[no. 16] GoB: weekly musings

“People are trying to be smart — all I am trying to do is not to be idiotic, but it’s harder than most people think.”

- Charlie Munger

The most amazing reads of the week:

1. “Berkshire Hathaway’s annual letter to shareholders (2016)” (1 hour read, link here)

“First, widespread fear is your friend as an investor, because it serves up bargain purchases. Second, personal fear is your enemy. It will also be unwarranted.”

I am astounded every time I speak with a MBA candidate and I hear that Warren Buffett’s annual letters to shareholders are not part of compulsory reading. The great sage of Omaha offers up incredible insights into business, economics, investing and life in an amazingly simple way. Reading Warren reminds me that the best communication of complex concepts is very often done when written as though you are speaking to a golden retriever. If you have an inkling of interest in business or investing, this letter should be on your compulsory annual to read list. It is not often that you get a living legend delivering record setting results and telling you how he thinks.

Related read: “Warren Buffett’s letter, annotated” (link here)
Bloomberg has also done an annotated version of the note which highlights key statements and their explanations. I found this a useful tool when reading through Warren’s letter.

2. “Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Annual Letter (2017)” (1 hour read, link here)

“…by lifting up the poorest, we express the highest values of our nations. One of the greatest of those values is the belief that the best investment any of us can ever make is in the lives of others. As we explain to Warren in our letter, the returns are tremendous”

Bill and Melinda Gates are BFFs with Warren Buffett. This month they published a letter to Warren who agreed to give a massive proportion of his wealth to their foundation in 2006. This letter is the Gates’ report to Warren on the impact that the foundation has had so far. What I love about the style of thinking here is their loyalty to measure and have real impact. Being business people, the Gates have inventively thought about how dollars should choose actions that will have the maximum benefit to the people who need it most. It is an inspiring piece on how business acumen can be applied to impact investing. A very colourful and well presented letter (with charts and conversational style), this is a joy to read.

3. “Do you suffer from decision fatigue?” (20 min read, link here)

“The best decision makers are the ones who know when not to trust themselves.”

Very often I have said that the most precious resource we have is our attention — what we choose to pay attention to shapes us into who we are. This is harder and harder to do in the information age where we are constantly bombarded with attention grabbing tweets/snaps/headlines etc. In our quest to take control of our lives (attention), form habits and shape our behaviours, one of the most useful tools to have is to understand how our minds work. This old but well researched piece in the NYT Magazine lays out the science of how our willpower is a muscle and we cannot be trusted to make the best decisions as this muscle tires through the day. That is, you are much more likely to eat that cupcake at 3pm than at 9am. This article focuses on the science and psychology of decision making and points to some interesting ways we can save ourselves, from ourselves.

Related read: “Your Breath is Your Brain’s Remote Control” (5 min read, link here)

Recently I experimented with Pranic breathing after seeing Wim Hof do amazing things by simply using the power of breath. I have experienced the benefits of the Wim Hof method for a while now and now crave getting that rush when I haven’t had it for a few days. A key side effect of this has been much more focused attention through the day. Take it from me & definitely try it. But, what would I know? The above link points to fascinating research about how the breath has been linked directly with our cognitive functions. A cool read which confirms so much Vedic knowledge which pointed to the power of breath to take control of the mind.

4. “F. Scott Fitzgerald Tells His 11-Year-Old Daughter What to Worry About (and Not Worry About) in Life” (7 min read, link here)

“I am glad you are happy — but I never believe much in happiness. I never believe in misery either. Those are things you see on the stage or the screen or the printed pages, they never really happen to you in life.”

In this cute letter to his 11 year old daughter, one of my favourite authors (F Scott Fitzgerald, author of the Great Gatsby) gives very simple, memorable and wise advice. The magic of the simplicity is that he breaks down his advice as a very simple checklist of things to worry and not worry about. My favourite; “Don’t worry about insects in general”.

5. “Maker’s schedule, Manager’s schedule” (5 min read, link here)

“Those of us on the maker’s schedule are willing to compromise. We know we have to have some number of meetings. All we ask from those on the manager’s schedule is that they understand the cost.”

Paul Graham (founder of Y Combinator) consistently writes great career/work advice. In this empowering piece he draws a line of difference between times when we are in the mode being a “maker” or a manager. Paul highlights that these work fine by themselves but modern jobs require us to do both, which is where the problem starts. I found this post useful to determine what tasks are maker vs manager tasks in my day and to split them accordingly. The benefits can be far reaching, especially when you start sympathising with colleagues by recognising whether they are in maker or manager mode themselves.

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Keep it 100,

Aman