"You only have to do a very few things right in your life so long as you don't do too many things wrong."
--Warren E. Buffett
Real estate professionals sometimes quote billionaire investor Warren Buffett like he lived next door. He doesn’t—but he does live in a remarkably simple house and leads a consciously minimalist life.
And all by design, consciously—and it’s made Buffett not only a financial titan but a seriously happy man. That’s not a combination you often hear of amongst those obsessed with wealth.
But what very few folks know is the utter simplicity of Buffett’s ‘rules to live by’—as opposed to his massively famous investment strategy. Just over a decade ago, Buffett gave a revealing interview in the June 25, 2006 issue of Fortune magazine about precisely this.
Here at KEY POINTS, we have the article, torn from the original magazine, in a place of honour in our ‘read when in need’ binder. Here’s the headlines, straight from Mr B:
#1. Know your strengths and weaknesses—and your likes and dislikes.
Simple example: Buffett loathes bureaucracy. Berkshire-Hathaway, his investment company, has fewer than 20 staff at headquarters. That’s right: two-zero. But Buffett knows that loathing is a weakness, so he hires folks who have the gift of anticipation—of thinking ahead. Keeping up with the smartest of his staff is a huge plus for Buffett, especially now he’s well into his 80s. He plays his weaknesses off against the strengths of the best and brightest he can find.
#2. Don’t take yourself seriously. But take what you do for those who depend on you very very seriously.
“I have very expensive suits,” Buffett once said. “They just look cheap on me.” Yes, indeed. This is a guy who could care less about the appearance of wealth. But his drive to peak return on investment for his shareholders is driven by a stunningly simple tactic: Buffett pays himself $8500/month—and makes himself the butt of just about every joke he dispenses. That’s it. Simple: if they’re laughing with you, they ain’t laughing at you. And with Buffett, that wisdom heralds his common-sense attitude to wealth itself. Which brings us to—
#3. Treat money as a tool, not a ticket to immortality.
Buffett’s entire financial future was (until he began giving his fortune away in tandem with Microsoft’s Bill Gates) tied to Berkshire-Hathaway’s share price. He didn’t have bazillions in stock options or preferred shares: he was on par with the little old lady in Etobicoke who owned one B-H share.
“The first rule is not to lose," he says. "The second rule is not to forget the first rule.” This same human being then chose to give away the equivalent of $10,000 US every three minutes—not out of ego but because he wanted to see a better world via the Gates Foundation. Not dollars: no ego—results for other human beings.
#4. Make friends with the media. Dance to their tune and let them crown you belle of the ball.
Smart real estate pro.s know this one cold; Buffett’s been living this piece of advice all his life. When did you ever hear of Warren Buffett getting slammed on TV or social media or in The Wall Street Journal? Not once. Never. His best practice here was and is simply to be himself. When the press was hounding Bill Gates during the Microsoft anti-trust trial, Buffett was cheerfully dispensing homegrown wisdom to packs of tame journalists. All by being himself. Genius.
#5. Focus on the fundamentals. Practice them with the ruthless discipline of a master.
This double-barrelled piece of advice is two-fold for a reason: simple focus isn’t enough—as Buffett’s unearthly success demonstrates, you can’t have focus without external discipline—not if you’re an aspiring real estate professional or a veteran of the marketplace. It’s all about discipline and repeatedly focusing on the details as if you’ve never seen them before.
In Zen, this practice is called beginner’s mind. It’s all very well ‘focusing on the fundamentals’ if that focus is rigid and never leads to a change of mind or heart—of a re-invention of yourself. Buffett’s stark advice has kept him focused almost like a small child: capable of great focus—bombs could go off and he’d still focus.
But Buffett’s secret strength is his love of discovering the new in the commonplace: he spends his days mostly reading, thinking and trying out his new insights on over exploratory phone calls. His core discipline: he’s never stopped learning.
Not a bad way to make a living. And Buffett’s life makes success look a lot like…simplicity.