How Warren Buffett consistently finds success regardless of the ups and downs of the world.
Let’s talk about Buddhism. Buddhism is about letting go of attachment to behaviors, people, situation, things–all of it. Good or bad, mean or nice–none of it matters.
Instead, Buddhists use mindfulness to focus on the here and now, and live focused on the idea that everyone ultimately seeks to be happy, and we should support that quest for all being. So what does that have to do with business, let alone Warren Buffett?
The Oracle of Omaha, as he’s called, takes a very particular approach to business and life. He’s famous for his modesty. He’s lived in the same home (largely the way it was when he bought it) since 1956, drives a modest car he keeps for years at a time, and, while he doesn’t dress like a pauper, he’s not one for the most expensive garments custom-made for him whenever fashions change.
He’s famous in his investment approach as he takes a buy-and-hold view when investing in or outright buying a business. He is also generally held as a nice person where others at his level are often known for their temper and ruthlessness. He’s not interested in making short-term decisions in life or business, and that is why he’s so successful.
Like Buddhists, Warren Buffett is not preoccupied with quick gains and appearances. He is not focused on outdoing others. He is focused on doing well, and seeking out others who wish to ultimately do well. Past mistakes need not dictate current actions beyond taking a lesson from them, adjusting your approach as needed, and moving forward.
A story of success and a story of failure help illustrate the point. Buffett had a “value investing” approach, which he learned at business school at Columbia University from the approach’s father, Benjamin Graham. He bought Berkshire Hathaway, a dying textile mill, because it fit the mold of a value investment: something you buy because it has good management and fundamentals, but is trading at a big discount and makes for a good flip.
Staying anchored in the past would have meant that, despite the business actually being revived during Buffett’s ownership, he would just sell it for a respectable profit. Instead, he detached from his past, looked at the present situation free of any anchors into historic approaches, and held the company, turning it into the investment vehicle we know today as one of the most powerful businesses in the world.
On the failure side, he had bought a Baltimore-based department store called Hochschild Kohn. It didn’t play out as he hoped, and he famously wrote about it to investors in his 1989 letter to shareholders, saying he was lucky to sell it for about what he’d paid for it. The lesson here is that he didn’t let this failure stop him from doing future deals, whether in retail or not. Let’s not forget that he owns shares of Apple, who has become one of the biggest retailers (on top of being one of the largest tech companies).
His ability to stay grounded in the current moment without attachment to the past or desire for the future is at the heart of his success. It allowed him to sit on the sidelines in the 1990s while other investors poured money into dot-com start ups and proclaimed he was an investor whose time had passed because he would not join the party. We all know how that played out. He stayed true to his frugal, calm, grounded approach while others saw dollar signs and exit strategies that ultimately did not materialize.
You could say it is really just that he makes smart investment decisions and has a great nose to sniff out the best deals. That is true, but it goes beyond that to how he stays stable, calm and focused without getting caught in the excitement and emotion that whips other investors around. It does not mean he only wins (like with Hochschild Kohn), but it does mean he wins overall.
Hearing him speak, it is pretty clear he’s genuinely happy. And it is pretty clear he seeks this for others (he said so himself). Taking a Buddhist approach to business can help you to not only be happy, but to succeed.
This post is inspired by my best-selling book, “Do a Day: How to Live a Better Life Every Day” available in print, eBook and audio book formats. It originally appeared in my Inc.com column on August 9th, 2017.