Warren Buffett often says that he is less scared by the errors he has made than by the sheer enormity of all the opportunities that he never even saw as they passed him by.
Your progress in life is far less linked to whether you execute perfectly on the things you actually act on, and far more linked to whether you are able to see great opportunities as they pass you by.
In psychology we define 2 types of error:
Type 1 – poor execution and
Type 2 – never even seeing the opportunity to act
Our psychological makeup has us much more worried about the type 1 errors – because we are fully aware of them. We should be much more worried about the type 2 errors, because they are the ones that make the biggest impact on our trajectory through life.
In a 1954 speech to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, former U.S. President Eisenhower said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
The image to the right shows a 2×2 matrix using the two axis of Important and Urgent. This gives us 4 types of task:
Urgent & Important
Urgent & Not Important
Important & Not Urgent
Not Urgent & Not Important
In an un-disciplined person, category 2 tends to be completed before category 3. In a disciplined person, category 3 is completed before touching category 2.
Success is rarely Urgent
Jim Rohn gives one of the most powerful definitions of success:
“Failure is a few bad decisions repeated every day. Success is a few simple good habits practiced every day” Jim Rohn
There is a saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. Health success is an apple a day. Failure is a donut instead of an apple each day. You can say “what difference does 1 donut make?” You won’t notice the damage today, you won’t notice tomorrow… but over a year: a donut a day starts to extract a price.
The urgent is often the result of avoiding the important.
By the time the painkillers are needed, it is too late for the vitamins.
Vitamins are important.
Practice Saying “No”
If you wish to spend more of your life on the important things, and less on the urgent things, there is a tool…
Warren Buffett’s definition of integrity: “you say No to most things”. If you are not saying No to most things, you are dividing your life up into millions of little pieces that are being given to other people’s priorities.
Learn to say “No”…
…without the word “no”.
The most powerful ways to say “no” do not involve the actual word “no”.
Another is to raise the cost of your “Yes”: If someone wants to meet for coffee, I say “yeah sure, I am free on Friday at 7am at my office in Sabadell [25 mlles away]”. If the person still wants to meet then it must be important. 90% end up not following up. The few that do, will come prepared and have done their research. They know what they want from me. They know whether it is worth their time.
Celebrities and Politicians have entire staffs dedicated to restricting access. Bono, the singer of U2, has 25 people who review requests for his time, his money, his attention in order to allow only the important requests to reach Bono himself. Barrack Obama has a whole White House staff whose mission is to ensure that he only spends time and energy on important things, that only he can deal with.
If you don’t start developing methods of saying “no” now, it will only get harder as you become wealthier, wiser, more famous, more experienced and more resourceful.
What urgent task will you say “No” to today?
Some other great posts on Robert Glazer’s blog Friday Forward:
I was watching a few Charlie Munger speeches recently – Warren Buffett’s partner in leading Berkshire Hathaway.
Charlie talks a lot about “Inverse Thinking”…
The Inverse Thinking Process
What is Inverse Thinking? Charlie says it is helpful to turn a question on its head. If you want to know what would improve the situation of India, ask what would make India worse? You can apply this to most situations: If you want to know what would improve your life, ask what would make your life worse? If you want to know what would improve schools, ask what would make schools worse?
Charlie does provide his answer to how to make life worse.
Charlie’s Recipe for a Miserable Life
His answer: The perfect path to a miserable failure of a life is combining:
Another of Charlie’s particular questions he asks himself is how to keep from fanatical ideology? He sees that human beings are so open to self-deception that we must (yes even you) all be on the lookout for our own beliefs that have become fanatical.
Charlie’s Recipe to Keep From Fanaticism
Can you state the arguments against your position as well as your opposition? If you can state the arguments against your position as effectively as the opposing camp, then you can allow yourself to feel that you are not being fanatical.
Charlie on the Danger of Perverse Incentives
Be careful about being in situations that motivate unhappy behaviour. Are the incentives in the systems in which you operate motivating behaviours that make you a better person, or a worse person. Be careful if you think your answer is “neutral”…
When I was 14 years old, my grandfather told me that “Success is earning more than your father.” This talk shares how my definition of success has changed over the next 3 decades of my life. My definition today… listen at the end of the speech.
Who is the first person that comes to your mind when you think about success? Who is that person? What is about them that makes you think of them?
Does it surprise you which person comes to your mind?
Re-sharing an old article of mine…
I wrote an article for myself in 2009 when I had faced 2 major setbacks. This was to remind me of what is important. I’ll share the article again here below:
17 Daily Habits for a Fulfilling Life
Conor Neill, February 2009
This is a compilation of habits that I have seen in the lives of people who have achieved things and felt satisfied and fulfilled with the way their life has progressed. I often get asked the question “is this for a book?”. I don’t know. I teach MBAs and often am asked over a coffee “what should I do with my life?” or “how can I be a success?” to which my answers are often in the form of questions – but this project hopefully will move me towards a better answer when asked these questions.
An entrepreneur friend recently commented to me an early conversation he had with a mentor “Alex, you have great potential”. “Thanks.” “Do you know what great potential means? You ain’t don’t nothing yet”. What does it take to turn potential into fulfilment?
I look forward to your comments, reflections, disagreements, personal experiences and outright criticisms.
Goal setting, Dreams – Goals – Actions
We know what we need to do to be successful, but why do so few people manage to sustain the habits of regularly dedicating time to the activities that will bring them success? Why do we sabotage ourselves?
A nice thought about something you might like to have is a dream. A dream written down and clearly visualised is a goal. A tangible, measurable step written down and committed to is an action. You will not achieve a dream if you don’t systematically work through the actions that lead to the goals that lead to the dream. Dream – have a book published. Goal – complete first draft of book by 31/1/2010. Action – write 1000 words on goal setting.
A writer is somebody who finds writing harder than anybody else. My brother Aidan – set a goal 60 weeks ago – publish a blog article every Monday before 9:00am – and has consistently met it except for 2 weeks – the week his son was born and the week his son was in hospital with a worrying stomach condition. How? He made a verbal commitment to many of his friends. He said to his wife that he would give her €100 every time he failed to publish by 9:00am. He has paid 3 times (once he published the blog 20 minutes late).
We need accountability partners (sadly we are less likely to cheat on our goals if committed to a friend than just to ourself). The top performers all have coaches; it is too difficult to sustain high performance without help.
Malcolm Gladwell in the book Outliers made popular the idea that becoming excellent requires 10,000 hours of practice. Your genes, your natural talent, luck becomes irrelevant when you achieve 10,000 hours. In what will you spend the next 5 years accumulating your 10,000 hours of practice?
Most people never accrue 10,000 hours in anything. Will you make the commitment to excellence, the commitment to mastery?
“We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret” Jim Rohn
Routine sets you free. Routines can break the tendency to procrastination (“quieting the lizard brain” Seth Godin).
Pomodoro technique – get a timer that clearly counts down 25 minute intervals. Take your to-do list. Prioritise number 1 important item. Estimate number of 25 minute intervals. Set the timer and work on the first timer. Any interruption, reset the timer to 25. At the end of a pomodoro take a proper 7 minute break. After 4 take a 25 minute break. How many pomodoros can you achieve in a day?
Self discipline has been shown to be an “expendable” resource. In order to have the greatest ability to maintain self discipline, we need to get enough sleep, face our anxieties, take time out to relax as well.
Fit mind and body (Energy)
Survey of centurions (people who live to 100) – two things in common:
they exercise every day and
they have a project which they must survive in order to complete.
“Sharpen the saw” Steven Covey
You only have one body – take time for repairs. Take time to strengthen it. Take time to rest it. Keep fit, play sport, enjoy walking, don’t wait for the heart attack to let you know that you need to eat healthy, keep fit.
“What on Earth am I here for?” Wrong Question – meaning is not to be found inside ourselves – “What do my parents, friends, family, society need from me? How can I best help others?
Jesus Christ once said, “Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self.”
What drives you? Guilt? Resentment? Fear? Materialism? Approval? Social comparison?
The Arbinger Institute distinguish between two forms of emotional living – “In the box” vs “Out of the box”. “In the box” is reactive – your emotions are reactions to world and people around you. If someone is late to your meeting, you are angry. Out of the Box is that you are proactive about emotion – you choose the emotion that best serves the current moment. You don’t react to people, but seek to understand what is happening in their life, what they are seeking, what they are lacking.
Henry David Thoreau observed that people live lives of “quiet desperation,” but today a better description is aimless distraction. Many people are like gyroscopes, spinning around at a frantic pace but never going anywhere.
We are products of our past, but do not have to be prisoners of it.
George Bernard Shaw wrote, “This is the true joy of life: the being used up for a purpose recognised by yourself as a mighty one; being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clot of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
Do you have a clear understanding of your values? Have you spent some time reflecting on what is important to you? Who are your role models that have lived these values in a strong way?
Why do many cancer survivors look back on the cancer as a gift? – they live the rest of their lives with a true understanding of how short a time we have and what is really important in the time we have. The unimportant drops away and leaves a powerful clarity and focus.
Communication in concise terms of your personal, company, project, goal vision. You are always selling. People sign up for vision, fun and principle.
“We die”. What will you do the last hour? Who will be there? Who will you want to speak to? What would you say?
In the book “Superfreakonomics” there is a chapter that shows a high correlation with the arrival of television and an increase in crime. The authors examine various hypothesis, but essentially find no link except a speculation that the arrival of TV also was the arrival of powerful advertisement campaigns that transmit the idea that “buy this product” = “get this life”. The purchase of a €2 coca cola is not the purchase of sugar, water and some cola flavour in a red can… No, it is access to a life full of exciting friends, fun parties and meaningful interaction. The purchase of a car is not the purchase of a vehicle to get from A to B, it is access to a lifestyle. You are not happy now, but the mere purchase of the right set of goods will transform your life into one of fulfilment. This leads to frustrated people. We believe the ads, but they are selling falsehood. No thing, no object, no achievement will fundamentally change how you feel about yourself – only you can decide to change how you feel about life.
Integrity – build trust, reliability (“Its a small world”)
Are values worthwhile because they provide a ROI or are they valuable only in that they allow you to sleep well every night? Warren Buffett – why is Integrity his number 1 criteria for selecting people in whom to invest?
Aristotle believed that if an individual did not internalise an ethical value system before the age of 12 they would never really “feel” the need to live their values.
Finances in Order
Delayed gratification is necessary. Nobody soaked in debt will ever be able to generate the focus to deliver impact in the important areas of their life.
The test that has most correlation with success in life is a simple test devised by psychologists. They bring a child into a room and sit them down. The child is presented with a sweet. The adult then says that they need to leave the room. The child is most welcome to eat the sweet, but if it is still there when the adult returns, the child will receive 2 sweets. 50% of children cannot resist temptation and eat the one sweet, losing the opportunity to double their outcomes. The children that don’t eat the sweet do not sit there staring at it – they have learnt to avoid looking at the temptation, they have learnt strategies to manage themselves.
Accumulate education => Accumulate capital => Generate income => Grow expenses inside the limit of passive income. Freedom = passive income > expenses. Slave = 90% income as salary. Keep expenses low, generate assets.
Balanced, enriching social life
Choose your friends. You will become who you spend most time with.
What is the most satisfying thing you can do for:
Happiness: It is all about shared experiences + intentional giving.
Unhappiness: it is all about comparing yourself to others, what you have, what you don’t have. What would you rescue from your house if you could only save one thing? (95% choose photos). Not plasma TV, not furniture.
Strong close relationships – Marriage, Family, Kids
Quality time vs time in the same room. Intimacy. Requires work to deepen relationships and maintain powerful connections. It does not happen automatically – we are not genetically prepared to establish deep intimate relationships.
Resilience (Head in the sky, Feet on the ground)
Healthy balance between Principles and Pragmatism. Get good at ignoring the little things. Don’t wrestle with pigs. You will get dirty, you will lose and the pig enjoys it.
Self Motivation, Self Esteem, Self Belief
You see what you are looking for. Ask the right questions. Change “why does this happen to me?” to “What am I grateful for today?”
Get good at motivating yourself. We are not computers – we are neurons floating in a sea of hormones and we need to be careful what hormones we let flood our brain – it will change what we see and believe.
“The only source of good knowledge is bad experience” Tom Peters
Climbing Everest, you will not always be going uphill. Sometimes there are periods of downhill, but it is a necessary part of the journey. Farmers don’t blame the winter – they accept that it will always come around and prepare to plant seeds in Spring.
Survive => Thrive. We are first generation that survival is guaranteed. We are first generation where thrive is the aim – and we don’t have any history or knowledge or family role models that can guide us in a world where you really can avoid most hardships.
The person who says “poor me” has clearly got low self esteem. The person who says “I am the greatest” is also likely to have low self esteem.
You are the best you in the world. You will be a terrible somebody else.
“The reward for conformity is that everybody likes you except yourself” Rita Mae Brown
It is only in the tough times that you reach into yourself and truly see what is important to you. In the easy times you lose yourself as you compare to everybody else – and lose clarity of what you will know is important when death is imminent. The sharpest steel is forged in the hottest furnaces.
Life is too short to not laugh regularly.
Be accessible and approachable.
Mentors and Advisors (Life Strategy)
Have a list. Find your way to ask them. Nick Luckock – “Apax doesn’t invest in first time entrepreneurs – they don’t yet know how much help they will need from others and how they can ask for it”.
The ideal mentor is someone who you respect, can connect with on a personal level, and who is willing to impart their knowledge. But don’t expect them to solve all your problems.
“A mentor’s role is to help you to make sense of your own experiences” Professor D Megginson
Talking to someone who’s been through a similar experience or has achieved something that you would like to achieve will be constructive.
Coach (Accountability and Balance)
Cormac and his personal trainer: “I only work with the best”.
“I have no time for people not prepared to do the hard work.” All Great Coaches…
Permission to hold me accountable for my own actions.
Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Steve Jobs, Michael Dell all have two things in common – they have been leaders of their respective fields, and they each have a coach. The best in the world have coaches. Is it coincidence? We are not strong enough mentally to keep up the hard work and discipline over the long haul to reach excellence. We need people around us who hold us accountable and push us to stretch. Tony Nadal, the coach of Rafa Nadal, says that his role is to ensure “Effort and Commitment” – not tennis skills, not better strokes, not how to get fit.
Auschwitz – 1 in 30 survived the camp. Victor Frankl was one. Why did some survive and others not? It was not random. The prisoners received bread rations only sufficient to keep them barely alive, yet some prisoners would take half of their bread and give it to someone that they saw needed it more than them. Those that ate all of their bread survived a time. Those that shared their meagre ration of bread were able to truly live. You can take everything away from a man except his ability to choose his response to any given situation.
Victor Frankl developed the Logotherapy process to help people find the ultimate meaning for their life, to find “a why that can overcome any how”. There are three types of ultimate meaning:
A Unique Contribution
Finding Meaning in the Suffering Itself
Giving with intention, giving what is special to you.
“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give” Winston Churchill
Getting others to do stuff for you
“Leadership is Vision with bullying” Professor Brian Leggett
A vision without execution is idealism. Execution without vision is bullying.
Volunteer for charities, clubs. It is here that you will learn to lead. Create change = upset someone, connect people, lead people.
Reflection, Time to Think (Separation of Now and Future) “What have we learnt?”
Incremental improvement almost always wins.
Meditation – why? Does it really provide the impact that many of its proponents suggest? Commit to 10 days of self development activity every year.
“We’ll pluck significance from the least consequential happenstance if it suits us and happily ignore the most flagrantly obvious symmetry between separate aspects of our lives if it threatens some cherished prejudice or cosily comforting belief; we are blindest to precisely whatever might be most illuminating”. Iain Banks, Transition, Patient 8262.
A fulfilling life?
Impact = Self Understanding + Personal Habits + Social Systems
Life = Work + Social + Relationship + Logos (Meaning/Spiritual)
Success = Impact + Luck
Why worry? It should all come together in the end shouldn’t it? Life should naturally turn out well. I don’t like exactly where I am right now, but in a few years it will be better. Doesn’t it just happen like that?
“In the really great managers the common quality they have (in addition to intelligence, energy and integrity) is a passion for what they do.
They are not doing it for the money.
At least three quarters of the managers we have at Berkshire Hathaway are independently wealthy. They do not need to go to work in the morning. They go there because they they love what they’re doing. It is creative. I liken it to painting a painting. They are painting a painting that they see in their mind, never finishing, they get to keep working on it every day. They get to work on it in the way they want and they inspire others because that passion brings out an enthusiasm and a dedication in others.
If they were just going through the motions, sleepwalking through their jobs, they just wouldn’t get this engagement.
Inspirational Leaders are Fully Engaged
He brought up a very good question: how do you bring that sort of passion to the government?
Well certain leaders inspire people to go into government with that same passion for helping their fellow men through government. John Kennedy did it with the peace corps, he inspired many people.
An inspirational leader in any field, whether business or politics, will energise and attract people to put forth the kind of effort in a that you’re talking about. I hope we have one in the next President of the United States. I think I think you need a leader that that can cause people to think above where they’ve been thinking before; and bring out bring out energy and passion that they didn’t know was present. I get that in business maybe more than occasionally you get in the public service.
I don’t think you can write a manual or something about it.” Warren Buffett
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