Want to make it in life and business?
We rounded up seven great lessons from some of America’s biggest business moguls, from Internet billionnaires and rocket builders to business investors and hedge fund managers, so you can learn from their wisdom and get inspired.
Do What Moves the Needle
Jeff Bezos, founder of e-commerce giant Amazon and aerospace company Blue Origin and owner of the Wall Street Journal, is well-known for thinking and acting at least three years ahead.
This long-term mindset, Bezos is quoted as saying in Invent & Wander: The Collective Writings of Jeff Bezos, helps him focus on a few good decisions a day and weed out the ones that won’t make a difference in the long run.
“And think about it,” he asks, “as a senior executive, what do you really get paid to do? You get paid to make a small number of high-quality decisions.” He goes on to explain that an executive’s job is not to make thousands of decisions a day—but to focus only on the few that will truly make a difference.
Know Your Circle of Competence
The grandfatherly shark and founder of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet, considered by many to be the best investor in the world, once said, “Risk comes from not knowing what you are doing.”
Buffet and his business partner Charlie Munger coined the term “circle of competence” and frequently talk about the importance of knowing where one’s competency starts and ends at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meetings.
When analyzing the financial performance of a business, Buffet writes in his 1996 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, “You don’t have to be an expert on every company, or even many. You only have to be able to evaluate companies within your circle of competence. The size of that circle is not very important; knowing its boundaries, however, is vital.”
“The single most important thing,” Charlie Munger said in a conversation with CalTech President Thomas Rosenbaum, “is knowing where you’re competent and where you aren’t; knowing the edge of your own competency.”
“You are responsible for your life,” The Oprah Winfrey Show host and American philantropist Oprah Winfrey is quoted for saying, “You can’t keep blaming somebody else for your dysfunction. Life is really about moving on.”
Winfrey, who grew up in a bad neighborhood and had a tough childhood, is a big-time proponent of taking control of one’s life—and business—and the empowerement that it brings.
Whether you want to admit it or not, blaming circumstances and other people for your inaction (or your failures) is a sure-fire way to stay stuck right where you are. Even if you have a bad past, Winfrey says you can “turn your wounds into wisdom” and move on.
In Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post and Thrive Global, recalls a lesson she received from her late mother: To take responsibility for your own life.
“And whenever I’d complain or was upset about something in my own life,” she writes, “my mother had the same advice: Darling, just change the channel. You are in control of the clicker. Don’t replay the bad, scary movie.“
Look for Solutions, Not Problems
Henry Ford, who founded the Ford Motor Company and brought the automobile to the masses with the Ford Model-T, once said, “Don’t find a fault, find a remedy. Anybody can complain.”
Ford was a brilliant problem solver and one who thought according to first principles. First-principles thinking is a way of thinking in which you transform complex puzzles into simple, solvable problems so that you can put the pieces together and be able to move forward.
Even more, first-principles thinking encourages you to find unconventional solutions that others have not thought of yet. For example, the Ford factory was full of sawdust and wood waste after producing a million Ford Model-Ts.
Ford’s solution? He teamed up with inventor Thomas Edisson to turn that industrial waste into something usable. And so briquette charcoal for the American griller was invented.
Find the Underlying Patterns
Ray Dalio, founder of Bridgewater Associates and author of Principles: Life and Work, says you need to “look to the patterns of those things that affect you in order to understand the cause-effect relationships that drive them.”
Once you’ve uncovered the underlying patterns, Dalio says, you should develop principles for dealing with them effectively.
His philosophy is that by looking at the past—and the history of those who came before you—you can understand the ways in which the world works and turn “no one saw it coming” into “another one of those” moments.
Reframe, Reframe, Reframe
Billionaire Sara Blakely, founder of shapewear and women’s apparel brand Spanx, says that when something happens that she can not control, she asks herself, “Where’s the hidden gift, where’s the positive in this?”
Blakely, as profied by Clare O’Connor for Forbes, always had a knacks for hucksterism from growing up. She once set up a haunted house and charged her neighbours for admission. It’s her relentlessness that helped her persist and turn Spanx, which she financed with $5,000 of her savings, into a billion-dollar business.
She has shown time and again how to turn shortcomings into advantages. “Embrace what you don’t know,” she once said, “especially in the beginning, because what you don’t know can become your greatest asset.”
Make the Complex Simple
When asked how he learned rocket science, Tesla and SpaceX founder (and Internet billionaire) Elon Musk responded with a simple three-word answer: “I read books.”
Musk, who holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the College of Pennsilvania, connected with some of the world’s top aerospace consultants and “borrowed some textbooks,” which he read so carefully that he understood the concepts and science behind them.
Although many who’ve met and worked with Musk say he’s undoubtedly the smartest person they’ve ever met, Musk has proven time and again that you don’t need a degree in automotive engineering or rocket science to build world-class cars and rockets that make history.
Instead, you must learn from the knowledge of others, surround yourself with smart, believable people, and use your curiosity to turn the complex and impossible into simple, solvable problems.