I’ve always been struck by Warren Buffett’s single-mindedness and discipline.
His annual reports used to contain a letter to potential sellers of businesses. This letter contained a specific, inviolate, and most importantly unchanging list of vital statistics that must be present for Buffett to be interested. I loved his line, taken from a country-western song, “If your phone ain’t ringin’, it’s me not callin’.”
Mr. Buffett is famous for his love of baseball and has used lots of baseball metaphors over the years. The one I remember best is about “taking pitches” (i.e., not swinging), pitch after pitch after pitch. But when he sees a hanging curve ball dead center in Berkshire-Hathaway’s “strike zone,” he will always swing for the fences. As the years have gone by, and Berkshire-Hathaway has gotten so much larger, his strike zone has gotten smaller and smaller. But his hits have gone way, WAY out of the park. His $23.3 billion swing with 3G at Heinz exemplifies this discipline.
Golf coach legend Harvey Pennick famously advised, “Take dead aim,” and one of my former business partners used to talk about the dangers of digging lots of shallow holes versus the advantage of digging a few deep ones.
Recently I was reminded of a quote attributed to Mr. Buffett, approximately: “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say ‘No” to almost everything.” In other words, know yourself, know your company and your teammates and your market so well that you only say yes when it’s in the center of your strike zone.
I think that entrepreneurs must heed the Ultimate Hitting Coach’s advice. My biggest mistake as an entrepreneur was spreading my assets too thinly against too many opportunities. There is tremendous power in laser-focusing your company’s resources, especially your teammates’ efforts and creativity, on a single, narrowly defined opportunity. When you can do this, your company has a unique competitive advantage (and needless to say, a profit advantage.)
If the biggest company in the U.S. and the 5th biggest company in the world—both of which happen to be Berkshire-Hathaway—worries about focus, then we relatively small-fry entrepreneurs should be laser-focused on it.
Are you swinging when you ought to hold back? Has your team honed their focus to your satisfaction? Are you seeing the results you want to see? Leave a comment below and let me know how your season is going.