1930 (depression time), by the time he is 20, the world then was ready for a turn in fortune; In Bill's case, he was born in 1954, by the time he had all the required long hours of training, 1975s was the start of the golden years for technology, those who were born in the mid 1950s.

The first rule is if you are lazy, even if you are born with the most talent, you'll languish in mediocrity. But if you are hardworking, seeking for knowledge continuously, and seeking answers to your questions, you are likely to be more successful. David, at times, defeats Goliath because effort can substitute for ability. Reality and history have proven that even the best in the business cannot achieve greatness without putting in lots of time and effort. Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers, claims that you need to put in 10,000 hours of learning before greatness is achieved. You need to put in a lot of hours of practice for example before achieving a certain level of consistency in a golf swing. When we look at Buffett or Gates, we may think they had it easy because they are smart. But fact is they work harder than anyone else. Most of us don't even put in the kind of minimum effort that is needed to touch the boundary of success. Effort and focus are paramount but most of us stop short when we think of the level of work required - main reason why we fail. Then when we look at others' success, sometimes, we rationalize them as "born lucky or smart," but if that is the case, why didn't Chris Langan (one of the smartest man in modern era with IQ of 195) succeed? If we rely on our innate intelligence and luck, yes, success is still possible but that is because these lucky fews are the few monkeys who survive out of millions who participated in a blind-folded dart throwing contest - ultimately, some lucky monkeys will hit the target after each round of elimination but if play long enough, they'd lose it all back too. But if you play the game harder than anyone else, even more so if you know you are not as talented, you'll over time find yourself being even in front of those who have more talents than you because you work harder. If you are playing a basketball match against an all-star team, you can increase your chance of winning or for the matter, reduce the gulf in points difference, by playing full-court press throughout. Fables like the hare and the tortoise are not tales of fantasy. The thing is you never know what you are truly capable of if you don't give it a shot.

The second rule is nobody work by themselves or without the help of others. No matter how intelligent you are, if you do not bounce ideas out of others, or take ideas out from others, it'd be hard, if not close to impossible, to achieve something great. Warren Buffett got his start from Ben Graham, before that he was also a chartist in his youth. Bill Gates had he not been through his high school which had given him all the resources - lots and lots of hours of practice on a dedicated computer, during a time in the 1960s when computers are shared by many - he will not have had the 10,000 hours of practice needed to achieve greatness prior to him developing an operating system.

Find a mentor. It is one of the short cuts to learn faster and pick up the best practices from the best in the class. Do not limit your mentors to those living only. Many best mentors may already be buried six-feet-under but many left behind their work through their writings.

Have passion. Find out what interest you. It is most likely what interest you is what you are best at. Positivity feeds on positivity. When you like something and you do well in it, you find you get more motivated which in turns produces results. Set goals, if big goals are too huge to achieve, set small little dreams. You can try to be a little smarter at the end of the day than at the start. When you accumulate knowledge, even though it may be small, but it all adds up and the effect is you compound your little knowledge after each day, which over a period of time, you find you know a lot more - just like how you compound your return every year in shares.

Ok, these are some advices I picked up from people I admire. There are others but the main ones are here. Whichever path you chose, be it sports, business, or others, the ingredients are the same. There could be others. Maybe, you have some to contribute which please do.


Frank said...

Hey Brian, Thank you for your great sharing in your blog.
I have a good time reading Outlier too and here is the summary of what i got out of it:

1. Achievement is talent plus preparation, the 10,000 hour rule- 10k hour of practise for mastery

2. My opportunity, (in terms of capital and knowledge) to success in business- mainly from friends or mentors and family

3. Three component of Meaningful work- autonomy, work complexity and a connection between effort and reward

4. Success need perfect time with the perfect skills

5. For investment or business success, need 10k hour preparation and wait for the perfect opportunity to act

Berkshire said...

Hi Frank,

Yes, Outliers is an outstanding book by an outstanding individual. Gladwell is indeed an influential thinker.

As to waiting for the perfect opportunity, it is correct but I also learn something from Bill Gross. Sometimes, we save all our bullets lying in wait for the right prey and at times, we can get trigger-shy because we may think there may be another fatter prey that will come along, although the first prey is already pretty fat. What Bill Gross says is don't be the guy that eats everything and do not also be the guy that is so picky that he eats nothing.

Frank said...

Yep, I fully agree with you.

While waiting for my fat prey, I have to eat everything, sometimes peanuts and sometime decent meal.

I only got my fattest pitch in my business after I practise for about 10k hours (about 5 years)

So I believe that by continuous learning, we will be able to identify the great investment opportunity when it present to us in the near future.

Joe Duggins said...

This is the most specific comprehensive, just overall quality blog on the subject I've found. Two thumbs up chum.

Money without intelligence is like a car without a road.

Penny Stock Blog said...

I would be very interesting if the memory of a guy like Steve Jobs could be erased from the memory of everyone that is before he returned to apple in the late 1990's. If he had all of his abilities but was totally unknow and started out as a designer say would steve jobs ever be able to obtain the critical mass with the senior management of apple if they did not have any memory of his brilliance as a technology innovator at the apple computer he founded.