Source: Mark Hirschey
If there’s one person that self help, success and magazine writers love to use for fodder, it’s Warren Buffett. How could it not be? That humble, kindly looking old man with a penchant for McDonalds, Coke and affordably priced sedans who also just happens to be the fourth richest man on the planet is a great story and feels oh so relatable. When it comes to self help, it gets even better — Buffett has a number of quirks and habits that scream contrarian and make for awesome quotes when you’re trying to get people to aspire to making it big.
“You can’t make a good deal with a bad person.”
“It’s better to hang out with people better than you. Pick out associates whose behaviour is better than yours and you’ll drift in that direction.”
“No matter how great the talent or efforts, some things take time. You can’t produce a baby in one month by getting nine women pregnant.”
“I just sit in my office and read all day”
“Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.”
Those are all direct quotes from him, and they all sound so profound, don't they? Except they aren't. None of this is a revelation to anyone with a pulse and IQ above 115, but self help writers, business publications and those striving for success gobble it up like a glutton at a buffet (pardon the pun). Here’s the thing, I don’t have any opinion on Buffett either way, but what baffles me is the constant fetishising of him, as though because he lives a seemingly “humble” life, he’s enough like us that it gives us a chance. That’s not reality, not even close.
“Wisdom”: Buffett gets his haircut for $18.
Reality: He’s 89 and amassed most of his wealth after 50, why would he spend big on haircuts anyway?
“Wisdom”: He doesn’t wear designer suits.
Reality: He wears freaking bespoke suits. A bespoke suit costs thousands of dollars - usually double or triple what a designer suit would cost. In fact, his first two (and probably every one since) were given to him for free by Madam Li, seeking to make a name for herself and her company. Tell me anyone, rich or poor, who gets given bespoke suits for free.
“Wisdom”: Buffett doesn’t spend much on tech. He still uses a flip phone.
Reality: The fourth richest guy can use whatever the hell tech he wants — he has an army of people at his beck and call. He doesn’t need to react to markets or be up to date with data, because his power means that the moves he makes are what causes everyone else to react.
“Wisdom”: Buffett eats McDonalds and has even used coupons. He drives affordable cars.
Reality: Buffett owns a private jet. In fact, he doesn’t just own a private jet, he owns a company that leases private jets.
Then there’s the business advice and practices that people love to quote. Everyone loves to talk about the fact that he spends so much of his time reading, and that’s what allows him to make such great decisions. So it’s a no brainer that we all just need to read more, right? Well, no. That’s like Usain Bolt telling us that his time spent training allows him to be the best sprinter in the world.
We all scoff at that notion, because we know that Bolt is a unique talent, both in genetic terms, trainability, mindset and so on. We know that even if we started training as a sprinter from the age of 5 that the likelihood of us being an Olympic medalist — let alone as many times as him, is slim to none. So with that in mind, here’s a sobering thought:
You’re far more likely to win an Olympic medal than to be a Warren Buffett.
You’re far more likely to win an Olympic medal than to amass one billion dollars, let alone 89 of them.
Here’s some further food for thought. Tom Ford, the fashion designer and owner of his own company, Academy Award winning director and singular talent in his field is only worth a comparatively measly $500 million dollars. That’s $88.5 billion short of Buffett. Do you think you could be a singular talent with decades of experience and world beating skill in your industry?
That’s why I don’t think reading lessons learned articles about Warren Buffet is helpful for anyone. Go and do some digging into his history — he got a pretty damn good head start. Apart from the fact that his dad was a freaking congressman, he was entrepreneurial before he even turned 10. He graduated university when he was 19. This is not some everyday guy who just happened to end up as one of the world’s richest. This was a guy primed to do it from the beginning. This is a guy that even someone like Kylie Jenner, with all her advantages at just the age of 21 is unlikely to ever come close to.
Not only that, but much of what makes him successful is not going to work for 99% of the population, because we aren’t in his position. Spending hours reading every day isn’t going to help an average or even motivated person become a millionaire, it works for him because he’s reading information very specific to his industry, he's already had decades of experience doing it and knows exactly what he’s looking for. His tips aren’t going to help you move up the corporate ladder, because he hasn’t done it himself. You’re far better off looking to someone a few levels up the food chain from you for mentoring and navigating the right path than Buffet.
What Buffett and the media surrounding him represents is success porn akin to the “girl next door.” She seems cute, kind, relatable and just enough like you to think you might have a shot. The reality is you’re not even close, you should be looking elsewhere.