Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bruce Lee and Warren Buffett

Recently, I posted up an article discussing the characteristics of successful people. Well, I wanted to take this Sunday night to give you some lighter reading by welcoming you to a recent obsession of mine, Bruce Lee. Bruce Lee was arguably the greatest martial artist. He took daily notes of everything he did, and it is clear he followed his training with a passion. But I did not make a write-up to talk to you about martial arts. Bruce Lee also loved philosophy, and he read about all the Western and Eastern beliefs. And he wrote a lot about his own philosophy which he had developed throughout his life. Now what is shocking is how much his philosophy coincides with that of Warren Buffett, who is arguably the best investor. And they both do share a lot of the characteristics of successful people. So below are some Bruce Lee quotes along with the Warren Buffett similarities. All the Bruce Lee quotes are from the book Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee's Wisdom for Daily Living.

1. Bruce Lee says:
1. What does self-willed mean? Does it mean having a will of one's own? The human herd instinct demands adaptation and subordination, but for his highest honor man elects not the meek, the pusillanimous, the supine, but precisely the self-willed man, the heroes.
2. Evaluation by others is not a guide for me. Only the self-sufficient stand alone- most people follow the crowd and imitate.
Warren Buffett has said the problem with most money managers is they seek to do something in traditional fashion and be average. For example, they diversify into hundreds of stocks, they only buy names that people recognize or are fascinating, and they stick to companies that have an allure or have performed well. This way when they are wrong, they have an excuse- everyone else missed it. Buffett however disagrees with this philosophy. He looks where there is the most fear, and he has often said that there can not be group decisions in investing.

2. Bruce Lee says:
We should devote ourselves to being self-sufficient and we must not depend upon the external ratings by others for our happiness. So it is true that the more we value things, the less we value ourself. The more we depend on others for esteem, the less we are self-sufficient.
If there is anyone who fits this bill, I would think it is Warren Buffett. With over 40 billion dollars, he still chooses to live modestly, drive an old Lincoln town car, and he lives in the same house that he bought in 1955.

3. Bruce says:
Intelligence is sometimes defined as the capacity of the individual to adjust himself successfully to his environment, or to adjust his environment to his needs.
Charlie Munger had this to say about their recent investments in railroads:
"Railroads – now that’s an example of changing our minds. Warren and I have hated railroads our entire life. They’re capital-intensive, heavily unionized, with some make-work rules, heavily regulated, and long competed with a comparative disadvantage vs. the trucking industry, which has a very efficient method of propulsion (diesel engines) and uses free public roads. Railroads have long been a terrible business and have been lousy for investors.

We did finally change our minds and invested. We threw out our paradigms, but did it too late. We should have done it two years ago, but we were too stupid to do it at the most ideal time."

4. Bruce Lee says:
The important thing is that I am personally satisfied with my work. If it is a piece of junk, I will only regret it.

And Buffett:
"I get to do what I like to do every single day of the year," he says. "I get to do it with people I like, and I don't have to associate with anybody who causes my stomach to churn. I tap dance to work, and when I get there I think I'm supposed to lie on my back and paint the ceiling. It's tremendous fun."

5. Bruce Lee says:
Oh I know that we all admit that we are intelligent beings; yet, I wonder, how many of us have gone through some sort of self inquiries and/or self-examining of all these ready-made facts or truths that are crammed down our throats ever since we acquired the capacity and the sensibility to learn.
For this I'll turn to what Francis Chou had to say:
"If there is a secret to the Buffett/Munger success story, it is their willingness to be brutally honest and realistic in their analyses and assessments. They are highly introspective, always checking and rechecking their assumptions and premises against reality. Executives who sugarcoat business realities and embellish results, downplay issues and disguise potential problems to investors may well fool even themselves. They start believing in their own world of make-believe. Buffett/Munger’s formidable powers of analysis would be worth nothing if they looked at problems with rose colored glasses."

6. Bruce, what about emotions?:
1. In a time when everything is goes well, my mind is pampered with enjoyment, possessiveness, etc. Only in times of adversity, privation, or mishap, does my mind function and think properly of my state. This close examination of self strengthens my mind and leads me to understand and be understood.
2. There is intelligence when you are not afraid.
Buffett had this to say:
"Two diseases that are always present in the market are fear and greed. Benjamin Graham called this phenomenon "Mr. Market" and portrayed this character as a manic-depressive, constantly swinging from fear to greed and back to fear. However, you can contain Mr. Market with the right investment philosophy. Most of all, you need the right temperament..."

7. Bruce:
Concentration is a narrowing down of the mind- but we are concerned with the total process...
Warren Buffett has said a big factor in his success is because he is not bogged down in a particular industry. This allows him to look everywhere and find where the best investment returns are available.

8. Bruce says:
1."the height of cultivation runs to simplicity. Halfway cultivation runs to ornamentation."
2."The mark of genius is the capacity to see and to express what is simple, simply!"
Warren gets an A+ on that report card. He has an uncanny ability to say things in terms that even the least investment-literate person could understand.

9. Bruce, what do you like to do with your free time?:
But most of all, I like books. I read all types of books- fiction and non-fiction.
This is what Charlie Munger had to say about that:
"Half of all the time he [Warren Buffett] spends is just sitting on his ass and reading. And a big chunk of the rest of the time is spent talking one-on-one, either on the telephone or personally, with highly gifted people people whom he trusts and who trust him."

10. And finally, perhaps Bruce Lee's most important message to his students:
1.By an error repeated throughout the ages, truth, becoming a law or a faith, places obstacles in the way of knowledge. Method, which is in its very substance ignorance, encloses it within a vicious circle. We should break such circles not by seeking knowledge, but by discovering the cause of ignorance.
2. All fixed patterns are incapable of adaptability or pliability. The truth is outside of all fixed patterns.
3. I am no longer interested in systems of organization. Organized institutes tend to produce patternized prisoners of a systematized concept, and the instructors are often fixed in a routine. Of course what is worse is that by imposing the members to fit a lifeless pre-formation, their natural growth is blocked.
This is what first attracted me to Bruce Lee. Basically, he believed every moment and every instance should be treated as its own, and we should think instead of being bound by a pattern of doing things. I saw in this belief the counter to the idea brought up in The Black Swan, which stressed that systems cause us to get caught in a certain way of thinking and eventually leads to people getting blindsided. It is only through thinking and understanding that we grow. And when we make prejudices about something or accept a statement without understanding it, we are denying ourselves the truth.


Anonymous said...

Great posting! Mirroring Bruce Lee & Buffett was a great idea in the first place... and the message that we should perhaps not lock ourselves into "unfortunate patterns of thinking" is great advice. I am left wondering what exactly "independent thought" really looks like in my particular case--- as an investor and as a member of the community.

Brian said...

Nice comparison. Bruce Lee and WEB share the fact that they are undoubtedly the best in their respective fields. Also, one other Bruce Lee quote that I find to be my favorite and applicable to this discussion goes such:

"Knowing is not enough you must apply, willing is not enough you must do!"

People have knowledge of value investing and the success it has brought Buffett, Munger, Greenblatt, Pabrai, etc. but by and large they don't apply and do. Bruce Lee is an underrated philosopher.

Nnejad said...

I think the beauty of the no-pattern philosophy lies in the fact that it forces you to constantly stimulate your mind. Like he said, a method is just a way to stop thinking. I would really recommend the book "Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee's Wisdom for Daily Living". It is just a collection of his quotes on everything, and at the very least it will make you think. I ended up reading it twice because I wanted to jot down some of the ones that really hit me. For example, on pride:
"Pride emphasizes the importance of the superiority of one's status in the eyes of others. There is fear and insecurity in pride, for when one aims at being highly esteemed, and having achieved such status, he is automatically involved in the fear of losing one's status. Then protection of his status appears to be his most important need, and this creates anxiety."

Hasibur Rahman said...

Some lovely quotes collection. I have collected many quotes from you. Thanks for sharing!! You may like-