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My Life and Work by Henry Ford

Summary

  1. Henry Ford recounts his life and the business philosophy which helped him create one of the most innovative and dominant companies of all time. “The essence of my idea is that waste and greed block the delivery of true service. Both waste and greed are unnecessary. Waste is due largely to not understanding what one does, or being careless in doing of it. Greed is merely a species of nearsightedness. I have striven toward manufacturing with a minimum of waste, both of materials and of human effort, and then toward distribution at a minimum profit, depending for the total profit upon the volume of distribution. In the process of manufacturing I want to distribute the maximum of wage – that is, the maximum of buying power. Since also this makes for a minimum cost and we sell at a minimum profit, we can distribute a product in consonance with buying power. Thus everyone who is connected with us – either as a manager, worker or purchaser – is the better for our existence. The institution that we have erected is performing a service. That is the only reason I have for talking about it. The principles of that service are these:
  1. An absence of fear of the future and of veneration for the past. One who fears the future, who fears failure, limits his activities. Failure is only the opportunity more intelligently to begin again. There is no disgrace in honest failure; there is disgrace in fearing to fail. What is past is useful only as it suggests ways and means for progress.
  2. A disregard of competition. Whoever does a thing best ought to be the one to do it. It is criminal to try to get business away from another man – criminal because one is then trying to lower for personal gain the condition of one’s fellow man – to rule by force instead of by intelligence.
  3. The putting of service before profit. Without a profit, business cannot extend. There is nothing inherently wrong about making a profit. Well–conducted business enterprise cannot fail to return a profit, but profit must and inevitably will come as a reward for good service. It cannot be the basis – it must be the result of service.
  4. Manufacturing is not buying low and selling high. It is the process of buying materials fairly and, with the smallest possible addition of cost, transforming those materials into a consumable product and giving it to the consumer. Gambling, speculating, and sharp dealing, tend only to clog this progression.”

 

Key Takeaways

On Business

  1. Business exists for service but the present system does not permit of the best service because it encourages every type of waste. It keeps many men from getting the full return from service
  2. The natural thing to do is work – to recognize that prosperity and happiness can be obtained only through honest effort. Human ills flow largely from attempting to escape from this natural course. I have no suggestion which goes beyond accepting in its fullest this principle of nature. I take it for granted that we must work. All that we have done comes as the result of a certain insistence that since we must work it is better to work intelligently and forehandedly; that the better we do our work the better off we shall be. All of which I conceive to be merely elemental common sense.
  3. As we serve our job we serve the world – Do your job! As you do anything, is how you do everything
  4. Business is never as healthy as when, like a chicken, a certain amount of scratching has to be done. Things cannot come too easily
  5. It is what a thing does, not what it is meant to do, that matters. For anyone to be required to use more force than is absolutely necessary for the job on hand is waste
  6. The principal part of the chisel is the cutting edge.
  7. Above all else, first find a good idea. Given a good idea to start with, it is better to concentrate on perfecting it than to hunt around for a new idea. One idea at a time is about as much as anyone can handle
  8. The way I have always worked is to draw out a plan and work out every detail of the plan before starting to build. Many inventors fail because they do not distinguish between planning and experimenting
  9. There was no way the Model T could not be successful for it was not made in a day. Every detail had been fully tested in practice
  10. There is an immense amount to be learned simply by tinkering with things. It is not possible solely to learn from books. Can get ideas from them but must use one’s brains to apply them
  11. I loved watching and almost went into the business but did not because I figured out that watches are not universal necessities and people generally would not buy them. Even then I wanted to produce something in quantity
  12. I read everything I could find, but the greatest knowledge came from the work
  13. No work with interest is ever hard
  14. It does not pay to hurry
  15. There was no demand for automobiles when I first started. There never is for new articles
    1. Early on, the general population only cared for speed. Although Ford thought that raw speed was a poor metric to optimize for, he knew his consumers and what they wanted. So, he built a car to beat the world’s fastest drivers and got press that way. He balanced what the consumers wanted while also keeping in mind and knowing what the consumer did not know they wanted.
  16. The most surprising thing I found about business was the large concern for finance and low concern for service
  17. Time spent fighting the competition is wasted – it had better be spent doing the work
  18. The man who has the largest capacity for work and thought is bound to succeed
  19. The whole progress of the company had always been financed out of earnings. Everything is being done out of earnings. That is our policy
  20. No stunt and no advertising will sell any article for any length of time
  21. Money is only worth what it will help you produce or buy. No more
  22. Worst of all advertisements is a dissatisfied customer
  23. The refinement and use of vanadium made the universal car possible as it was light and strong and it had to have these attributes:
    1. Quality in material to give service in use. Vanadium steel is the strongest, toughest, and most lasting of steels. It forms the foundation and super–structure of the cars. It is the highest quality steel in this respect in the world, regardless of price
    2. Simplicity in operation – because the masses are not mechanics
    3. I believed then, although I said very little about it because of the novelty of the idea, that it ought to be possible to have parts so simple and so inexpensive that the menace of expensive hand repair work would be entirely eliminated. The parts could be made so cheaply that it would be less expensive to buy new ones than to have old ones repaired. They could be carried in hardware shops just as nails or bolts are carried. I thought that it was up to me as the designer to make the car so completely simple that no one could fail to understand it.
    4. That works both ways and applies to everything. The less complex an article, the easier it is to make, the cheaper it may be sold, and therefore the greater number may be sold
    5. Power in sufficient quantity
    6. Absolute reliability – because of the varied uses to which the cars would be put and the variety of roads over which they would travel
    7. Lightness. With the Ford there are only 7.95 pounds to be carried by each cubic inch of piston displacement. This is one of the reasons why Ford cars are “always going,” wherever and whenever you see them – through sand and mud, through slush, snow, and water, up hills, across fields and road less plains
    8. Control – to hold its speed always in hand, calmly and safely meeting every emergency and contingency either in the crowded streets of the city or on dangerous roads. The planetary transmission of the Ford gave this control and anybody could work it. That is the “why” of the saying: “Anybody can drive a Ford.” It can turn around almost anywhere
    9. The more a motor car weights, naturally the more fuel and lubricants are used in the driving; the lighter the weight, the lighter the expense of operation. The light weight of the Ford car in its early years was used as an argument against it. Now that is all changed
    10. Any customer can have a car painted any color he wants so long that it is black
  24. Principles of assembly:
    1. Place the tools and the men in the sequence of the operation so that each component part shall travel the least possible distance while in the process of finishing
    2. Use work slides or some other form of carrier so that when a workman completes his operation, he drops the part always in the same place – which place must always be the most convenient place to his hand – and if possible have gravity carry the part to the next workman for his operation
    3. Use sliding assembling lines by which the parts to be assembled are delivered at convenient distances
    4. The net result of the application of these principles is the reduction of the necessity for thought on the part of the worker and the reduction of his movements to a minimum
  25. The laws of business are like the laws of gravity and the man who opposes them feels their power
  26. Very worst time to try to raise money is when bankers think you need it. And that is the danger of having bankers in business. They think solely in terms of money. They think of a factory as making money, not goods. They want to watch the money, not the efficiency of production. They cannot comprehend that a business never stands still, it must go forward or go back. They regard a reduction in prices as a throwing away of profit instead of as a building of business
    1. Adhering and honoring the power of the Red Queen Effect. If you are not moving forward, you are moving backward. As your ecosystem is continuously moving forward, if you’re simply standing still it is the same as falling behind
  27. This season demonstrated conclusively to me that it was time to put the new policy in force. The salesman, before I had announced the policy, were spurred by the great sales to think that even greater sales might be had only if we had more models. It is strange how, just as soon as an article becomes successful, somebody starts to think that it would be more successful if only it were different. There is a tendency to keep monkeying with styles and to spoil a good thing by changing it. The salesmen were insistent on increasing the line. They listened to the 5%, the special customers who could say what they wanted, and forgot about the 95% who just bought without making a fuss. No business can improve unless it pays the closets possible attention to complaints and suggestions. If there is any defect in serve then that must be instantly and rigorously investigated, but when the suggestion is only as to style, one has to make sure whether it is not merely a personal whim that is being voiced. Salesman always want to cater to whims instead of acquiring sufficient knowledge of their product to be able to explain to the customer the whim that what they have will satisfy his every requirement – that is, of course, provided what they have does satisfy these requirements.
  28. Everything can always be done better than it is being done
  29. With the tractor we followed the exact same course as with the automobile. Each part had to be as strong as it was possible to make, the parts had to be few in number, and  the whole had to admit of quantity production
  30. Ford bought the Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railway in 1921 and applied “industry principles” – turned a terribly performing, unreliable line into a powerhouse. The railroads in general have broken down, and if the former conduct of the DTI is any criterion of management in general there is no reason in the world why they should not have broken down. Too many railroads are run, not from the offices of practical men, but from banking offices, and the principles of procedure, the whole outlook, are financial – not transportational, but financial. There has been a breakdown simply because more attention has been paid to railroads as factors in the stock market than as servants of the people. Outworn ideas have been retained, development has been practically stopped, and railroad men with vision have not been set free to grow. Will a billion dollars solve that sort of trouble? No, a billion dollars will only make the difficulty one billion dollars worse. The purpose of the billion is simply to continue the present methods of railroad management, and it is because of the present methods that we have any railroad difficulties at all.
  31. It is one of nature’s compensations to withdraw prosperity from the business which does not serve
  32. Being greedy for money is the surest way not to get it, but when one serves for the sake of service – for the satisfaction of doing that which one believes to be right – then the money abundantly takes care of itself. Money comes naturally as the result of service. And it is absolutely necessary to have money. But we do not want to forget that the end of money is not ease but the opportunity to perform more service. In my mind nothing is more abhorrent than a life of ease. None of us has any right to ease. There is no place in civilization for the idler
    1. I disagree slightly on his point about the idler. Some idle and leisure time has been a sure sign of progress and civilization throughout history. This “down” time is necessary for thought, innovation, breakthroughs, to gain perspective and see things differently. This cannot be the state of the whole population but it must exist for a select few.
  33. He is a wise merchant who would rather take less profit and keep business moving than keep his stock at high prices and bar the progress of his community. A man like that is an asset to a town. He has a clear head. He is better able to swing the adjustment through his inventory than through cutting down the wages of his delivery men – through cutting down their ability to buy
  34. I have heard it said, in fact I believe it is quite a current thought, that we have taken skill out of work. We have not. We have put in skill. We have put a higher skill into planning, management, and tool building, and the results of that skill are enjoyed by the man who is not skilled
  35. The factory keeps no record of experiments. The foremen and superintendents remember what has been done. If a certain method has formerly been tried and failed, somebody will remember it – but I am not particularly anxious for the men to remember what someone else has tried to do in the past, for then we might quickly accumulate far too many things that could not be done. That is one of the troubles with extensive records. If you keep on recording all of your failures you will shortly have a list showing that there is nothing left for you to try – whereas it by no means follows because one man has failed in a certain method that another man will not succeed. We get some of our best results from letting fools rush in where angels fear to tread. None of our men are “experts.” We have most unfortunately found it necessary to get rid of a man as soon as he thinks himself an expert – because no one ever considers himself expert if he really knows his job. A man who knows a job sees so much more to be done than he has done, that he is always pressing forward and never gives up an instant of thought to how good and how efficient he is. Thinking always ahead, thinking always of trying more, brings a state of mind in which nothing is impossible. The moment one gets into the “expert” state of mind a great number of things become impossible
  36. That which one has to fight hardest against in bringing together a large number of people to do work is excess organization and consequent red tape. To my mind there is no bent of mind more dangerous than that which is sometimes described as the “genius for organization.” This usually results in the birth of a great big chart showing, after the fashion of a family tree, how authority ramifies. The tree is heavy with nice round berries, each of which bears the name of a man or of an office. Every man has a title and certain duties which are strictly limited by the circumference of his berry. Now a business, in my way of thinking, is not a machine. It is a collection of people who are brought together to do work and not to write letters to one another. It is not necessary for any one department to know what any other department is doing. If a man is doing his work he will not have time to take up any other work. It is the business of those who plan the entire work to see that all of the departments are working properly toward the same end. It is not necessary to have meetings to establish good feeling between individuals or departments. It is not necessary for people to love each other in order to work together. Too much good fellowship may indeed be a very bad thing, for it may lead to one man trying to cover up the faults of another. That is bad for both men.
  37. We make the individual responsibility complete. The workman is absolutely responsible for his work. The straw boss is responsible for the workmen under him. The foreman is responsible for his group. The department head is responsible for the department. The general superintendent is responsible for the whole factory. Every man has to know what is going on in his sphere
  38. The habit of acting shortsightedly is a hard one to break. What can be done? Nothing. No rules or laws will affect the changes. But enlightened self–interest will. It takes a little while for enlightenment to spread. But spread it must, for the concern in which both employer and employees work to the same end of service is bound to forge ahead in business
  1. Waste is prevented by far-sighted not by short-sighted men. Short-sighted men think first of money. They cannot see waste. They think of service as altruistic instead of as the most practical thing in the world. They cannot get far enough away from the little things to see the big things – to see the biggest thing of all, which is that opportunist production from a purely money standpoint is the least profitable. Service can be based upon altruism, but that sort of service is not usually the best. The sentimental trips up the practical.
  2. Capital that is not constantly making conditions of daily labor better and the reward of daily labor more just, is not fulfilling its highest function. The highest use of capital is not to make more money, but to make money do more service for the betterment of life. Unless we in our industries are helping to solve the social problem, we are not doing our principal work. We are not fully serving.
  1. More men are beaten than fail. It is not wisdom they need or money, or brilliance or “pull,” but just plain gristle and bone. This rude, simple, primitive power which we call “stick-to-it-iveness” is the uncrowded king of the world of endeavor. People are utterly wrong in their slant upon things. They see the success that men have made and somehow they appear to be easy. But that is a world away from the facts. It is failure that is easy. Success is always hard. A man can fail in ease; he can succeed only by paying out all that he has and is. It is this which makes success so pitiable a thing if it be in lines that are not useful and uplifting.
  2. Business should be on the side of peace, because peace is business’ best asset
  3. France has something to give the world of which no competition can cheat her. So has Italy. So has Russia. So have the countries of South America. So has Japan. So has Britain. So has the United States. The sooner we get back to a basis of natural specialties and drop this free–for–all system of grab, the sooner we shall be sure of international self-respect – and international peace. Trying to take the trade of the world can promote war. It cannot promote prosperity. Someday even the international bankers will learn this.
  4. You can hardly have too much harmony in business. But you can go too far in picking men because they harmonize. You can have so much harmony that there will not be enough of the thrust and counter thrust which is life – enough of the competition which means effort and progress. It is one thing for an organization to be working harmoniously toward one object, but it is another thing for an organization to work harmoniously with each individual unit of itself. Some organizations use up so much energy and time maintaining a feeling of harmony that they have no force left to work for the object for which the organization was created. The organization is secondary to the object. The only harmonious organization that is worth anything is an organization in which all the members are bent on the one main purpose – to get along toward the objective. A common purpose, honestly believed in, sincerely desired – that is the great harmonizing principle.
  5. I pity the poor fellow who is so soft and flabby that he must always have “an atmosphere of good feeling” around him before he can do his work. There are such men. And in this end, unless they obtain enough mental and moral hardiness to lift them out of their soft reliance on “Feeling,” they are failures. Not only are they business failures; they are character failures also; it is as if their bones never attained a sufficient degree of hardness to enable them to stand on their own feet. There is altogether too much reliance on good feeling in our business organizations. People have too great a fondness for working with the people they like. In the end it spoils a good many valuable qualities.
  6. We began to manufacture according to a creed – a creed which was at that time unknown in business. The new is always thought odd, and some of us are so constituted that we can never get over thinking that anything which is new must be odd and probably queer. The mechanical working out of our creed is constantly changing. We are continually finding new and better ways of putting it into practice, but we have not found it necessary to alter the principles, and I cannot imagine how it might ever be necessary to alter them, because I hold that they are absolutely universal and must lead to a better and wider life for all. If I did not think so I would not keep working – for the money that I make is in consequent.  Money is useful only as it serves to forward by practical example the principle that business is justified only as it serves, that it must always give more to the community than it takes away, and that unless everybody benefits by the existence of a business then that business should not exist.
  1. Progress comes from a generous form of rivalry. Bad competition is personal. It works for the aggrandizement of some individual or group. It is a sort of warfare. It is inspired by a desire to “get” someone. It is wholly selfish. That is to say, its motive is not pride in the product, nor a desire to excel in service, nor yet a wholesome ambition to approach to scientific methods of production. It is moved simply by the desire to crowd out others and monopolize the market for the sake of the money returns. That being accomplished, it always substitutes a product of inferior quality.
  2. All the wise people demonstrated conclusively that the engine could not compete with steam. They never thought that it might carve out a career for itself. That is the way with wise people – they are so wise and practical that they always know to a dot just why something cannot be done; they always know the limitations. That is why I never employ an expert in full bloom. If I ever wanted to kill opposition by unfair means I would endow the opposition with experts. They would have so much good advice that I could be sure they would do little work.
  3. My idea was then and still is that if a man did his work well, the price he would get for that work, the profits and all financial matters, would care for themselves and that a business ought to start small and build itself up and out of its earnings. If there are no earnings then that is a signal to the owner that he is wasting his time and does not belong in that business
  1. And I also noticed a tendency among many men in business to feel that their lot was hard – they worked against a day when they might retire and live on an income – get out of the strife. Life to them was a battle to be ended as soon as possible. That was another point I could not understand, for as I reasoned, life is not a battle except with our own tendency to sag with the down pull of “getting settled.” If to petrify is success all one has to do is to humor the lazy side of the mind but if to grow is success, then one must wake up anew every morning and keep awake all day. I saw great businesses become but the ghost of a name because someone thought they could be managed just as they were always managed, and though the management may have been most excellent in its day, its excellence consisted in its alertness to this day, and not in slavish following of its yesterdays. Life, as I see it, is not a location, but a journey. Even the man who most feels himself “settled” is not settled – he is probably sagging back. Everything is in flux, and was meant to be. Life flows. We may live at the same number of the street, but it is never the same man who lives there
  2. The public is wary. It thinks that the price cut is a fake and it sits around waiting for a real cut. We saw much of that last year. If, on the contrary, the economies of making are transferred at once to the price and if it is well known that such is the policy of the manufacturer, the public will have confidence in him and will respond. They will trust him to give honest value. So standardization may seem bad business unless it carries with it the plan of constantly reducing the price at which the article is sold. And the price has to be reduced (this is very important) because of the manufacturing economies that have come about and not because the falling demand by the public indicates that it is not satisfied with the price. The public should always be wondering how it is possible to give so much for the money. Standardization (to use the word as I understand it) is not just taking one’s best–selling article and concentrating on it. It is planning day and night and probably for years, first on something which will best suit the public and on how it should be made. The exact processes of manufacturing will develop of themselves. Then, if we shift the manufacturing from the profit to the service basis, we shall have a real business in which the profits will be all that anyone could desire.
  3. My associates were not convinced that it was possible to restrict our cars to a single model. The automobile trade was following the old bicycle trade, in which every manufacturer thought it necessary to bring out a new model each year and to make it so unlike all previous models that those who had bought the former models would want to get rid of the old and buy the new. That was supposed to be good business. It is the same idea that women submit to in their clothing and hats. That is not service – it seeks only to provide something new, not something better. It is extraordinary how firmly rooted is the notion that business – continuous selling – depends not on satisfying the customer once and for all, but on first getting his money for one article and then persuading him he ought to buy a new and different one. The plan which I then had in the back of my head but to which we were not then sufficiently advanced to give expression, was that, when a model was settled upon then every improvement on that model should be interchangeable with the old model, so that a car should never get out of date. It is my ambition to have every piece of machinery, or other non–consumable product that I turn out, so strong and so well made that no one ought ever to have to buy a second one. A good machine of any kind ought to last as long as a good watch.
  1. “How soon will Ford blow up?” Nobody knows how many thousand times it has been asked since. It is asked only because of the failure to grasp that a principle rather than an individual at work, and the principle is so simple it seems almost mysterious. Modern methods applied in a big way have not only brought the cost of axe handles down to a fraction of their former cost – but they have immensely improved the product. It was the application of these same methods to the making of the Ford car that at the very start lowered the price and heightened the quality. We just developed an idea. The nucleus of a business may be an idea. That is, an inventor or a thoughtful workman works out a new and better way to serve some established human need; the idea commends itself, and people want to avail themselves of it. In this way a single individual may prove, through his idea or discovery, the nucleus of a business. But the creation of the body and bulk of that business is shared by everyone who has anything to do with it. No manufacturer can say: “I built this business” – if he has required the help of thousands of men in building it. It is a joint production. Everyone employed in it has contributed something to it. By working and producing they make it possible for the purchasing world to keep coming to that business for the type of service it provides, and thus they help establish a custom, a trade, a habit which supplies them with a livelihood. That is the way our company grew.

 

On Simplicity

  1. My effort is in the direction of simplicity. Real simplicity means that which gives the best service and is the most convenient in use. Start with an article that suits and then study to find some way of eliminating all the useless parts. This applies to everything – a shoe, a dress, a house, a piece of machinery, a railroad, a steamship, an airplane. As we cut out useless parts and simplify necessary ones we also cut down the cost of making. This is simple logic, but oddly enough the ordinary process starts with a cheapening of the manufacturing instead of with a simplifying of the article. The start ought to be with the article. First we ought to find whether it is as well made as it should be – does it give the best possible service? Then – are the materials the best or merely the most expensive? Then – can its complexity and weight be cut down? And so on.
  1. Do not scatter energies over collateral objects
    1. Don’t make the marginal the core, nor the core marginal

 

On Hiring & Training

  1. Men of a more mechanical turn of mind, but with no desire for responsibility, go into the tool–making departments where they receive considerably more pay than in production proper. But the vast majority of men want to stay put. They want to be led. They want to have everything done for them and to have no responsibility. Therefore, in spite of the great mass of men, the difficult is not to discover men to advance, but men who are willing to be advanced.
  2. Whatever expertness in fabrication that has been developed has been due to men. I think that if men are unhampered and they know that they are serving, they will always put all of mind and will into even the most trivial of tasks
    1. Can only learn and accomplish certain things when everyone is all–in
  3. To produce, produce; to get a system that will reduce production to a fine art; to put production on such a basis as will provide means for expansion and the building of still more shops, the production of still more thousands of useful things – that is the real industrial idea. The negation of the industrial idea is the effort to make a profit out of speculation instead of out of work. There are short–sighted men who cannot see that business is bigger than any one man’s interests. Business is a process of give and take, live and let live. It is cooperation among many forces and interests. Whenever you find a man who believes that business is a river whose beneficial flow ought to stop as soon as it reaches him you find a man who thinks he can keep business alive by stopping its circulation. He would produce wealth by this stopping of the produce of wealth
  4. Not only is a title injurious to the wearer, it often has ill effects on others as well. There is perhaps no greater single source of personal dissatisfaction among men than the fact that the title-bearers are not always the real leaders. Everybody acknowledges a real leader – a man who is fit to plan and command. And when you find a real leader who bears a title, you will have to inquire of someone else what his title is. He doesn’t boast about it
    1. People will eventually flow towards talent rather than title. It is injurious when these two don’t align
  5. The health of every organization depends on every member – whatever his place – feeling that everything that happens to come to his notice relating the welfare of the business is his own job. Railroads have gone to the devil under the eyes of the departments that say: “Oh, that doesn’t come under our department. Department X, 100 miles away, has that in charge.”
  6. We do not hire a man’s history, all that he needs is the desire to work
  7. We do not, to repeat, care what a man has been. If he has gone to college he ought to be able to go ahead faster, but he has to start at the bottom and prove his ability. Every man’s future rests solely with himself. There is far too much loose talk about men being unable to obtain recognition. With us every man is fairly certain to get the exact recognition he deserves
  8. The will to be skilled is not general and even if it were, the courage to follow through with the training is not.
  9. Men tend to not like changes that they themselves do not suggest
    1. Against popular opinion, people tend to be fine with change if there is no prospect for loss. People never seem to mind change if it involves a promotion…
  10. I did a thorough investigation into every job at the plant to determine which could be done by the disabled. These bedridden or disabled men were often able to do just as well as the men in the shop and, in fact, their production was about 20%, I believe, above the usual shop production
  11. Suggestions for improvement can come from anywhere
  12. No man is independent as long as he has to depend on another man to help him. It is a reciprocal relation – the boss is the partner of his worker, the worker is partner of his boss. And such being the case, it is useless for one group or the other to assume that it is the one indispensable unit

 

 

On Wages

  1. There is nothing to running a business by custom – to saying: “I pay the going rate of wages.” The same man would not so easily say: “I have nothing better or cheaper to sell than any one has.” No manufacturer in his right mind would contend that buying only the cheapest materials is the way to make certain of manufacturing the best article. Then why do we hear so much talk about the “liquidation of labor” and the benefits that will flow to the country from cutting wages – which means only the cutting of buying power and the curtailing of the home market? What good is industry if it be so unskillfully managed as not to return a living to everyone concerned? No question is more important than that of wages – most of the people in the country live on wages. The scale of their living – the rate of their wages – determines the prosperity of the country
  1. If they see the fruits of hard work in their pay envelope – proof that harder work means higher pay – then also they begin to learn that they are a part of the business, and that its success depends on them and their success depends on it. The business limits the wages, but does anything limit the business  The business limits itself by following bad precedents
  2. There will never be a system invented which will do away with the necessity of work. Nature has seen to that. Idle hands and minds were never intended for any one of us. Work is our sanity, our self–respect, our salvation. So far from being a curse, work is the greatest blessing. Each social justice flows only out of honest work. The man who contributes much should take away much. Therefore no element of charity is present in the paying of wages. The kind of workman who gives the business the best that is in him is the best kind of workman a business can have. And he cannot be expected to do this indefinitely without proper recognition of his contribution  The man who comes to the day’s job feeling that no matter how much he may give, it will not yield him enough of a return to keep him beyond want, is not in shape to do his day’s work. He is anxious and worried, and it all reacts to the detriment of his work. But if a man feels that his day’s work is not only supplying his basic need, but is also giving him a margin of comfort and enabling him to give his boys and girls their opportunity and his wife some pleasure in life, then his job looks good to him and he is free to give it of his best. This is a good thing for him and a good thing for the business. The man who does not get a certain satisfaction out of his day’s work is losing the best part of his pay. When we are all in this business together, we all ought to have some share in the profits – by way of a good wage, or salary, or added compensation. And that is beginning now quite generally to be recognized.
  3. Such are the fundamental truth of wages. They are partnership distributions
  4. When can a wage be considered adequate? How much of a living is reasonably expected from work? Have you ever considered what a wage ought to do? To say that it should pay the cost of living is to say almost nothing. The cost of living depends largely upon the efficiency of production and transportation; and the efficiency of these is the sum of the efficiencies of the management and the workers. Good work, well managed, ought to result in high wages and low living costs. If we attempt to regulate wages on living costs, we get nowhere. The cost of living is a result and we cannot expect to keep a result constant if we keep altering the factors which produce the result. When we try to regulate wages according to the cost of living, we are imitating a dog chasing his tail. And, anyhow, who is competent to say just what kind of living we shall base the costs on? Let us broaden our view and see what a wage is to the workmen – and what it ought to be.
    1. Employees must have stability, a path to the dream, financial and non–financial recognition as well as a calm, secure, safe environment. Without these core attributes, they will never settle down and be able to focus fully on their job. There will be scarcity in the air and they will hoard their time, abilities, focus and more. There are certain things that can only be accomplished when people are all-in.
    2. Pay enough so a parent can potentially stay at home with their kids if they want. This can have knock on effects of better-raised children who become better contributors which can lead to a better society
  5. If we can distribute high wages, then that money is going to be spent and it will serve to make storekeepers and distributors and manufacturers and workers in other lines more prosperous and their prosperity will be reflected in our sales. Country-wide high wages spell country-wide prosperity, provided, however, the higher wages are paid for higher production. Paying high wages and lowering production is starting down the incline toward dull business
  6. The objection to a plan which pays out yearly profit sharing is that a man did not get his share until long after his work was done and then it came to him almost in the way of a present. It is always unfortunate to have wages tinged with charity
    1. Must respect the goal-gradient effect. Monthly incentive payments rather than yearly so that people are continuously motivated. People will have clear physiological changes when a goal is near and in sight. Marathoners can even begin to sprint at the sight of a finish line!
  7. We wanted to pay these high wages so that the business would be on a lasting foundation. We were not distributing anything – we were building for the future. A low wage business is always insecure
  8. If you expect a man to give his time and energy, fix his wages so that he will have no financial worries. It pays. Our profits  after paying good wages and a bonus – which bonus used to run around ten millions a year before we changed the system – show that paying good wages is the most profitable way of doing business.
    1. These kind of policies, though easily classified as “expensive,” don’t cost, but pay.
  9. The people, once paid enough and incented in the right way, make supervision unnecessary
    1. Once the employees become self-policing, you unleash an incredible amount of energy, time, industriousness, ingenuity, creativity that before was spent “managing” people, “politicking” and making sure others were doing their job. Now, you can hardly stop them from working because their self-interest is tied to the success of the company.
  10. Where does the money to make the wheels go round come from? From the consumer, of course. And success in manufacturing is based solely upon an ability to serve that consumer to his liking. He may be served by quality or he may be served by price. He is best served by the highest quality at the lowest price, and any man who can give to the consumer the highest quality at the lowest price is bound to be a leader in business, whatever the kind of article he makes. There is no getting away from this

 

 

On Poverty & Privilege

  1. Poverty springs from a number of sources, the more important of which are controllable. So does special privilege. I think it is entirely feasible to abolish both poverty and special privilege – and there can be no question but that their abolition is desirable. Both are unnatural, but it is work, not law, to which we must look for results.
  2. Any plan which starts with the assumption that men are or ought to be equal is unnatural and therefore unworkable. There can be no feasible or desirable process of leveling down. Such a course only promotes poverty by making it universal instead of exceptional
  3. The cure of poverty is not in personal economy but in better production. The “thrift” and “economy” ideas have been overworked. The word “economy” represents a fear. The great and tragic fact of waste is impressed on a mind by some circumstance, usually of a most materialistic kind. There comes a violent reaction against extravagance – the mind catches hold of the idea of “economy.” But it only flies from a greater to a lesser evil; it does not make the full journey from error to truth. Economy is the rule of half-alive minds. There can be no doubt that it is better than waste  neither can be any doubt that is not as good as use. People who pride themselves on their economy take it as a virtue. But what is more pitiable than a poor, pinched mind spending the rich days and years clutching a few bits of metal? What can be fine about paring the necessities of life to the very quick? We all know “economical people” who seem to be niggardly even about the amount of air they breathe and the amount of appreciation they will allow themselves to give to anything. They shrivel – body and soul. Economy is waste: it is waste of the juices of life, the sap of living. For there are two kinds of waste – that of the prodigal who throws his substance away in riotous living, and that of the sluggard who allows his substance to rot from non-use. The rigid economizer is in danger of being classed with the sluggard. Extravagance is usually a reaction from suppression of expenditure. Economy is likely to be a reaction from extravagance.
  4. Most men who are laboriously saving a few dollars would do better to invest those few dollars – first in themselves and then in some useful work. Eventually they would have more to save. Young men ought to invest rather than save. They ought to invest in themselves to increase creative value; after they have taken themselves to the peak of usefulness, then will be time enough to think of laying aside, as a fixed policy, a certain substantial share of income. You are not “saving” when you prevent yourself from becoming more productive. You are really taking away from your ultimate capital; you are reducing the value of one of nature’s investments. The principle of use is the true guide. Use is positive, active, life-giving. Use is alive. Use adds to the sum of good.
  5. The difficulty seems to be in getting to look beyond to the causes. More people can be moved to help a poor family than can be moved to give their minds toward the removal of poverty altogether.

 

 

 

On Charity

  1. I have no patience with professional charity, or with any sort of commercialized humanitarianism. The moment human helpfulness is systematized organized, commercialized and professionalized, the heart of it is extinguished, and it becomes a cold and clammy thing. Professional charity is not only cold but it hurts more than it helps. It degrades the recipients and drugs their self–respect.  Worse than this encouragement of childish wistfulness, instead of training for self–reliance and self–sufficiency, was the creation of a feeling of resentment which nearly always overtakes the objects of charity. People often complain of the “ingratitude” of those whom they help. Nothing is more natural. In the first place, precious little of our so-called charity is ever real charity, offered out of a heart full of interest and sympathy. In the second place, no person ever relishes being in a position where he is forced to take favors.
  2. Industry organized for service removes the need for philanthropy. Philanthropy, no matter how noble its motive, does not make for self-reliance. We must have self-reliance. A community is the better for being discontented, for being dissatisfied with what it has. I do not mean the petty, daily, nagging, gnawing sort of discontent, but a broad, courageous sort of discontent which believes that everything which is done can and ought to be eventually done better. Industry organized for service – and the workingman as well as the leader must serve – can pay wages sufficiently large to permit every family to be both self-reliant and self-supporting. A philanthropy that spends its time and money in helping the world to do more for itself is far better than the sort which merely gives and thus encourages idleness. Philanthropy, like everything else, ought to be productive, and I believe that it can be.
  3. In clearing out the need for charity we must keep in mind not only the economic facts of existence, but also that lack of knowledge of these facts encourages fear. Banish fear and we can have self-reliance. Charity is not present where self-reliance dwells. Fear is the offspring of a reliance placed on something outside – on a foreman’s goodwill, perhaps, on a shop’s prosperity, on a market’s steadiness. That is just another way of saying that fear is the portion of the man who acknowledges his career to be in the keeping of earthly circumstances. Fear is the result of the body assuming ascendancy over the soul. The habit of failure is purely mental and is the mother of fear. This habit gets itself fixed on men because they lack vision. They start out to do something that reaches from A to Z. At A they fail, at B they stumble, and at C they meet with what seems to be an insuperable difficulty. They then cry “beaten” and throw the whole task down. They have not even given themselves a chance really to fail; they have not given their vision a chance to be proved or disproved. They have simply let themselves be beaten by the natural difficulties that attend every kind of effort.
  4. There is no security outside of himself. There is no wealth outside of himself. The elimination of fear is the bringing in of security and supply. Let every American become steeled against coddling. Americans ought to resent coddling. It is a drug. Stand up and stand out; let weaklings take charity

 

 

On Thomas Edison

  1. No man exceeds Thomas A. Edison in broad vision and understanding. One time I managed to catch him alone for a moment and told him what I was working on. He was immediately interested. He is interested in every search for new knowledge. And then I asked him if he thought that there was a future in the internal combustion engine. He answered something in this fashion: “Yes, there is a big future for any light-weight engine that can develop a high horsepower and be self-contained. No one kind of motive power is ever going to do all the work of the country. We do not know what electricity can do, but I take for granted that it cannot do everything. Keep on with your engine. If you can get what you are after, I can see a great future.” That is characteristic of Edison. He was the central figure in the electrical industry, which was then young and enthusiastic. The rank and file of the electrical men could see nothing ahead but electricity, but their leader could see with crystal clearness that no one power could do all the work of the country. I suppose that is why he was the leader.
  2. Edison believes all things are possible. At the same time he keeps his feet on the ground. He goes forward step by step. He regards “impossible” as a description for that which we have not at the moment the knowledge to achieve. He knows that as we amass knowledge we build the power to overcome the impossible.
  3. Edison is easily the world’s greatest scientist. I am not sure that he is not also the world’s worst business man. He knows almost nothing of business.

 

On John Burroughs

  1. Poverty springs from a number of sources, the more important of which are controllable. So does special privilege. I think it is entirely feasible to abolish both poverty and special privilege – and there can be no question but that their abolition is desirable. Both are unnatural, but it is work, not law, to which we must look for results.
  2. This was part of John Burroughs’ sanity – he was not afraid to change his views. He was a lover of Nature, not her dupe. In the course of time he came to value and approve modern devices, and though this by itself is an interesting fact, it is not so interesting as the fact that he made this change after he was seventy years old. John Burroughs was never too old to change. He kept growing to the last. The man who is too set to change is already dead. The funeral a mere detail.
  3. If he talked more of one person than another, it was Emerson. Not only did he know Emerson by heart as an author, but he knew him by heart as a spirit. He taught me to know Emerson. He had so saturated himself with Emerson that at one time he thought as he did and even fell into his mode of expression. But afterward he found his own way – which for him was better.
    1. Has moved beyond the ignorance paradox and gained deep fluency but gained mastery once he developed his own style

 

On Thinking & Education

  1. An able man is a man who can do things, and his ability to do things is dependent on what he has in him. What he has in him depends on what he started with and what he has done to increase and discipline it. An educated man is not one whose memory is trained to carry a few dates in history – he is one who can accomplish things. A man who cannot think is not an educated man, however many college degrees he may have acquired. Thinking is the hardest work any one can do – which is probably the reason why we have so few thinkers. There are two extremes to be avoided: one is the attitude of contempt toward education, the other is the tragic snobbery of assuming that marching through an educational system is a sure cure for ignorance and mediocrity.
  2. The best education can do for a man is to put him in possession of his powers, give him control of the tools with which destiny has endowed him, and teach him how to think. The college renders its best service as an intellectual gymnasium, in which mental muscle is developed and the student strengthened to do what he can. To say, however, that mental gymnastics can be had only in college is not true, as every educator knows. A man’s real education begins after he has left school. True education is gained through the discipline of life
  3. The only reason why every man does not know everything that the human mind has ever learned is that no one has ever yet found it worthwhile to know that much. Men satisfy their minds more by finding out things for themselves than by heaping together the things which somebody else has found out. You can go out and gather knowledge all your life, and with all your gathering you will not catch up even with your own times. You may fill your head with all the “facts” of all the ages, and your head may be just an overloaded fact–box when you get through. The point is this: great piles of knowledge in the head are not the same as mental activity. A man may be very learned and very useless. And then again, a man may be unlearned and very useful
  4. The object of education is not to fill a man’s mind with facts; it is to teach him how to use his mind in thinking. And it often happens that a man can think better if he is not hampered by the knowledge of the past
  5. One good way to hinder progress is to fill a man’s head with all the learning of the past; it makes him feel that because his head is full, there is nothing more to learn  Merely gathering knowledge may become the most useless work a man can do. What can you do to help and heal the world? That is the educational test. If a man can hold up his own end, he counts for one. If he can help ten or a hundred or a thousand other men hold up their ends, he counts for more. When a man is master of his own sphere, whatever it may be, he has also won his degree – he has entered the realm of wisdom

 

 

 

 

Other

  1. What we accumulate by way of useless surplus does us no honor
  2. There are two fools in this world. One is the millionaire who thinks that by hoarding money he can somehow accumulate real power, and the other is the penniless reformer who thinks that if only he can take the money from one class and give it to another, all the world’s ills will be cured. They are both on the wrong track. They might as well try to corner all the checkers or all the dominoes of the world under the delusion that they are thereby cornering great quantities of skill. Some of the most successful money-makers of our times have never added one pennyworth to the wealth of men. Does a card player add to the wealth of the world?
  3. I am not a reformer. I think there is entirely too much attempt at reforming in the world and that we pay too much attention to reformers. We have two kinds of reformers. Both are nuisances. The man who calls himself a reformer wants to smash things. He is the sort of man who would tear up a whole shirt because the collar button did not fit the buttonhole. It would never occur to him to enlarge the buttonhole. This sort of reformer never under any circumstances knows what he is doing. Experience and reform do not go together. A reformer cannot keep his zeal at white heat in the presence of fact. He must discard all facts.
  4. Our only advantage was lack of precedent
  5. We are often too wrapped up in the things we are doing – we are not enough concerned with the reasons why we do them. Our whole competitive system, our whole creative expression  all the play of our faculties seem to be centered around material production and its by–products of success and wealth
  6. It is not true that opportunity has been lost in organization. If the young man will liberate himself from these ideas and regard the system as it is, he will find that what he thought was a barrier is really an aid
  7. Our help does not come from Washington but from ourselves
  8. Business and government are necessary as servants, like water and grain; as masters they overturn the natural order
  9. There can be no greater absurdity and no greater disservice to humanity in general than to insist all men are equal. Most certainly all men are not equal and any democratic conception which strives to make men equal is only an effort to block progress. Men cannot be of equal service. The men of larger ability are less numerous than men of smaller ability; it is possible for a mass of the smaller men to pull the larger ones down – but in so doing they pull themselves down. It is the larger men who give the leadership to the community and enable the smaller men to live with less effort.
  10. Lack of knowledge is what is going on and lack of knowledge of what the job really is and the best way of doing it are the reasons why farming is thought not to pay. Nothing could pay the way farming is conducted. The farmer follows luck and his forefathers. He does not know how economically to produce, and he does not know how to market. A manufacturer who knew how neither to produce nor to market would not long stay in business. That the farmer can stay on shows how wonderfully profitable farming can be. The way to attain low priced and high volume production means plenty for everyone – is quite simple. The trouble is that the general tendency is to complicate very simple affairs. Take for instance, an “improvement.” When we talk about improvements we have in mind some change in a product. An “improved” product is one that has been changed. That is. It my idea. I do not believe in starting to make until I have discovered the best possible thing. This, of course, does not mean that a product should never be changed, but I think that it will be found more economical in the end not even to try to produce an article until you have fully satisfied yourself that utility, design, and material are the best. If your researches do not give you that confidence, then keep right on searching until you find confidence. The place to start manufacturing is with the article. The factory, the organization, the selling and the financial plans will shape themselves to the article. You will have a cutting edge on your business chisel and in the end you will save time. Rushing into manufacturing without being certain of the product is the unrecognized cause of many business failures. People seem to think that the big thing is the factory or the store or the financial backing or the management. The big thing is the product, and any hurry in getting into fabrication before designs are completed is just so much wasted time. I spent twelve years before I had a Model T – which is what is known today as the Ford car – that suited me. We did not attempt to go into real production until we had a real product. That product has not been essentially changed. We are constantly experimenting with new ideas. If you travel the roads in the neighborhood of Dearborn you can find all sorts of models of Ford cars. They are experimental cars – they are not new models. I do not believe in letting any good idea get by me, but I will not quickly decide whether an idea is good or bad. If an idea seems good or seems even to have possibilities, I believe in doing whatever is necessary to test out the idea from every angle. But testing out the idea is something very different from making a change in the car. Where most manufacturers find themselves quicker to make a change in the product than in the method of manufacturing – we follow exactly the opposite course. Our big changes have been in methods of manufacturing. They never stand still. I believe there is hardly a single operation in the making of our car that is the same as when we made our first car of the present model. That is why we make them so cheaply. The few changes that have been made in the car have been in the direction of convenience in use or where we found that a change in design might give added strength. The materials in the car change as we learn more and more about materials. Also we do not want to be held up in production or have the expense of production increased by any possible shortage in a particular material, so we have for most parts worked out substitute materials. Vanadium steel, for instance, is our principal steel. With it we can get the greatest strength with the least weight, but it would not be good business to let our whole future depend upon being able to get vanadium steel. We have worked out a substitute. All our steels are special, but for every one of them we have at least one, and sometimes several, fully proved and tested substitutes. And so on through all of our materials and likewise with our parts. In the beginning we made very few of our parts and none of our motors. Now we make all our motors and most of our parts because we find it cheaper to do so. But also we aim to make some of every part so that we cannot be caught in any market emergency or be crippled by some outside manufacturer being unable to fill his orders.
  11. It could almost be written down as a formula that when a man begins to think that he has at last found his method he had better begin a most searching examination of himself to see whether some part of his brain has not gone to sleep. There is a subtle danger in a man thinking that he is “fixed” for life. It indicates that the next jolt of the wheel of progress is going to fling him off. There is also the great fear of being thought a fool. So many men are afraid of being considered fools. I grant that public opinion is a powerful police influence for those who need it. Perhaps it is true that the majority of men need the restraint of public opinion. Public opinion may keep a man better than he would otherwise be – if not better morally, at least better as far as his social desirability is concerned. But it is not a bad thing to be a fool for righteousness’ sake. The best of it is that such fools usually live long enough to prove that they were not fools – or the work they have begun lives long enough to prove they were not foolish.
  12. The temptation to stop and hang on to what one has is quite natural. I can entirely sympathize with the desire to quite a life of activity and retire to a life of ease. I have never felt the urge myself but I can comprehend what it is – although I think that a man who retires ought entirely to get out of business. There is a disposition to retire and retain control. It was, however, no part of my plan to do anything of that sort. I regarded our progress merely as an invitation to do more – as an indication that we had reached a place where we might begin to perform a real service. I had been planning every day through these years toward a universal car. The public had given its reactions to the various models. The cars in service, the racing, and the road tests gave excellent guides as to the changes that ought to be made, and even by 1905 I lacked the material to give strength without weight. I came across that material almost by accident
  13. Nothing is more foolish than for any class to assume that progress is an attack upon it. Progress is only a call made upon it to lend its experience for the general advancement. It is only those who are unwise who will attempt to obstruct progress and thereby become its victims. All of us are here together, all of us must go forward together; it is perfectly sill for any man or class to take umbrage at the stirring of progress. If financiers feel that progress is only the restlessness of the weak–minded persons, if they regard all suggestions of betterment as a personal slap, then they are taking the part which proves more than anything else could their unfitness to continue in their leadership
  14. I have no quarrel with the general attitude of scoffing at new ideas. It is better to be skeptical of all new ideas and to insist upon being shown rather than to rush around in a continuous brainstorm after every new idea. Skepticism, if by that we mean cautiousness, is the balance wheel of civilization. Most of the present acute troubles of the world arise out of taking on new ideas without first carefully investigating to discover if they are good ideas. An idea is not necessarily good because it is old, or necessarily bad because it is new, but if an old idea works, then the weight of the evidence is all in its favor. Ideas are of themselves extraordinarily valuable, but an idea is just an idea. Almost anyone can think up an idea. The thing that counts is developing it into a practical product.
    1. “Out of very hundred new ideas ninety-nine or more will probably be inferior to the traditional responses which they propose to replace. So the conservative who resists change is as valuable as the radical who proposes it—perhaps as much more valuable as roots are more vital than grafts. It is good that new ideas be heard, but it is also good that new ideas be compelled to go through the mill of objection, opposition, and contumely; this is the trial heat which innovations must survive before being allowed to enter the human race. Out of this tension comes a creative tensile strength, a stimulated development, a secret and basic unity and movement of the whole.’’ – Will Durant
  15. Freedom is the right to work a decent length of time and to get a decent living for doing so; to be able to arrange the little personal details of one’s own life. It is the aggregate of these and many other items of freedom which makes up the great idealistic Freedom. The minor forms of Freedom lubricate the everyday life of all of us.
  16. The very young critic is much imbalanced
  17. Nature has vetoed the whole Soviet Republic for it sought to deny nature. It denied above all else the right to fruits of labor.
  18. Our help does not come from others but from ourselves
  19. No two things in nature are exactly alike
  20. Law of diminishing returns begins to operate at the point where strength becomes weight. Weight may be desirable in a steam roller but nowhere else. Strength has nothing to do with weight. The mentality of the man who does things in the world is agile, light, and strong. The most beautiful things in the world are those from which all excess weight has been eliminated. Strength is never just weight – either in men or in things. Whenever anyone suggests to me that I might increase weight or add a part, I took into decreasing weight and eliminating a part! The car that I have designed was lighter than any car that had yet been made. It would have been lighter if I had known how to make it so – later I got the materials to make the lighter car.
  21. I only want to know whether the greatest good is rendered to the greatest number
  22. Any successful system must check human nature; not depend on it
  23. What is desirable and right is never impossible
  24. You can never develop Mexico until you develop the Mexican
  25. A country becomes great when, by the wise development of its resources and the skill of its people, property is widely and fairly distributed
  26. It is the right act sincerely done that counts
  27. Those who shout loudest about democracy I think, as a rule, want it least

 

 

What I got out of it

  1. One of my favorite biographies and business books of all time. Extremely clear thinker, does what works rather than what others think is right, never accepted anything as true and questioned everything, sought simplicity in all that he did, was never “done”. He of course had some great flaws such which we should be weary of but we can absorb and incorporate his teachings while recognizing his faults.

Sam Walton: Made in America by Sam Walton and John Huey

Summary
  1. Sam Walton recounts his background and Walmart’s path to retail dominance
Key Takeaways
  1. Sam’s Rules for Building a Business
    1. Commit to your business. Believe in it more than anybody else. I think I overcame every single one of my personal shortcomings by the sheer passion I brought to my work. I don’t know if you’re born with this kind of passion or if you learn it. But I do know you need it. If you love your work, you’ll be out there every day trying to do it the best you possibly can and pretty soon everybody around will catch the passion from you – like a fever
    2. Share your profits with all your associates, and treat them as partners. In turn, they will treat you as a partner and together you will perform beyond your wildest expectations. Behave as a servant leader in a partnership. Encourage your associates to hold a stake in the company. Offer discounted stock, and grant them stock for their retirement. It’s the single best thing we ever did
    3. Motivate your partners. Money and ownership alone aren’t enough. Constantly, day by day, think of new and more interesting ways to motivate and challenge your partners. Set high goals, encourage competition, and then keep score. Make bets with outrageous payoffs. If things get stale, cross-pollinate; have managers switch jobs with one another to stay challenged. Keep everybody guessing as to what your next trick is going to be. Don’t become too predictable
    4. Communicate everything you possibly can to your partners. The more they know, the more they’ll understand. The more they understand, the more they’ll care. Once they care, there’s no stopping them. If you don’t trust our associates to know what’s going on, they’ll know you don’t really consider them partners. Information is power, and the gain you get from empowering your associates more than offsets the risk of informing your competitors
    5. Appreciate everything your associates do for the business  A paycheck and a stock option will buy one kind of loyalty. But all of us like to be told how much somebody appreciates what we do for them. We like to hear it often and especially when we have done something we’re really proud of. Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They’re absolutely free – and worth a fortune
    6. Celebrate your success. Find some humor in your failures. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Loosen up, and everybody around you will loosen up. Have fun. Show enthusiasm – always. When all else fails, put on a costume and sing a silly song. Then make everybody else sing with you. Don’t do a hula on Wall Street. It’s been done. Think up your own stunt. All of this is more important, and more fun, than you think, and it really fools the competition. “Why should we take those cornballs at Walmart seriously?”
    7. Listen to everyone in your company. And figure out ways to get them talking. The folks on the front lines – the ones who actually talk to the customer – are the only ones who really know what’s going on out there. You’d better find out what they know. This really is what total quality is all about. To push responsibility down in your organization, and to force good ideas to bubble up within it, you must listen to what your associates are trying to tell you.
    8. Exceed your customers’ expectations. If you do, they’ll come back over and over. Give them what they want – and a little more. Let them know you appreciate them. Make good on all your mistakes, and don’t make excuses – apologize. Stand behind everything you do. The two most important words I ever wrote were on the first Walmart sign: “satisfaction guaranteed.” They’re still up there, and they have made all the difference
    9. Control your expenses better than your competition. This is where you can always find the competitive advantage. For 25 years running – long before Walmart was known as the nation’s largest retailer – we ranked number one in our industry for the lowest ratio of expenses to sales. You can make a lot of different mistakes and still recover if you run an efficient operation. Or you can be brilliant and still go out of business if you’re too inefficient
    10. Swim upstream. Go the other way. Ignore the conventional wisdom. If everybody else is doing it one way, there’s a good chance you can find your niche by going exactly the opposite direction. But be prepared for a lot of folks to wave you down and tell you you’re headed the wrong way. I guess in all my years, what I heard more often than anything was: a town of less than 50,000 population cannot support a discount store for very long
      1. I can tell you this, though: after a lifetime of swimming upstream, I am convinced that one of the real secrets to Walmart’s phenomenal success has been that very tendency. Many of our best opportunities were created out of necessity. The things that we were forced to learn and do, because we started out underfinanced and undercapitalized in these remote, small communities, contributed mightily to the way we’ve grown as a company. Had we been capitalized, or had we been the offshoot of a large corporation the way I wanted to be, we might not ever have tried the Harrisons or the Rogers or the Springdales and all those other little towns we went into in the early days. It turned out that the first big lesson we learned was that there was much, much more business out there in small-town America than anybody, including me, had ever dreamed of
  2. Walmart’s Strategy
    1. That method was to saturate a market area by spreading out, then filling in. In the early growth years of discounting, a lot of national companies with distribution systems already in place – Kmart for example – were growing by sticking stores all over the country. Obviously, we couldn’t support anything like that. But while the big guys were leapfrogging from large city to large city, they became so spread out and so involved in real estate and zoning laws and city politics that they left huge pockets of business out there for us. Our growth strategy was born out of necessity, but at least we recognized it as a strategy pretty early on. We figured we had to build our stores so that our distribution centers, or warehouses, could take care of them, but also so those stores could be controlled. We wanted them within reach of our district managers, and of ourselves here in Bentonville  so we could get out there and look after them. Each store had to be within a day’s drive of a distribution center. So we could go as far as we could from a warehouse and put in a store. Then we would fill in the map of that territory, state by state, county seat by county seat, until we had saturated that market area
    2. We never planned on actually going into the cities. What we did instead was build our stores in a ring around a city – pretty far out – and wait for the growth to come to us. That strategy worked practically everywhere
    3. There’s no question whatsoever that we could not have done what we did back then if I hadn’t had my airplanes. I bought that first plane for business, to travel between the stores and keep in touch with what was going on. But once we started really rolling out stores, the airplane turned into a great tool for scouting real estate. We were probably 10 years ahead of most other retailers in scouting locations from the air, and we got a lot of great ones that way. From up in the air we could check out traffic flows, see which way cities and towns were growing, and evaluate the location of the competition – if there was any. Then we would develop our real estate strategy for that market. I loved doing all this myself
    4. A key transition point was moving from variety store to discount store
    5. 2 cornerstones of Walmart’s philosophy – we sell for less and satisfaction guaranteed  The idea was simple: when customers thought of Walmart, they should think of low prices and satisfaction guaranteed. They could be pretty sure they wouldn’t find it cheaper anywhere else, and if they didn’t like it, they could bring it back. No matter what you pay for it, if we get a great deal, pass it on to the customer. And of course that’s what we did
      1. Building this consistent customer trust is vital, think it also applies to Costco and Amazon in certain ways
    6. As much as we love to talk about all the elements that have gone into Walmart’s success – merchandising, distribution, technology, market saturation, real estate strategy – the truth is that none of that is the real secret to our unbelievable prosperity. What has carried this company so far so fast is the relationship that we, the managers, have been able to enjoy with our associates.
    7. We didn’t pay our associates much in the beginning. It wasn’t that I intentionally was heartless. I wanted everybody to do well for themselves. It’s just that in my very early days in the business, I was so doggoned competitive, and so determined to do well, that I was blinded to the most basic truth, really the principle that later became the foundation of Walmart’s success. You see, no matter how you slice it in the retail business  payroll is one of the most important parts of overhead, and overhead is one of the most crucial things you have to fight to maintain your profit margin. That was true then and it’s still true today. Back then, though  I was so obsessed with turning in a profit of 6% or higher that I ignored some of the basic needs of our people and I feel bad about it. The larger truth that I failed to see turned out to be another of those paradoxes – like the discounters’ principle of the less you charge the more you’ll earn. And here it is: the more you share profits with your associates – whether it’s in salaries or incentives or bonuses or stock discounts – the more profit will accrue to the company. Why? Because the way management treats the associates is exactly how the associates will then treat the customers. And if the associates treat the customers well, the customers will return again and again, and that is where the real profit in this business lies, not in trying to drag strangers into your stores for one-time purchases based on splashy sales or expensive advertising. Satisfied, loyal, repeat customers are at the heart of Walmart’s spectacular profit margins, and those customers are loyal to us because our associates treat them better than salespeople in other stores do. So, in the whole Walmart scheme of things, the most important contact ever made is between the associate in the store and the customer
    8. The idea for sharing profits and benefits had come up even before we went public, not from me, but from Helen. The decision we reached around that time, to commit ourselves to giving the associates more equitable treatment in the company, was without a doubt the single smartest move we ever made at Walmart.
    9. One of the most successful bonuses has been our shrink incentive plan, which demonstrates the partnership principle as well as any I know beyond just straight profit sharing. As you may know, shrinkage, or unaccounted-for inventory loss – theft, in other words – is one of the biggest enemies of profitability in the retail business. So in 1980, we decided the best way to control the problem was to share with the associates any profitability gained by reducing it. If a store holds shrinkage below the company’s goal, every associate in that store gets a bonus that could be as much as $200. This is sort of competitive information, but I can tell you that our shrinkage percentage is about half the industry average. Not only that, it helps our associates feel better about each other, and themselves. Most people don’t enjoy stealing, even the ones who will do it if given the opportunity. So under a plan like this, where you’re directly rewarded for honesty there’s a real incentive to keep from ignoring any customers who might want to walk off with something, or worse, to allow any of your fellow associates to fall into that trap. Everybody working in that store becomes a partner in trying to stop shrinkage, and when they succeed, they – along with the company in which they already hold stock – share in the reward.
      1. Use human nature to work for you – in this case he was able to align incentives to get people all-in and to become self-policing
    10. Keeping so many people motivated to do the best job possible involves a lot of the different programs and approaches we’ve developed at Walmart over the years, but none of them would work at all without one simple thing that puts it all together: appreciation. All of us like praise. So what we try to practice in our company is to look for things to praise. Look for things that are going right. We want to let our folks know when they are doing something outstanding, and let them know they are important to us. You can’t praise something that’s not done well. You can’t be insincere. You have to follow up on things that aren’t done well. There is no substitute for being honest with someone and letting them know they didn’t do a good job. All of us profit from being corrected – if we’re corrected in a positive way. But there’s no better way to keep someone doing things the right way than by letting him or her know how much you appreciate their performance. If you do that one simple thing, human nature will take it from there
      1. What the pupil must learn, if he learns anything, is that the world will do most of the work for you, provided you cooperate with it by identifying how it really works and identifying with those realities. – Joseph Tussman
    11. “When I started working at Walmart in West Texas, we could anticipate a store visit by the chairman with the same sense you get when you’re going to meet a great athlete, or a movie star, or a head of state. But once he comes in the store, that feeling of awe is overcome by a sort of kinship. He is a master of erasing that ‘larger-than-life’ feeling that people have for him. How many heads of state always start the conversation by wanting to know what you think? What’s on your mind?
      1. It is great to be great, but it is even better to be human. – Will Rodgers
      2. Walt Disney also had this capacity to put people at ease – if he wanted to…
    12. And, as I’ve said, we’ve certainly borrowed every good idea we’ve come across. Helen and I picked up several ideas on a trip we took to Korea and Japan in 1975. A lot of the things they do over there are very easy to apply to doing business over here. Culturally, things seem so different – like sitting on the floor eating eels and snails – but people are people, and what motivates one group generally will motivate another
    13. A strong corporate culture with its own unique personality, on top of the profit-sharing partnership we’ve created, gives us a pretty sharp competitive edge. But a culture like ours can create some problems of its own too. The main one that comes to mind is a resistance to change. When folks buy into a way of doing things, and really believe it’s the best way, they develop a tendency to think that’s exactly the way things should always be done. So I’ve made it my own personal mission to ensure that constant change is a vital part of the Walmart culture itself. I’ve forced change – sometimes for changes sake a lone – at every turn in our company’s development. In fact, I think one of the greatest strengths of Walmart’s ingrained culture is its ability to drop everything and turn on a dime…Part of this constant change helps keep people and competitors a little off balance
    14. Small merchants need to avoid coming at us head-on and do their own thing better than we do ours. It doesn’t make sense to try to underprice Walmart on something like toothpaste. That’s not what the customer is looking to a small store for anyway. Most independents are best off, I think, doing what I prided myself on doing for so many years as a storekeeper: getting out on the floor and meeting every one of the customers. Let them know how much you appreciate them, and ring that cash register yourself. That little personal touch is so important for an independent merchant because no matter how hard Walmart tries to duplicate it – and we try awfully hard – we can’t really do it
      1. Like Paul Graham advises, attack incumbents orthogonally. Start small, start cheap, start obscure, start with actions that might not scale, in areas which are looked down upon. You’ll build such a loyal customer base that before your competitors know it, you’re on their heels
    15. I loved it. So many times we overcomplicate this business. You can take computer reports, velocity reports, any kind of reports you want to and go lay out your counters by computer. But if you simply think like a customer, you will do a better job of merchandise presentation and selection than any other way. It’s not always easy. To think like a customer, you have to think about details. Whoever said ‘retail is detail’ is absolutely 100% right. On the other hand it’s simple. If the customers are the bosses, all you have to do is please them.
    16. Distribution and transportation have been so successful at Walmart because senior management views this part of the company as a competitive advantage, not as some afterthought or necessary evil. And they support it with capital investment. A lot of companies don’t want to spend any money on distribution unless they have to. Ours spends because we continually demonstrate that it lowers our costs. This is a very important strategic point in understanding Walmart – Joe Hardin
    17. I would go so far as to say, in fact, that the efficiencies and economies of scale we realize from our distribution system give us one of our greatest competitive advantages
    18. For a long time Sam would show up regularly in the drivers’ break room at 4AM with a bunch of donuts and just sit there for a couple of hours talking to them. He grilled them. What are you seeing at the stores? Have you been to that store lately? How do the people act there? Is it getting better? It makes sense. The drivers see more stores every week than anybody else in this company. And I think what Sam likes about them is that they’re not like a lot of managers. They don’t care who you are. They’ll tell you what they really think.
    19. Being big poses some real dangers. It has ruined many a fine company – including some giant retailers – who started out strong and got bloated or out of touch or were slow to react to the needs of their customers. Here’s the point: the bigger Walmart gets, the more essential it is that we think small. Because that’s exactly how we have become a huge corporation- by not acting like one. Above all, we are small-town merchants, and I can’t tell you how important it is for us to remember – when we puff up our chests and brag about all those huge sales and profits – that they were all made one day at a time, one store at a time, mostly by the hard work, good attitude and teamwork of all those hourly associates and their store managers, as well as by all those folks in the distribution centers.
    20. So we know what we have to do: keep lowering our price, keep improving our service, and keep making things better for the folks who shop in our stores. That is not something we can simply do in some general way. It isn’t something we can command from the executive offices because we want it to happen. We have to do it store by store, department by department, customer by customer, associate by associate
    21. Push responsibility down to those touching the medium – That makes it management’s job to listen to those merchandisers out in the stores. We have these buyers here in Bentonville – 218 of them – and we have to remind them all the time that their real job is to support the merchants in the stores. Otherwise, you have a headquarters-driven system that’s out of touch with the customers of each particular store, and you end up with a bunch of unsold workboots  overalls and hunting rifles at the Panama City Beach store, where folks are begging for water guns and fishing rods and pails and shovels; and at the Panama City store in town you’ve got a bunch of unsold beach gear stacked up gathering dust. So when we sit down at our Saturday morning meetings to talk about our business, we like to spend time focusing on a single store, and how that store is doing against a single competitor in that particular market. We talk about what that store is doing right, and we look at what it’s doing wrong
    22. We believe that we have to talk about and examine this company in minute detail. I don’t know any other large retail company – Kmart, Sears, Penney’s – that discusses their sales at the end of the week in any smaller breakdown than by region. We talk about individual stores. Which means that if we’re talking about the store in Dothan  Alabama or Harrisburg, Illinois, everybody here is expected to know something about that store – how to measure its performance, whether a 20% increase is good or bad, what the payroll is running, who the competitors are, and how we’re doing. We keep the company’s orientation small by zeroing in on the smallest operating unit we have. No other company does that. – David Glass
    23. If you had to boil down the Walmart system to one single idea it would probably be communication, because it is one of the real keys to our success. We do it in so many ways, from the Saturday morning meeting to the very simple phone call, to our satellite system. The necessity for good communication in a big company like this is so vital it can’t be overstated.
  3. Sam does not consider himself reflective or one to dwell on the past
  4. His passion to compete is what sets him apart
  5. His father was totally honest and the best negotiator he had ever seen – him and the counterparty always parted as friends
  6. Had several hard jobs as a kid during the Great Depression. Like Disney and many others, was a paper boy which taught him the value of a dollar and this became part of the Walmart culture
  7. Supremely competitive with a great bias for action but his best talent was as a motivator.
  8. “Exercising your ego in public is definitely not the way to build an effective organization. One person seeking glory doesn’t accomplish much; at Walmart, everything we’ve done has been the result of people pulling together to meet one common goal – teamwork – something I also picked up at an early age”
  9. Thinking you have the right to win often turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy
  10. Sam was one of the masters of “going positive and going first”
    1. I learned early on that one of the secrets to campus leadership was the simplest thing of all: speak to people coming down the sidewalk before they speak to you. I did that in college. I did it when I carried my papers. I would always look ahead and speak to the person coming toward me. If I knew them, I would call them by name, but even if I didn’t I would still speak to them. Before long, I probably knew more students than anybody in the university, and they recognized me and considered me their friend
    2. “I guess Mr. Walton just had a personality that drew people in. He would yell at you from a block away, you know. He would just yell at everybody he saw, and that’s the reason so many liked him and did business in the store. It was like he brought in business by his being so friendly
  11. Somehow over the years, folks have gotten the impression that Walmart was something I dreamed up out of the blue as a middle-aged man, and it was just this great idea that turned into an overnight success. It’s true that I was forty four when we opened our first Walmart in 1962, but the store was totally an outgrowth of everything we’d been doing since Newport – another case of me being unable to leave well enough alone, another experiment. And like most other overnight successes, it was about twenty years in the making. Of course I needed somebody to run my new store, and I didn’t have much money, so I did something I would do for the rest of my run in the retail business without any shame or embarrassment whatsoever: nose around other people’s stores searching for good talent. One way he lured the best people in, especially early on, was to give away a percentage of the profits
  12. Early goal was to be the best, most profitable variety store in Arkansas within 5 years. That happened
  13. Early lesson: you can learn from anybody, especially competitors
  14. Was always iterating and experimenting – this may be Sam’s most important contribution. “Every crazy thing we tried hadn’t turned out as well as the ice cream machine, of course, but we hadn’t made any mistakes that we couldn’t correct quickly, none so big that they threatened the business
  15. What Walmart realized more clearly than anyone else and what they built around and exploited is that you can lower the mark-up and margin so that the volume makes up for less profit per item
  16. Always sought out competition – “Bentonville was the smallest of the towns we considered, and it already had three variety stores, when one would have been enough. Still, I love competition, and it just struck me as the right place to provide I could do it all over again
  17. Was a keen observer
    1. “As soon as  Sam moved the store from Newport to Bentonville, he had a nice big sale, and we put barrels full of stuff all around the floor. Those elderly ladies would come in and bend way down over into those barrels. I’ll never forget this. Sam takes a look, frowns, and says: ‘One thing we gotta do, Charlie. We gotta be real strong in lingerie.’ Times had been hard, and some of those underthings were pretty ragged.” – Charlie Baum
    2. “I remember him saying over and over again: go in and check our competition. Check everyone who is our competition. And don’t look for the bad. Look for the good. If you get one good idea, that’s one more than you went into the store with, and we must try to incorporate it into our company. We’re really not concerned with what they’re doing wrong, we’re concerned with what they’re doing right, and everyone is doing something right.” – Charlie Cate
  18. I guess we had very little capacity for embarrassment back in those days. We paid absolutely no attention whatsoever to the way things were supposed to be done, you know, the way the rules of retail said it had to be done
  19. “Two things about Sam Walton distinguish him from almost everyone else I know. First, he gets up every day bound and determined to improve something. Second, he is less afraid of being wrong than anyone I’ve ever known. And once he sees he’s wrong, he just shakes it off and heads in another direction”
  20. After a tornado tore down a key store – “We just rebuilt it and got back at it.” No feeling sorry for oneself. Just facing what reality hands you and making the most of it
  21. Distribution was an absolute key to Walmart’s success
  22. I guess I’ve stolen – I actually prefer the word “borrowed” – as many ideas from Sol Price as from anybody else in the business. For example, it’s true that Bob Bogle came up with the name Walmart in the airplane that day, but the reason I went for it right away wasn’t that the sign was cheaper. I really liked Sol’s Fed-Mart name so I latched right on to Walmart.
  23. Many of these larger stores were bright stars for a moment, and then they faded. I started thinking about what really brought them down, and why we kept going. It all boils down to not taking care of their customers, not minding their stores, not having folks in their stores with good attitudes, and that was because they never really even tried to take care of their own people. If you want the people in the stores to take care of the customers, you have to make sure you’re taking care of the people in the stores. That’s the most important single ingredient of Walmart’s success
  24. Academy Men vs. NCOs (non-commissioned officers) – the early fellows didn’t want me hiring any college men. They had the idea that college graduates wouldn’t get down and scrub floors and wash windows. The classic training in those days was to put a two-wheeler – you know, a cart that you carry merchandise on – into a guy’s hands within the first thirty minutes he came to work and get him pushing freight out of the back room. They all came out of these variety stores with the same background and the same kind of philosophy and education. And we looked for the action-oriented, do-it-now, go type of folks
  25. I can name you a lot of retailers who were originally merchandise driven, but somehow lost it over the years. In retail, you are either operations driven – where your main thrust is toward reducing expenses and improving efficiency – or you are merchandise driven. The ones that are truly merchandise driven can always work on improving operations. But the ones that are operations driven tend to level off and begin to deteriorate. So Sam’s item promotion mania is a great game and we all have a lot of fun with it, but it is also at the heart of what creates our extraordinary high sales per square foot, which enable us to dominate our competition
  26. Sam was never one to scoff at change if it was correct. He began as a dime store man so at first he wanted to make a certain percentage of profit on everything. But he came around to the idea that a real hot item would really bring customers in the store so we finally started running things like toothpaste for 16 cents a tube. Then we’d have to worry about getting enough of it in stock
  27. Thrived on change and no decision was ever sacred
  28. One thing I never did – which I’m really proud of – was to push any of my kids too hard. I knew I was a fairly overactive fellow and I didn’t expect them to try to be just like me. Also, I let them know they were welcome to come into our business, but that they would have to work as hard as I did – they would have to commit to being merchants.
  29. One reason he fell in love with his wife Helen is that she was always her own woman, forming her own opinions and making her own decisions
  30. I have always had the soul of an operator, somebody who wants to make things work well, then better, then the best they possibly can
  31. Some folks no doubt figured we were a little fly-by-night – you know, in the discount business today but out selling cars or swampland tomorrow. I think that misunderstanding worked to our advantage for a long time, and enabled Walmart to fly under everybody’s radar until we were too far along to catch
  32. Anybody who has ever known anything about me knows I was never in anything for the short haul
  33. I always had great curiosity and would openly ask competitors how they operated and thought about their business. I always questioned everything
  34. I think it must be human nature that when somebody homegrown gets on to something, the folks around them sometimes are the last to recognize it
  35. I guess what’s annoying to executives – to anybody who tries to spend their time managing a company as big as this – is these money managers who’re always churning their investors’ accounts. You know, the stock will go from $40 to $42 and they’ll rush in there and say, “Hey, let’s sell this thing because it’s just too high. It’s an overvalued stock.” Well, to my mind, that doesn’t make much sense. As long as we’re managing our company well, as long as we take care of our people and our customers, keep our eye on those fundamentals, we are going to be successful. Of course, it takes an observing, discerning person to judge those fundamentals for himself. If I were a stockholder of Walmart, or considering becoming one, I’d go into ten Walmart stores and ask the folks working there, “How do you feel? How’s the company treating you?” Their answers would tell me much of what I need to know
  36. The point is, all those analysts may have had perfectly logical theories about why a 20% increase would be a disaster for us. But they failed to see that in a big economic downturn, when everybody is suffering, Walmart’s fundamental strengths would keep us going strong. And we would look great compared to everybody else
  37. What’s really worried me over the years is not our stock price, but that we might someday fail to take care of our customers, or that our managers might fail to motivate and take care of our associates. I was also worried that we might lose the team concept, or fail to keep the family concept viable and realistic and meaningful to our folks as we grow. Those challenges are more real than somebody’s theory that we’re headed down the wrong path
  38. If you asked me am I an organized person, I would have to say flat out no, not at all. Being organized would really slow me down. In fact, it would probably render me helpless  I try to keep track of what I’m supposed to do, and where I’m supposed to be, but it’s true I don’t keep much of a schedule. Except for reading my numbers on Saturday morning and going to our regular meetings, I don’t have much of a routine for anything else. I always carry my little tape recorder on trips, to record ideas that come up in my conversations with the associates. I usually have my yellow legal pad with me, with a list of ten or fifteen things we need to be working on as a company. My list drives the executives around here crazy, but it’s probably one of my more important contributions
  39. “When Sam feels a certain way, he is relentless. He will just wear you out. He will bring up an idea, we’ll all discuss it and then decide maybe that it’s not something we should be doing right now – or ever. Fine. Case closed. But as long as he is convinced that it is the right thing, it just keeps coming up – week after week – until finally everybody capitulates and says, well, it’s easier to do it than to keep fighting this fight. I guess it could be called management by wearing down.” – David Glass
  40. One way I’ve managed to keep up with everything on my plate is by coming in to the office really early almost every day. 4:30am wouldn’t be all that unusual a time for me to get started down at the office. The early morning time is tremendously valuable: it’s uninterrupted time when I think and plan and sort things out
  41. “I think one of Sam’s greatest strengths is that he is totally unpredictable. He is always his own person, totally independent in his thinking. As a result, he is not a rubber-stamp manager. He never rubber-stamps anything for anyone”
  42. As famous as Sam is for being a great motivator – and he deserves even more credit than he’s gotten for that – he is equally good at checking on the people he has motivated. You might call his style: management by looking over your shoulder
  43. I’m always asked if there ever came a point, once we got rolling, when I knew what lay ahead. I don’t think that I did. All I knew was that we were rolling and that we were successful. We enjoyed it, and it looked like something we could continue. We had found a concept, certainly, that the customers liked. Even back then, I always said at the first sign of it getting out of control, the first time our numbers don’t come through as they should, we will pull in and put our arms around what we’ve built. Up to this point, of course, we haven’t had to do it
  44. We keep our prices as low as possible by keeping our costs as low as possible
  45. Incumbents of a new model almost always drive out or are acquired by the old guard. What happened was that they (KMart, etc.) didn’t really commit to discounting
  46. I have played to my strengths and relied on others to make up for my weaknesses
  47. Sam and top executives always had and encouraged a ‘bias for action’
  48. Most of us were too busy in the stores to even think about where it was all leading
  49. Have to give people responsibility, trust them and then check on and help them
  50. Sharing information and responsibility is key to any partnership.
    1. Scarcity of any kind leads to “hoarding” where people will not feel secure in their environment and will not be all-in
  51. Submerge your own ambitions and help whoever you can in the company
  52. Everybody likes praise and we look for every chance to heap it on them
  53. The secret to successful retailing is to give your customers what they want
  54. Customers (eventually) vote with their feet
  55. Decision process – On something like the Kuhn’s decision, I try to play a “what-if” game with the numbers – but it’s generally my gut that makes the final decision. If it feels right, I tend to go for it, and if it doesn’t, I back off
  56. Once I decide I’m wrong, I’m ready to move onto something else
  57. I’ve always been a delegator – trying to hire the best people for our stores
  58. Sam’s ‘Beat Yesterday” Ledger book – Sam kept a ledger book to monitor and compare their performance to earlier versions of themselves during the early years of Walmart
    1. Is there a way to transfer this ‘Beat Yesterday’ ledger book to compare current self to younger self? Journal, decision book, mistakes made, what you’ve learned, how you would’ve handled a situation differently?…
  59. Enlightened self-interest
    1. We’ve been able to help our associates to a greater degree than most companies because of what you’d have to call enlightened self-interest; we were selfish enough to see in the beginning the value to the company of letting them share the profits
    2. You may have trouble believing it, but every time we’ve tested the old saying, it has paid off for us in spades: the more you give, the more you get.
  60. Win/Lose – the Japanese are right on this point: you can’t create a team spirit when the situation is so one-sided, when management gets so much and workers get so little of the pie
  61. Great ideas come from everywhere if you just listen and look for them. You never know who’s going to have a great idea
  62. One of the most powerful forces in human nature is the resistance to change. To succeed in this world, you have to change all the time
  63. A lot of folks ask if a Walmart-type story still occur in this day and age? My answer is of course it could happen again. Somewhere out there right now there’s someone – probably hundreds of thousands of someones – with good enough ideas to go all the way. It will be done again, over and over, providing that someone wants it badly enough to do what it takes to get there. It’s all a matter of attitude and the capacity to constantly study and question the management of the business
What I got out of it
  1. One of my favorite business books of all time. Absolute focus on the customer, willingness to change, profit sharing with associates, gestures of appreciation, enlightened self-interest, willing to be different, going positive and going first. Will reread immediately

Why Don’t We Learn From History? by BH Liddell Hart

Summary
  1. Hart succinctly and engagingly describes why history is so important to study and, yet, why so few do
Key Takeaways
  1. There is no panacea for peace that can be written out in a formula like a doctor’s prescription. But one can set down a series of practical points—elementary principles drawn from the sum of human experience in all times. Study war and learn from its history. Keep strong, if possible. In any case, keep cool. Have unlimited patience. Never corner an opponent and always assist him to save his face. Put yourself in his shoes—so as to see things through his eyes. Avoid self-righteousness like the devil—nothing is so self-blinding. Cure yourself of two commonly fatal delusions—the idea of victory and the idea that war cannot be limited
  2. I would emphasize a basic value of history to the individual. As Burckhardt said, our deeper hope from experience is that it should “make us, not shrewder (for next time), but wiser (for ever).” History teaches us personal philosophy.
  3. Over two thousand years ago, Polybius, the soundest of ancient historians, began his History with the remark that “the most instructive, indeed the only method of learning to bear with dignity the vicissitude of fortune, is to recall the catastrophes of others.” History is the best help, being a record of how things usually go wrong. A long historical view not only helps us to keep calm in a “time of trouble” but reminds us that there is an end to the longest tunnel. Even if we can see no good hope ahead, an historical interest as to what will happen is a help in carrying on. For a thinking man, it can be the strongest check on a suicidal feeling.
  4. What is the object of history? I would answer, quite simply – “truth.” The object might be more cautiously expressed thus: to find out what happened while trying to find out why it happened. In other words, to seek the causal relations between events. History has limitations as guiding signpost, however, for although it can show us the right direction, it does not give detailed information about the road conditions
    1. NOTE: map is not the terrain
  5. History can show us what to avoid, even if it does not teach us what to do—by showing the most common mistakes that mankind is apt to make and to repeat. A second object lies in the practical value of history. “Fools,” said Bismarck, “say they learn by experience. I prefer to profit by other people’s experience.” The study of history offers that opportunity in the widest possible measure. It is universal experience – infinitely longer, wider, and more varied than any individual’s experience.
  6. The point was well expressed by Polybius. “There are two roads to the reformation for mankind—one through misfortunes of their own, the other through the misfortunes of others; the former is the most unmistakable, the latter the less painful…the knowledge gained from the study of true history is the best of all educations for practical life
  7. Why were they not deduced? Partly because the General Staffs’ study was too narrow, partly because they were blinded by their own professional interests and sentiments. But the “surprising” developments were correctly deduced from those earlier wars by certain non-official students of war who were able to think with detachment
  8. History is the record of man’s steps and slips. It shows us that the steps have been slow and slight; the slips, quick and abounding. It provides us with the opportunity to profit by the stumbles and tumbles of our forerunners. Awareness of our limitations should make us chary of condemning those who made mistakes, but we condemn ourselves if we fail to recognize mistakes
  9. Viewed aright, it is the broadest of studies, embracing every aspect of life. It lays the foundation of education by showing how mankind repeats its errors and what those errors are
  10. In reality, reason has had a greater influence than fortune on the issue of wars that have most influenced history. Creative thought has often counted for more than courage; for more, even, than gifted leadership. It is a romantic habit to ascribe to a flash of inspiration in battle what more truly has been due to seeds long sown—to the previous development of some new military practice by the victors, or to avoidable decay in the military practice of the losers.
  11. Direct experience is inherently too limited to form an adequate foundation either for theory or for application. At the best it produces an atmosphere that is of value in drying and hardening the structure of thought. The greater value of indirect experience lies in its greater variety and extent. “History is universal experience”—the experience not of another but of many others under manifold conditions.
  12. The increasing specialization of history has tended to decrease the intelligibility of history and thus forfeit the benefit to the community
  13. Observing the working of committees of many kinds, I have long come to realize the crucial importance of lunchtime. Two hours or more may have been spent in deliberate discussion and careful weighing of a problem, but the last quarter of an hour often counts for more than all the rest. At 12:45pm there may be no prospect of an agreed solution, yet around about 1pm important decisions may be reached with little argument—because the attention of the members has turned to watching the hands of their watches. Those moving hands can have a remarkable effect in accelerating the movements of minds—to the point of a snap decision. The more influential members of any committee are the most likely to have important lunch engagements, and the more important the committee the more likely is this contingency. A shrewd committeeman often develops a technique based on this time calculation. He will defer his own intervention in the discussion until lunchtime is near, when the majority of the others are more inclined to accept any proposal that sounds good enough to enable them to keep their lunch engagement.
  14. Another danger, among “hermit” historians, is that they often attach too much value to documents. Men in high office are apt to have a keen sense of their own reputation in history. Many documents are written to deceive or conceal. Moreover, the struggles that go on behind the scenes, and largely determine the issue, are rarely recorded in documents.
  15. Lloyd George frequently emphasized to me in conversation that one feature that distinguished a first-rate political leader from a second-rate politician is that the former was always careful to avoid making any definite statement that could be subsequently refuted, as he was likely to be caught out in the long run.
  16. “Hard writing makes easy reading.” Such hard writing makes for hard thinking.
  17. Discernment may be primarily a gift—and a sense of proportion, too. But their development can be assisted by freedom from prejudice, which largely rests with the individual to achieve—and within his power to achieve it. Or at least to approach it. The way of approach is simple, if not easy—requiring, above all, constant self-criticism and care for precise statement.
  18. To view any question subjectively is self-blinding.
  19. Doubt is unnerving save to philosophic minds, and armies are not composed of philosophers, either at the top or at the bottom. In no activity is optimism so necessary to success, for it deals so largely with the unknown—even unto death. The margin that separates optimism from blind folly is narrow. Thus there is no cause for surprise that soldiers have so often overstepped it and become the victims of their faith.
  20. The point had been still more clearly expressed in the eleventh-century teaching of Chang-Tsai: “If you can doubt at points where other people feel no impulse to doubt, then you are making progress.”
  21. We learn too that nothing has aided the persistence of falsehood, and the evils resulting from it, more than the unwillingness of good people to admit the truth when it was disturbing to their comfortable assurance. Always the tendency continues to be shocked by natural comment and to hold certain things too “sacred” to think about.
  22. How rarely does one meet anyone whose first reaction to anything is to ask “Is it true?” Yet unless that is a man’s natural reaction it shows that truth is not uppermost in his mind, and, unless it is, true progress is unlikely.
  23. Yet the longer I watch current events, the more I have come to see how many of our troubles arise from the habit, on all sides, of suppressing or distorting what we know quite well is the truth, out of devotion to a cause, an ambition, or an institution—at bottom, this devotion being inspired by our own interest.
  24. It was saddening to discover how many apparently honorable men would stoop to almost to anything to help their own advancement.
  25. A different habit, with worse effect, was the way that ambitious officers when they came in sight of promotion to the generals’ list, would decide that they would bottle up their thoughts and ideas, as a safety precaution, until they reached the top and could put these ideas into practice. Unfortunately the usual result, after years of such self-repression for the sake of their ambition, was that when the bottle was eventually uncorked the contents had evaporated.
  26. In my experience the troubles of the world largely come from excessive regard to other interests.
  27. We learn from history that those who are disloyal to their own superiors are most prone to preach loyalty to their subordinates.
  28. Loyalty is a noble quality, so long as it is not blind and does not exclude the higher loyalty to truth and decency.
  29. Truth may not be absolute, but it is certain that we are likely to come nearest to it if we search for it in a purely scientific spirit and analyze the facts with a complete detachment from all loyalties save that to truth itself. It implies that one must be ready to discard one’s own pet ideas and theories as the search progresses.
  30. Faith matters so much in times of crisis. One must have gone deep into history before reaching the conviction that truth matters more.
  31. All of us do foolish things—but the wiser realize what they do. The most dangerous error is failure to recognize our own tendency to error. That failure is a common affliction of authority.
  32. The pretense to infallibility is instinctive in a hierarchy. But to understand the cause is not to underrate the harm that the pretense has produced—in every sphere.
  33. Hence the duty of the good citizen who is free from the responsibility of Government is to be a watchdog upon it, lest Government impair the fundamental objects which it exists to serve. It is a necessary evil, thus requiring constant watchfulness and check.
  34. What is of value in “England” and “America” and worth defending is its tradition of freedom—the guarantee of its vitality. Our civilization, like the Greek, has, for all its blundering way, taught the value of freedom, of criticism of authority—and of harmonizing this with order. Anyone who urges a different system, for efficiency’s sake, is betraying the vital tradition.
  35. We learn from history that self-made despotic rulers follow a standard pattern. In gaining power: They exploit, consciously or unconsciously, a state of popular dissatisfaction with the existing regime or of hostility between different sections of the people. On gaining power: They soon begin to rid themselves of their chief helpers, “discovering” that those who brought about the new order have suddenly become traitors to it. This political confidence trick, itself a familiar string of tricks, has been repeated all down the ages. Yet it rarely fails to take in a fresh generation.
  36. We learn from history that time does little to alter the psychology of dictatorship. The effect of power on the mind of the man who possesses it, especially when he has gained it by successful aggression, tends to be remarkably similar in every age and in every country.
  37. Bad means lead to no good end.
  38. But “anti-Fascism” or “anti-Communism” is not enough. Nor is even the defense of freedom. What has been gained may not be maintained, against invasion without and erosion within, if we are content to stand still. The peoples who are partially free as a result of what their forebears achieved in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries must continue to spread the gospel of freedom and work for the extension of the conditions, social and economic as well as political, which are essential to make men free.
  39. We learn from history that the compulsory principle always breaks down in practice. It is practicable to prevent men doing something; moreover that principle of restraint, or regulation, is essentially justifiable in so far as its application is needed to check interference with others’ freedom. But it is not, in reality, possible to make men do something without risking more than is gained from the compelled effort. The method may appear practicable, because it often works when applied to those who are merely hesitant. When applied to those who are definitely unwilling it fails, however, because it generates friction and fosters subtle forms of evasion that spoil the effect which is sought. The test of whether a principle works is to be found in the product. Efficiency springs from enthusiasm—because this alone can develop a dynamic impulse. Enthusiasm is incompatible with compulsion—because it is essentially spontaneous. Compulsion is thus bound to deaden enthusiasm—because it dries up the source. The more an individual, or a nation, has been accustomed to freedom, the more deadening will be the effect of a change to compulsion.
  40. Conscription does not fit the conditions of modern warfare—its specialized technical equipment, mobile operations, and fluid situations. Success increasingly depends on individual initiative, which in turn springs from a sense of personal responsibility—these senses are atrophied by compulsion. Moreover, every unwilling man is a germ carrier, spreading infection to an extent altogether disproportionate to the value of the service he is forced to contribute.
  41. Unless the great majority of a people are willing to give their services there is something radically at fault in the state itself. In that case the state is not likely or worthy to survive under test—and compulsion will make no serious difference.
  42. But the deeper I have gone into the study of war and the history of the past century the further I have come toward the conclusion that the development of conscription has damaged the growth of the idea of freedom in the Continental countries and thereby damaged their efficiency also—by undermining the sense of personal responsibility.
    1. NOTE: great parallels to business. Giving away ownership and responsibility gets people all-in, to self-police, to be your best salesman and advocates. Forcing them to try to act this way never works
  43. I believe that freedom is the foundation of efficiency, both national and military. Thus it is a practical folly as well as a spiritual surrender to “go totalitarian” as a result of fighting for existence against the totalitarian states. Cut off the incentive to freely given service and you dry up the life source of a free community.
  44. Reforms that last are those that come naturally, and with less friction, when men’s minds have become ripe for them. A life spent in sowing a few grains of fruitful thought is a life spent more effectively than in hasty action that produces a crop of weeds. That leads us to see the difference, truly a vital difference, between influence and power.
  45. History shows that a main hindrance to real progress is the ever-popular myth of the “great man.” While “greatness” may perhaps be used in a comparative sense, if even then referring more to particular qualities than to the embodied sum, the “great man” is a clay idol whose pedestal has been built up by the natural human desire to look up to someone, but whose form has been carved by men who have not yet outgrown the desire to be regarded, or to picture themselves, as great men.
  46. We learn from history that expediency has rarely proved expedient.
    1. NOTE: John Wooden – be quick but don’t hurry
  47. Civilization is built on the practice of keeping promises. It may not sound a high attainment, but if trust in its observance be shaken the whole structure cracks and sinks. Any constructive effort and all human relations—personal, political, and commercial—depend on being able to depend on promises.
    1. NOTE: like any high performing culture, trust is at the center of it all. Not being able to depend on promises erodes trust
  48. It is immoral to make promises that one cannot in practice fulfill—in the sense that the recipient expects.
  49. I have come to think that accuracy, in the deepest sense, is the basic virtue—the foundation of understanding, supporting the promise of progress. The cause of most troubles can be traced to excess; the failure to check them to deficiency; their prevention lies in moderation. So in the case of troubles that develop from spoken or written communication, their cause can be traced to overstatement, their maintenance to understatement, while their prevention lies in exact statement. It applies to private as well as to public life.
  50. Studying their effect, one is led to see that the germs of war lie within ourselves—not in economics, politics, or religion as such. How can we hope to rid the world of war until we have cured ourselves of the originating causes?
  51. Any history of war which treats only of its strategic and political course is merely a picture of the surface. The personal currents run deeper and may have a deeper influence on the outcome.
  52. We learn from history that complete victory has never been completed by the result that the victors always anticipate—a good and lasting peace. For victory has always sown the seeds of a fresh war, because victory breeds among the vanquished a desire for vindication and vengeance and because victory raises fresh rivals.
    1. NOTE: dialectical materialism
  53. A too complete victory inevitably complicates the problem of making a just and wise peace settlement. Where there is no longer the counterbalance of an opposing force to control the appetites of the victors, there is no check on the conflict of views and interests between the parties to the alliance. The divergence is then apt to become so acute as to turn the comradeship of common danger into the hospitality of mutual dissatisfaction—so that the ally of one war becomes the enemy in the next.
  54. Where the two sides are too evenly matched to offer a reasonable chance of early success to either, the statesman is wise who can learn something from the psychology of strategy. It is an elementary principle of strategy that, if you find your opponent in a strong position costly to force, you should leave him a line of retreat—as the quickest way of loosening his resistance. It should, equally, be a principle of policy, especially in war, to provide your opponent with a ladder by which he can climb down.
  55. War is profitable only if victory is quickly gained. Only an aggressor can hope to gain a quick victory. If he is frustrated, the war is bound to be long, and mutually ruinous, unless it is brought to an end by mutual agreement.
  56. The history of ancient Greece showed that, in a democracy, emotion dominates reason to a greater extent than in any other political system, thus giving freer rein to the passions which sweep a state into war and prevent it getting out—at any point short of the exhaustion and destruction of one or other of the opposing sides.
  57. It was because Wellington really understood war that he became so good at securing peace. He was the least militaristic of soldiers and free from the lust of glory. It was because he saw the value of peace that he became so unbeatable in war. For he kept the end in view, instead of falling in love with the means. Unlike Napoleon, he was not infected by the romance of war, which generates illusions and self-deceptions. That was how Napoleon had failed and Wellington prevailed.
  58. One of the clear lessons that history teaches is that no agreement between Governments has had any stability beyond their recognition that it is in their own interests to continue to adhere to it. I cannot conceive that any serious student of history would be impressed by such a hollow phrase as “the sanctity of treaties.”
  59. We must face the fact that international relations are governed by interests and not by moral principles. Then it can be seen that the validity of treaties depends on mutual convenience. This can provide an effective guarantee.
  60. Any plan for peace is apt to be not only futile but dangerous. Like most planning, unless of a mainly material kind, it breaks down through disregard of human nature. Worse still, the higher the hopes that are built on such a plan, the more likely that their collapse may precipitate war.
  61. For whoever habitually suppresses the truth in the interests of tact will produce a deformity from the womb of his thought.
  62. Opposition to the truth is inevitable, especially if it takes the form of a new idea, but the degree of resistance can be diminished—by giving thought not only to the aim but to the method of approach. Avoid a frontal attack on a long-established position; instead, seek to turn it by a flank movement, so that a more penetrable side is exposed to the thrust of truth. But in any such indirect approach, take care not to diverge from the truth—for nothing is more fatal to its real advancement than to lapse into untruth.
  63. Even among great scholars there is no more unhistorical fallacy than that, in order to command, you must learn to obey.
  64. A model boy rarely goes far, and even when he does he is apt to falter when severely tested. A boy who conforms immaculately to school rules is not likely to grow into a man who will conquer by breaking the stereotyped professional rules of his time—as conquest has most often been achieved. Still less does it imply the development of the wide views necessary in a man who is not merely a troop commander but the strategic adviser of his Government. The wonderful thing about Lee’s generalship is not his legendary genius but the way he rose above his handicaps—handicaps that were internal even more than external.
  65. the deeper the study of modern war is carried the stronger grows the conviction of its futility.
  66. The more that warfare is “formalized” the less damaging it proves. Past efforts in this direction have had more success than is commonly appreciated.
  67. The habit of violence takes much deeper root in irregular warfare than it does in regular warfare. In the latter it is counteracted by the habit of obedience to constituted authority, whereas the former makes a virtue of defying authority and violating rules. It becomes very difficult to rebuild a country, and a stable state, on such an undermined foundation.
  68. Vitality springs from diversity—which makes for real progress so long as there is mutual toleration, based on the recognition that worse may come from an attempt to suppress differences than from acceptance of them.
  69. To put it another way, it seems to me that the spiritual development of humanity as a whole is like a pyramid, or a mountain peak, where all angles of ascent tend to converge the higher they climb. On the one hand this convergent tendency, and the remarkable degree of agreement that is to be found on the higher levels, appears to me the strongest argument from experience that morality is absolute and not merely relative and that religious faith is not a delusion.
  70. Manners are apt to be regarded as a surface polish. That is a superficial view. They arise from an inward control. A fresh realization of their importance is needed in the world today, and their revival might prove the salvation of civilization. For only manners in the deeper sense—of mutual restraint for mutual security—can control the risk that outbursts of temper over political and social issues may lead to mutual destruction in the atomic age.
  71. Truth is a spiral staircase. What looks true on one level may not be true on the next higher level. A complete vision must extend vertically as well as horizontally—not only seeing the parts in relation to one another but embracing the different planes. Ascending the spiral, it can be seen that individual security increases with the growth of society, that local security increases when linked to a wider organization, that national security increases when nationalism decreases and would become much greater if each nation’s claim to sovereignty were merged in a super-national body.
What I got out of it
  1. Not quite Durant’s Lessons of History but one of the best “meta” books on history I’ve come across. The lessons to be gained from in-depth study of history and why it is worth it, and why we don’t

Fallen Leaves: Last Words on Life, Love, War and God by Will Durant

Summary
  1. The personal, distilled wisdom and beliefs of Will Durant on life’s important topics. Answered clearly, simply and imperfectly
Key Takeaways
  1. Man is always steeped in the ways and views of his youth and is almost constantly constitutionally incapable of understanding the changing world that assails him
  2. We love children because they are extensions of ourselves and because they embody unlimited potential. They are what we cannot be – uninhibited, transparently selfish, un hypocritical, spontaneous. Children and fools speak the truth and somehow find happiness in their sincerity. They learn by imitation and teach us what we really are by how they behave
  3. Childhood could be called the age of play and therefore some children are never young and some adults never old. Never give up play as this will speed up aging and lower quality of life.
  4. Every philosopher should also be an athlete. If he is not, let us examine the philosophy
  5. Health lies in action and to be busy is the secret of grace and half the secret of content. Let us ask God not for possessions but for things to do for happiness lies in making things rather than consuming them
  6. The tragedy of life is that it only gives us wisdom once it has stolen youth. If the young but knew how and the old but could
  7. Nothing learned in a book is of any use until it is used and verified in life. It is life which educates
  8. At the same time as children transition to youth and begin examining themselves, they also begin examining the world. They become afraid at learning their species’ true nature – cooperation within the family but competition with society
  9. If youth were wise they would put love above all else and not fall into the trap that so many do of trading it for money, fame or other external recognition. Making all else subordinate to it until the end. How can it matter what price we pay for love
  10. Life seems brutal because we think we are individuals when in fact we are temporary organs of the species. The individual fails but life succeeds
  11. Logic is an invention of man and may be ignored by the universe
  12. Only one thing is certain in history, decade. Only one thing is certain in life, death
  13. Death, like style, is the removal of the superfluous
  14. One recounting of history may be recounted by the avatars of God. The replacing of one deity for another by an overtaking tribe is seen time and again and a list of the changing gods would make quite a directory for the changing of the guard
  15. Heaven and hell are not located in another world, they are simply states of mind
  16. Religions are not made by the intellect or else they would never touch the soul, reach the masses or have any longevity. The imagination must be moved and inspire courage, compassion and moral development
  17. It can be argued that morality and civilization are one. Durant defines morality as the consistency of private conduct with public interest as understood by the group
  18. Moral self-restraint is one of the surest guarantees to advancement and self-fulfillment
  19. We must respect differing opinions. Intolerance is the door to violence, brutality and dictatorship and the realization of human interdependence and solidarity is the best protection of civilization.
  20. Women generally acquire by instinct all that men acquire by intellect
  21. “I admire the architecture of woman…Her movement is poetry become flesh.”
  22. The art which has most obviously and visibly made progress over the last thousand years is the art of war
  23. The state is the soul of man enlarged under the microscope of history
  24. Greed and wealth originally arose as a hedge against starvation but later became vices as abundance and social norms no longer made them necessary for survival
  25. Prejudice is deadly to religion but vital to civilization
  26. The first law of government is self preservation, the second is self extension
  27. Peace is war by other means
  28. Humankind has waited for centuries for a cease to war through a raising of consciousness but there is no broad, humankind consciousness
  29. Character – a rational harmony and hierarchy of desires in coordination with capacity
  30. Wisdom – an application of experience to present problems
  31. Education is the perfection of life and there should be 3 tenets on which to base education and its goals:
    1. The control of life through health, character, intelligence and technology
    2. The enjoyment of life through friendship, literature, nature and art
    3. The understanding of life through history, science, religion and philosophy
  32. There is nothing Epicurean about desiring a healthy and strong body as this allows us the possibility for a happy and long life and to pursue our goals. He would have dietitians teach students an hour per day on the basics and benefits of a healthy diet and exercise
  33. The point of education is not to create scholars but to form people
  34. There is a big difference between intellect and intelligence. Intellect is the capacity for acquiring and using ideas. Intelligence is the ability to use experience, even the experience of other’s, for the clarification and attainment of one’s ends. Intelligence is garnered from experience, action, reading
  35. An intimate knowledge and experience with nature and sports should not be undervalued
  36. Learning language and culture is most natural and easiest when living and immersing yourself in it
  37. Psychology is a theory of human behavior. Philosophy is too often an ideal of human behavior. History is occasionally a record of human behavior
  38. No man is fit to lead if he cannot see his time in perspective of history
  39. Travel, if too varied and hurried, makes the mind superficial and can confirm stereotypes
  40. Much of history is bunk. However, there is an alternate view to history. History is man’s rise from savagery to civilization. History is the record of the lasting contributions made to man’s knowledge, wisdom, arts, morals, manners, skills. History is a laboratory rich in a hundred thousand experiments in economics, religion, literature, science and government. History is our roots and our illumination as the road by which we came and the only light that can clarify our present and future. This history is not bunk and can even be considered the only true philosophy and the only true psychology
  41. The present is merely the past rolled up and concentrated into this moment of time
  42. We are choked with news and starved of history
  43. History is philosophy teaching by example
  44. A constant lesson from history is that revolutionists soon come to act like the men they overthrew
  45. You cannot make men equal simply by passing laws
What I got out of it
  1. At times a bit outdated, patronizing and patriarchal but chock full of wisdom and worth reading and re-reading

Chapters in My Life by Frederick Taylor Gates

Summary
  1. Frederick Taylor Gates, the senior business and philanthropic advisor to John D. Rockefeller, recounts his life story and interaction with JDR
Key Takeaways
  1. Gates grew up in a relatively poor household but his parents were hard working and were never for want. Gates became a Baptist minister after graduating from Rochester and practiced for about a decade. He came into contact with JDR during his fundraising process for a Baptist university in Chicago. JDR was impressed enough with his acumen and common sense that he brought him on board, eventually to become senior business advisor for JDR’s business and philanthropic decisions
    1. While preaching in Minnesota, Mr. Pillsbury approached Gates on how to handle his will and was taken in by the suggestion that he required Gates to take a year off from being a pastor to spread the message of the importance of Baptist advancement in the state
    2. Joined the Executive Board of the American Baptist Education Society and was central in communicating with Rockefeller on the importance of establishing a great Baptist university in central Chicago, what would later become the University of Chicago. Gates was named by Rockefeller to be one of the Trustees for the University of Chicago which he helped fund-raise for and then help lead.
    3. Dr. Harper was the University of Chicago’s first president and had ambitious plans for the University. His expansion and spending put him at odds occasionally with Mr. Rockefeller but his vision helped make UChicago the incredible institution it is today
    4. Gates soon after moved to New York to help with Rockefeller’s other benevolences and it was at this point that he turned away from the ministry. Gates helped to direct Rockefeller’s fund and then lead and manage these companies, trusts or philanthropic organizations. Gates steered Rockefeller’s donations towards the principles of scientific giving and eventually laying aside retail giving to individuals and local charities and fully entering wholesale philanthropy to approved public agencies. Gates had little business experience but Rockefeller trusted that he would learn and put him in that position because Gates had a “great store of common sense.” Gates responds by saying that, “his excuse is valid in its implication that common sense diligently applied is usually the best possible solvent of difficult business problems. Gates helped Rockefeller sell out of many poor investments which a “syndicate” of old friends and acquaintances had looped Rockefeller into but ended up being reckless
      1. In his study of one of Rockefeller’s mining investments in Colorado – “My self-distrust proved my salvation. I would not rely at all on any examination of mine. If these consolidated gold properties were what they were represented to be, they would be well known. They ought to be well known throughout Colorado. There must be men in Denver itself who knew of them. I could and would find out what experienced and reliable men in Colorado knew of these mines.” He would come to find that Rockefeller’s investment was in a complete fraud with no gold by conversing with these fluent miners and engineers
      2. This was too much for Rockefeller and it was then JDR invited Gates to be the independent agent in charge of both his philanthropic and personal investing decisions
  2. On Children & Parenting
    1. Never underestimate the impression something can have on a young child – the years of early childhood usually fix the character and destiny of the man
    2. It is a mistake to think children need to be harshly rebuked. To raise gentlemen and women, one must treat them in childhood with courtesy
    3. The parent can force an apparent but wholly deceptive victory by fear, for no victory is complete that does not carry the child’s reason, and conscience, the victory of intelligent voluntary repentance
    4. Children should be taught to pray for what they crave and always in their own words or else the prayer rings hollow. Spent his entire adult life trying to erase his early religious training as he found it painful and stamped out his natural desire to do good. It is ideals lovingly cherished, not terrors, that educate the conscience and create character
    5. My parents talked over all their troubles with entire freedom in the presence of their children. I know no better way than free discussion in the presence of the children of the daily problems of the family, including its relations with others, if children are to be trained in such worldly wisdom as their parents have, and in the practical conduct of life
    6. I find that praise and encouragement work wonders and it gets students much more interested and self motivated
    7. My mother told me to do everything I was told to do, be it high or low; shrink from no duty however difficult or distasteful, and do it, said she, just as well as you can. Do it better than others. Though you may not have as much talent as some, your labor in this way will always be in demand
    8. Beyond mere physical protection of the very little children, we sought to train our children to govern themselves. We tried to make love only the atmosphere of our home. in this spirit it was not necessary to treat them as underlings , but as friends. We advised, persuaded, encouraged, commended, rewarded them, but we sought never to command or forbid. The last word of all counsel was: such is our advice and our wish, but make your own decision; do as you think best. More often than not they begged us to make the decision for them, for they found it easier to be governed than to govern themselves. But self-control can be attained only by the habitual practice of it
    9. We did not spare expense at any point, because we thought that the taste for good music would be worth more – far more – to our children in later life than the inheritance of the money it cost
    10. The mind of the child grows not by absorbing the contents of books, but by intense, spontaneous, self-directed, mental action, just as the body of the child grows by intense, spontaneous, self-directed physical action in his plays. The mind and body are inseparable. They share a common life. We supplemented the schools with twice as much self-directed work and play outside the school hours. We made it a rule to provide at home all the tools, and all the chemical, physical and electrical equipment, apparatus, and material that our children wanted…We had given a minor place only to the study of books but had kept our children busy sixteen hours per day in self-chosen, spontaneous activity, as intense as possible and furnished with all needed facilities and tools
  3. On Business & Philanthropy
    1. Every step a man takes in capacity to work, and to do better work will bring him into a higher plane – a plane in which there will be fewer competitors, greater demand and higher rewards
    2. I knew of course that no man becomes fitted for a new position of importance and responsibility, except by months or years. Of experience in the position itself and that in the process of becoming fitted there must be errors, embarrassments and chagrins
    3. Worked for a Mr. Smith who was Scrooge-like but Gates stood up for what he believed was right and earned this man’s trust. He learned the basics of banking and bookkeeping which would serve him well later in life
    4. You need to be educated enough so that you can bring your ideas down to the point that common people can understand them
    5. No man ever made such advancement in culture who did not early in life learn to save the minutes. Benjamin Franklin said “Time is Money.” To you time is more than money. It is mental culture; it is reputation. It is power over men; it is success.
    6. Doing much in a little time, the impression is apt to wear away. Don’t hurry, take time
    7. On fund raising – never tried to increase the subscription or even to get the last cent possible. We aimed to leave friends behind us, not enemies. It was up to them how much to donate and our job was to be grateful whether the donation was large or small
    8. Medicine had become full of charlatans and had fallen behind many other sciences because it was not endowed at colleges and universities and the research had been left to itself and dependent on individual innovation. It became clear to Gates that medicine could not become a true science until medicine was endowed and qualified men were able to give themselves uninterrupted to the study and investigation of medical research. This was where Gates had an immense influence on Rockefeller. “This idea took possession of me. The more I thought of it, the more interested I became. I knew nothing of the cost of research; I did not realize its enormous difficulty; the only thing I saw was the overwhelming need and infinite promise, world-wide, universal, eternal.
    9. On the Rockefeller Institute – The work of the Institute is as universal in its scope as the love of God. Other philanthropies are limited in their scope to individuals, to communities, to classes, to religions, to states, to countries, to nations. This philanthropy alone is as wide as the race. It knows no boundaries at all. Disease is universal and this is a healing ministration, to prevent or destroy disease…It goes to the fountains of life itself. It deals with what is innermost in every man. For what is health? Health is happiness; mere health itself is happiness…And while we think of the universality of its scope and its elemental character, let us remember its permanency. The work is not for today alone, but forever; not for this generation, but for every generation of humanity that shall come after us. Thus every success is multiplied by infinity
      1. The Institute soon became a “benevolent black hole” for world philanthropies and received appeals daily from every sort of agency of human progress and well-being the world over
    10. Gates was also responsible for pushing Rockefeller to give outside his Baptist denomination and outside his own country, to all worth religions and humanitarian agencies everywhere
    11. Gates became worried about the ever increasing fortune of the Rockefeller’s and the potential social demoralization it could bring to descendants. So, he spoke to JDR and JDR Jr. about setting up great corporate philanthropies for forwarding civilization in all its elements in this land and all lands, limitless in time and amount, broad in scope and self-perpetuating. “I knew very well that Mr. Rockefeller’s mind would not work on mere abstract theories. He required concrete practical suggestions, and I set about framing them.” Suggested endowments to focus on higher education, medical research, fine arts, scientific agriculture, promotion of Christian ethics, promotion of intelligent citizenship and civic virtue and more
    12. Rockefeller divorced himself from the philanthropic decisions in order to eliminate his biases and hopefully put the money to the best uses possible. “His satisfaction springs from deeper and more durable sources than human gratitude…His joy is the joy of achievement. He is after the end. He cannot sacrifice the end to the instrument, even when the instrument is himself.”
    13. Gates thought that some of the best and most important work of the whole foundation was through the Sanitary Commission which initially was set up to help eradicate hookworms from the South and eventually the rest of the temperate regions of the world
    14. It was not Mr. Rockefeller’s way to give words of praise to any of his subordinates. To others he sometimes spoke approvingly of me and of my work, and his words would reach me by round about channels. But to my face he never commended me…But just as I never consciously worked for salary, wealth, or position, so I worked not to secure but to deserve Mr. Rockefeller’s approval.
    15. JDR was never a “bull” or a “bear.” He always followed the market, and never directed it. In every one of our great panics he did everything possible to sustain prices and was always a heavy loser in them. His optimism was incurable, and when panics were on and the credit of banks and individuals exhausted, he unlocked his vaults and loaned his securities without limit to banks and stressed debtors
    16. Gates “combines business skill and philanthropic aptitude to a higher degree than any other man I have ever known.”
    17. Gates was the right man for the job because he believed deeply and irrevocably in the perfectibility of man and especially in the advancement of knowledge as the best means for reaching perfection
    18. Both Rockefeller and Gates agreed on the importance of finding the best men available and leaving them free to do the job in their own way
    19. As stated become more and more preoccupied with equality and uniformity, pluralism and excellence may increasingly become the responsibility of the private sector
  4. Other
    1. Never enjoyed or profited from school but he did come to find his love for natural wood and music in school. The art of teaching consists in following nature’s ways by study of the child
    2. One cannot afford to read a book that is not with buying. Read with pen or pencil in hand and read only useful books
    3. A man’s temptations lie mainly in the realm of his powers
    4. Genius is tempted to be original at the expense of truth
    5. Avoid friction. There is such a thing as moral and intellectual friction. Fretting, worry, envy, jealousy, disputes, quarrels – these are all in the nature of friction. Avoid them as so much waste. Make all your power tell, and waste as little as possible
    6. Avoid the habit of omniscience. Take suggestions. Take criticism. The man who is always right is either omniscient or a fool.
    7. The fact is I know less about the Bible today than I did 30 years ago. I thought I knew something about it then but I have learned that I knew very little about it
    8. The idolatry of general concepts – people bow down and worship general concepts such as church, nation, state, democracy. Pick these words apart, gentlemen, and find out what is in them
    9. I believe that the love and good-will exemplified in the Spirit of Jesus are the secret of human well-being and that in this Spirit lies the hope of the race
    10. None of the precious things in life can be bought with money and money, past a certain point, was more a burden than a gain
    11. Mr. Rockefeller’s habitual policy had been total silence under accusation
    12. Humanity, as I said, must always live with Nature, with her forces and their reactions on mankind. For what is human progress? Ultimately it is this, just this, and nothing else – an ever closer approach to the facts, the laws, the forces of Nature, considered of course in its largest meaning. Nothing else is progress and nothing else will prove to be permanent among men
What I got out of it
  1. Amazing wisdom – not only about business and philanthropic savvy, but on how to raise children, deal with people and lead a happy, fulfilling and successful life

The Carolina Way: Leadership Lessons From a Life in Coaching by Dean Smith

Summary
  1. A detailed overview of University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith’s philosophy. One of the best books on leadership I’ve yet come across
Key Takeaways
  1. Smith gave his players the same 3 goals each year – play hard, play together, play smart as these were the only things each player had in their own control
    1. Play hard – Insist on consistent effort. Focus on the effort and the end will take care of itself. The final result, especially in a competitive situation, is often outside your control, but the quality of your team’s effort is not. Create a system that demands effort, rewards it, and punishes its absence
    2. Play together – Play unselfishly. Don’t focus on individual statistics. Recruit unselfish players, reward unselfish play and punish selfish play and showboating
    3. Play smart – Execute properly. Understand and consistently execute the fundamentals. Drill the fundamentals, reward their execution and punish their absence
  2. Making winning the goal can actually get in the way of winning. Rather, winning should be the byproduct of success
  3. Honesty was the basic foundation for everything Coach Smith did
  4. Coaches are part benevolent (open-minded) dictator and part servant to the player. Honest and fair and plays no favorites. Pushes but understands different situations. Disciplinarian but understands that all individuals are not the same. Requires people to look at team goals but he understands that individuals have their own goals and needs too. Listens to players in one-on-one meetings and hears suggestions but when it comes time to approve the overall picture, he must be a firm leader with a clear vision and strong convictions
  5. His players worked so hard because they saw that he worked harder than any of them did. Coach Smith made players feel good about sacrificing for the greater good – power of incentives and rewards
  6. His philosophy didn’t allow for a star system. It was all about the team
  7. Great leaders take the blame for losses and dole out credit for victories
    1. Blaming others for mistakes not only doesn’t correct it, but compounds it
  8. Believed in following a process rather than dwelling on winning or worrying about consequences
  9. Genuinely cared about his players – Honesty, integrity, discipline administered fairly, not playing favorites, recruiting the right people, effective practice and training, and caring are foundations that any organization would be wise to have in place. The most important thing in good leadership is truly caring
  10. The most effective leaders have the talent to create a sound strategy for their teams or business; knowledge of the importance of recruiting good people who wish to improve their personal skills and believe in the companies’ or teams’ philosophy; understand that whether they like it or not, they lead by example; belief in the importance of being light enough on their feet to adapt to changing conditions; and the ability to honor their commitments, admit their mistakes and take responsibility for their failures
  11. Rituals help greatly in team building
  12. Constant iteration and experimentation at Air Force Academy was a great learning experience for Smith. This type of risk appetite was natural to Smith at this time because he was new, young and had nothing to lose. Not falling into the trap of complacency as one gets older and more successful is vital
  13. Tore down freshmen to break habits and then built them back up as team leaders
  14. Never had the same team two years in a row but was still so consistently successful! Disguise weaknesses and accentuate strengths and always adapt based on personnel. Didn’t fear change even in the middle of the season
    1. His coaching system was that he had no system because each team was different
  15. Aimed for players to be quietly confident, it must be earned
  16. Getting to the top is very difficult, staying there is even harder. You prepare for that pressure through deliberate practice
  17. Never allowed anyone but players and the coaching staff into the locker room. This created a space of total trust and love where everyone could be open and honest with each other in the midst of competition
  18. Map is not the terrain. They had their own statistics that they followed and praised
  19. Basketball is simply an extension of Smith’s philosophy of life
  20. Keep poise and have options when things go poorly
  21. Mistakes – recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it
  22. Fundamentals of basketball are the fundamentals of good character, of life. Many of the same skills are necessary for success regardless of the endeavor you choose
  23. Best leaders are absolutely devoted to their people
  24. Winning should simply be thought of as a byproduct of the process. This is the best way to win as it gets you in a healthy frame of mind
  25. Nation’s leading scorer rarely plays for a ranked team and never for a championship team
  26. Good businesses tend to die because senior leaders lose touch with the outside world, the important stakeholders. Executives spend too much time working and not enough time thinking. They should delegate more to create more. Work on the important things first; your people and their skills are the important things
  27. Don’t let winning get you to overlook mistakes – process over outcome
  28. Sole focus on winning (profits) actually leads to lower chance of winning
  29. Crises bring each of us face to face with our inadequacies
  30. Skill of being a gracious loser is vital for leaders. Must see an opportunity in every loss
  31. Part method teaching – can better understand whole if it is broken down into smaller, manageable parts
  32. Hiring well makes managing easy
  33. If treated correctly and this advice followed, players become the best recruiters
  34. People will only change when they see it will benefit them
  35. If the hard work is also fun, performance will be enhanced greatly
  36. Must first provide first rate employee experience before can get first rate customer experience
  37. There is a real strength derived from depending on one another
  38. Avoid the formation of cliques at all costs
  39. High performing teams – individual peak performance, selflessness, high morale, no fear of failure, mutual care and support
  40. Specific coaching and understanding of role is vital – also what one’s role is not
  41. Never substitute because of a player’s mistakes – would lead to scared playing and public embarrassment
  42. Teamwork hard to build because of society’s fascination with individual success and the emphasis it places on winning no matter how it is achieved
  43. Smith was a master at tailoring his teaching method to each individual
  44. Never underestimate the power of appreciation
  45. Smith institute the tired signal with his players – this made them play all out until they needed a quick break. To overwork is to underperform
  46. Everyone is important
  47. Take care of the small things without getting bogged down by minutiae – punctuality, no swearing, clean and matching uniforms, no scoreboard gazing (worry about the process and not the outcome and stay in the present), hyper focused on end of game situations, set the pace by being the aggressor, not the reactor,
    1. Great leaders are adept at identifying and tending to the crucial details. The smartest use of their time, effort and money is to spend far more of them in the planning stages than one thinks necessary
  48. One-on-one meetings very important as it opens up the lines of communication, builds trust and shows you care
  49. One of the best ways to teach is for all leaders and workers to mentor younger associates. Solve for problem of not getting to it after retiring or because too busy by doing your teaching on the job
  50. Success is the byproduct of intelligent, sustained effort
  51. People accept punishment if it is fair and consistent
  52. On confidence
    1. Think through what the worst possible outcome could be concerning the project being worked on
    2. Predict the probability of that worst-case scenario’s happening
    3. Develop a plan to implement if the worst does occur
    4. If the worst outcome becomes reality, assess whether it can be survived
    5. Once the task begins, give the best possible performance. Since that’s all anyone can do, enjoy the challenge
    6. If failure results, learn from it, forgive yourself and move on to the next task
  53. On continuous learning
    1. Most people say best learning experiences come from mistakes by why wait? A smarter strategy is to learn on a continuous basis from daily events. Each lesson might be a small one, but soon the lessons will accumulate to become something meaningful and important in your life
    2. Achiever’s Brain Book – an accessible notebook to write in throughout the day. In spare minutes write down key things you’ve learned and at the end of the day add the three major experiences of the day (decisions, projects worked on, meetings attended, interactions) Analyze what was done in those three instances and what the impacts or consequences were. Then establish actions based on what you’ve learned that will positively affect your future behavior
    3. The key to continuous learning is to articulate one’s inarticulate knowledge. Do it continuously, draw lessons from daily experiences. Lessons don’t arrive on command, but you can budget a little time in your life to step back and get the perspective that leads to insight
  54. Don’t waste time looking back. Learn from mistakes/regrets, make sure they never happen again and spend time planning what’s next
  55. Importance of change – Smith’s success came partly from his ability to adapt and change better than anyone else. He knew where to place his players on the court to get the most of each man’s ability. Leaders should select for their team’s individuals who have proved capacity to change (curiosity, listen well to ideas different from their own, humble, resilient, test new ideas, willing to admit they’re wrong?)
  56. The importance of the bottom half of the roster – often one of the hardest things is finding the right kind of leader to be the 11th and 12th men on the team. In the best of worlds, these two would know in advance that they wouldn’t play much but would work hard in practice and meetings to make the team better
What I got out of it
  1. Focus obsessively on process and things you can control, the most important thing in high performing teams is genuine caring, constant iteration, adaptation and non-dogmatic ideals are needed when you have a different team every year!, Achiever’s Brain Book

Thinking in Systems by Donella Meadows

Summary
  1. A primer on problem solving on scales from local to global, how systems exist and react in the real world while acknowledging that all models are false although they help us simplify and at times make better predictions
Key Takeaways
  1. System – interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that delivers something (elements, interconnections, function/purpose)
    1. Systems can be self-organizing, self-repairing (up to a point), resilient and many are evolutionary (adaptive)
    2. Intangibles (such as school pride) are also part of systems
    3. Best way to deduce a system’s purpose is to watch it for some time to see how it behaves (avoid rhetoric and stated goals)
    4. Important function of nearly every system is its own perpetuation
  1. Systems thinking transcends disciplines and cultures and when it is done right, it over arches history as well
  2. Systems work so well due to:
    1. Resilience – ability to survive and persist in a variable environment
      1. Resilience in a system is restored through balancing feedback loops through different mechanisms, at different time scales and with redundancy
      2. A set of feedback loops that can restore or rebuild feedback loops is resilience at a still higher level – meta-resilience
      3. Even higher meta-meta-resilience comes from feedback loops that can learn, create, design and evolve ever more complex restorative structures. Systems that can do this are self-organizing
      4. A resilient system has a big plateau, a lot of space over which it can wander, with gentle, elastic walls that will bounce it back, if it comes near a dangerous edge. As a system loses resilience, this plateau shrinks
      5. Resilience often coupled with dynamism as static systems tend to become fragile
    2. Self-organization – leads to complexity, heterogeneity and unpredictability
      1. Like resilience, often sacrificed for productivity/short-term gain but drastically increases fragility of the system overall
      2. Few, simple organizing principles can lead to wildly different self-organizing outcomes
    3. Hierarchy – arrangement of systems and subsystems
      1. Complex systems can evolve from simple systems only if there are stable intermediate forms. The resulting complex forms will naturally be hierarchical. That may explain why hierarchies are so common in the systems nature presents to us. Among all possible complex forms, hierarchies are the only ones that have had the time to evolve
      2. Hierarchies are brilliant systems inventions, not only because they give a system stability and resilience, but also because they reduce the amount of information that any part of the system has to keep track of. In hierarchical systems relationships within each subsystem are denser and stronger than relationships between subsystems. Everything is still connected to everything else, but not equally strongly. If these differential information links within and between each level of the hierarchy are designed right, feedback delays are minimized. No level is overwhelmed with information. The system works with efficiency and resilience
      3. Hierarchies are partially decomposable and much can be learned by taking apart systems at different hierarchical levels and studying them separately
      4. Hierarchies evolve from the lowest level up. The original purpose of a hierarchy is always to help its originating subsystems do their jobs better. This is something which is easily forgotten and leads to malfunctioning hierarchies (suboptimal systems)
  3. External solutions help solve many problems (such as vaccines) but those deeply embedded in the internal structure of systems won’t go away unless we see the problem holistically, see the system as the cause of the problem and restructure it
  4. Individual rationalism can lead to collective insanity – why things happen much faster or slower than people expect and why systems can unexpectedly jump into a behavior you’ve never seen before (leaping emergent effects)
  5. Archetypes – common structures which produce characteristic behaviors
  6. The behavior of a system cannot be known just by knowing the elements of which the system is made
  7. Stock – accumulation of material over time, a memory of the history of changing flows in the system
  8. Dynamics – behavior over time
    1. Dynamic equilibrium stays the same though it is always changing (inflows exactly equal outflows)
  9. People tend to focus more on stock than flows (> inflow = < outflow)
    1. Stocks take time to change because flows take time to flow
    2. Changes in stocks set the pace of the dynamics in the system
    3. Stocks allow inflows and outflows to be decouple, independent and temporarily out of balance
      1. World is a collection of feedback processes
    4. The gap, discrepancy, between current and ideal state drives feedback loops and the bigger the gap the stronger the feedback loop
  10. 1 stock system – system with two competing, balancing loops (thermostat)
    1. The bigger the gap (between hot and cold in this case) the bigger the outflow
  11. Shifting dominance – one loop dominates and therefore drives behavior, oscillations and complex behavior
  12. Systems with similar feedback structures produce similar dynamic behavior
  13. 3 typical delays – perception, response, delivery
    1. These delays cause small changes to turn into massive oscillations
  14. 2 stock systems
    1. Renewable stock constrained by a non-renewable one (oil)
      1. Look for loops driving system and the loop that will ultimately constrain it (can be temporary, permanent and/or more than one)
    2. Renewable constrained by renewable (fishing)
  15. 3 important questions to ask to test the value of any model
    1. Are the driving factors likely to unfold this way?
    2. If they did, would the system react this way?
    3. What is driving the driving factors?
    4. Model utility depends not on whether its driving scenarios are realistic (since no one can know for sure), but on whether it responds with a realistic pattern of behavior
  1. Why hierarchies surprise us
    1. Everything we think we know about the world is a model (language, maps, books, databases, equations, computer programs, mental models) – nothing will ever be the real world
    2. Our models usually have a strong congruence with the real world
      1. Systems fool us by presenting themselves (or we fool ourselves by seeing the world) as a series of events. Like the tip of the iceberg above the water, events are the most visible aspect of a larger complex but not always the most important. We are less likely  to be surprised if we can see how events accumulate into dynamic patterns of behavior
      2. The behavior of a system is its performance over time – growth stagnation, decline, oscillation, randomness, evolution
      3. When a systems thinker encounters a problem, the first thing he does is look for data, item graphs, the history of the system. That’s because long-term behavior provides clues to the underlying system structure. And structure is the key to understanding not just what is happening but why
        1. Systems thinkers try to understand the connections between events and the resulting behavior and the mechanical characteristics of the structure
        2. Behavior based models are more useful than event based models but still flawed as they over focus on flows and under emphasize stocks. There is also no reason to expect any flow to bear a stable relationship to any other flow
      4. We are in sufficiently skilled at seeing in systems’ history the clues to the structures from which behavior and events flow
  2. Non-linear relationships do not change in proportion and changes the relative strength of the feedback loops (shifting dominance)
  3. Greatest complexities occur exactly at the boundaries – sources of diversity and creativity
    1. Boundaries are false, man-made but necessary to simplify and comprehend systems
  4. Most important input in a system is the one that is most limiting
  5. Growth itself depletes or enhances limits and therefore changes the limits themselves
  6. Bounded rationality – people make reasonable decisions based on information they have but since it is imperfect it leads to bad outcomes
    1. Change comes first from stepping outside the limited information that can be seen from any single place in the system and getting an overview. From a wider perspective, information flows, goals, incentives and disincentives can be restructured so that separate, bounded rational actions do add up to results that everyone desires. It’s amazing how quickly and easily behavior changes can come, with even the slightest enlargement of bounded rationality, by providing better, more complete, timelier information
    2. What makes a difference is redesigning the system to improve the information, incentives, disincentives, goals, stresses, and constraints that have an effect on specific actors. Must change the structure to change the behaviors
    3. However, and conversely, our models fall far short of representing the world fully
  7. You can’t navigate well in an interconnected, feedback-dominated world unless you take your eyes off short-term events and look for long-term behavior and structure; unless you are aware of false boundaries and bounded rationality; unless you take into account limiting factors, nonlinearities and delays. You are likely to mistreat, mis-design, or misread systems if you don’t respect their properties of resilience, self-organization and hierarchy 
  8. 3 ways to deal with policy resistance – overpower it, totally let go or find ways to align the goals of all the subsystems involved
    1. Tragedy of the commons – invisible or too long delayed feedback (educate / exhort, privatize or regulate the commons)
    2. Drift to low performance
      1. The trap is allowing performance standards to be influenced by past performance, especially if there is a negative bias in perceiving past performance. It sets up a reinforcing feedback loop of eroding goals that sets a system drifting to low performance
      2. Solution – Keep performance standards absolute and let standards be enhanced by the best actual performances instead of being discourage by the worst. Use the same structure to set up a drift of high performance
    3. Escalation – avoiding falling into it in the first place but if you are, refuse to compete or negotiate a new system with balancing loops to control the escalation
    4. Success to the successful – winners keep winning and enhance prospects of future prosperity. Diversification, strict limitation on the fraction of the pie any one winner may win (anti trust laws), policies leveling the playing field, policies that devise rewards for success that do not bias the next round of competition all good solutions
    5. Addiction – beware of symptom relieving or signal denying policies or practices that don’t really address the problem. Take the focus off short-term relief and put it on long-term restructuring
    6. Rule beating – design, or redesign, rules to release creativity you not in the direction of beating the rules, but in the direction of achieving the purpose of the rules
    7. Seeking the wrong goals – specify indicators and goals that reflect the real welfare of the system. Be especially careful not to confuse effort with result or you will end up with a. System that is producing effort, not results.
  9. Leverage point – point in system where a small change can lead to big shift in behavior
    1. The leverage point is often hidden and counterintuitive
    2. 12 examples of leverage points (from least to most effective)
      1. Numbers – constants and parameters such as subsidies, taxes and standards
        1. Least effective as changing these variables rarely changes the behavior of the system
      2. Buffers – the sizes of stabilizing stocks relative to their flows
        1. Big stocks relative to their flows are more stable than small ones
        2. Often stabilize a system by increasing the capacity of the buffer but if the buffer gets too big, the system gets inflexible
      3. Stock and flow structures – physical systems and their nodes of intersection
        1. The stocks and flows and their physical arrangement can have a tremendous effect on how the system operates
        2. The only way to fix a system that is laid out poorly is to rebuild it, if you can
      4. Delays – the lengths of time relative to the rates of system changes
        1. A delay in the feedback process is critical relative to rates of change in the stocks that the feedback loop is trying to control
        2. High leverage point except that delays are not often easily changeable
        3. Usually easier to slow down the change rate so that inevitable feedback delays won’t cause much trouble or oscillations
      5. Balancing feedback loops – the strength of the feedback is important relative to the impacts they are trying to correct
        1. One of the big mistakes is removing these “emergency” response mechanisms because they aren’t often used and they appear to be costly. May be no effect in the short-term but in the long-term you drastically reduce the range of conditions over which the system can survive
        2. For people, this means reducing personal rest, recreation, socialization, meditation, etc. for short-term productivity over long-term health
      6. Reinforcing feedback loops – the strength of the gain of driving loops
        1. Reinforcing loops are sources of growth, explosion, erosion and collapse in systems
        2. Slowing the growth is usually a more powerful leverage point in systems than strengthening balancing loops and far more preferable than letting the reinforcing loop run
      7. Information flows – the structure of who does and does not have access to information
        1. A new feedback loop to a place it wasn’t going before
      8. Rules – incentives, punishments, constraints
        1. Rules are high leverage points. Power over rules is real power
        2. If you want to understand the deepest malfunctions of systems, pay attention to the rules and who has power over them
      9. Self-organization – the power to add, change or evolve system structure
        1. The ability to self-organize is the strongest form of system resilience as it can evolve and survive almost any change, by changing itself
      10. Goals – the purpose or function of the system
        1. Everything further down the list from physical stocks and flows, feedback loops, information flows, even self-organizing behavior will be twisted to conform to the goal
        2. Single players who can change the system goal can affect the whole system
      11. Paradigms – the mind-set out of which the system (it’s goals, structure, rules, delays, parameters) arises
        1. Paradigms are the source of systems and harder to change than anything else about the system
        2. Best chance to change paradigms is to keep pointing at the anomalies and failures in the old paradigm
        3. Must get outside the system and force you to see the system as a whole (Galilean Relativity)
      12. Transcending paradigms
        1. Keeping oneself unattached in the arena of paradigms, to stay flexible, to realize that no paradigm is “true” gives a tremendous source of perspective when dealing with systems
  10. Systems can’t be controlled but they can be designed and redesigned 
  11. Guidelines for living in a world of systems
    1. Get the beat of the system – observe how it behaves before disturbing it. Forces you to focus on facts and long-term behavior rather than rhetoric and theories
    2. Expose your mental models to the light of day – judicious testing of theories allows you to faster admit uncertainties and correct mistakes leading to more flexibility. Mental flexibility, the willingness to redraw boundaries, to notice that a system has shifted into a new mode, to see how to redesign structure, is a necessity when you live in a world of flexible systems
    3. Honor, respect and distribute information
    4. Use language with care and enrich it with systems concepts – keep it concrete, meaningful and truthful
    5. Pay attention to what is important, not just what is quantifiable – quality over quantity and never ignore a part of the a system just because it can’t be counted
    6. Make feedback policies for feedback systems
    7. Go for the good of the whole – don’t optimize something which shouldn’t be done at all
    8. Listen to the wisdom of the system
    9. Locate responsibility within the system – design systems which are accountable for its own actions
    10. Stay humble, stay a learner – acknowledging uncertainty leads to more credibility
    11. Celebrate complexity
    12. Expand time horizons
    13. Defy the disciplines – be a multidisciplinary learner and thinker
    14. Expand the boundary of caring
    15. Don’t erode the goal of goodness
What I got out of it
  1. Systems consist of boundaries, inflows, stocks, and outflows. Must understand the structure and goals of the system as this affects its behavior and function. Systems work well due to resilience, self-organization and hierarchies. Delays (perception, response, delivery) cause oscillations and often people take the wrong course of action and cause higher oscillation. 3 important questions to test the value of any model. Focus on leverage points. Must take a long-term view and focus on the history of behavior to understand how and why systems function the way they do

The Lessons of History by Will and Ariel Durant

Summary

  1. Will and Ariel Durant provide an unparalleled multi-disciplinary recount of history, covering major themes, events and people. This 100 page book is an incredible summary of their 10,000+ page series, The Story of Civilization.
Key Takeaways
  1. History captures how man has behaved for 6,000 years and learning this will help protect you and avoid poor decisions
  2. Through much war and tragedy man has survived and prospered – one of the main lessons to take from studying history
  3. Man competes with each other and pushed himself, others and groups as a whole to become better. This competition helps man reach new heights and learn new things. Life needs to breed in order to pass down these competitive advantages to future generations. Competition is inevitable and necessary as only the fittest survive
  4. History is only a fraction of biology
  5. History is a humorist
  6. Throughout the ages man has changed his behavior but cannot change human nature, his instincts
  7. The role of having character developed in people so they could rise to the occasion
  8. Moral codes adjust and adapt to the prevailing social conditions
  9. At one point, every vice was a virtue. Sexual promiscuity secured survival but today seen as a vice, etc.
  10. There are many more things that should enter a man’s thoughts and decisions than just reason – sentiment, tenderness, mystery, affection. Reason is just a tool but character is based on instincts and intuition and reason can therefore not be the sole defining characteristic of man
  11. Freedom is a trial, it is a terrific test. When we made ourselves free (through reason) we forgot to make ourselves intelligent
  12. Nature does not agree with man’s definition of good and bad. For nature, that which is good is what survived and that which is bad goes under
  13. Morality is dependent upon religion and religion gives man hope that he can survive life, that he can bear reality
  14. Insanity is the loss of memory
  15. God is a creative force in any way He appears. God is love too, but love is only one of many creative forces
  16. “Economics is history in motion” – Karl Marx
  17. Socialist states have been around for thousands of years – the Incas and the Chinese being the most successful
  18. The essence of beauty is order. Must balance order and liberty to have a successful state
  19. Peace is not unrealistic but you are fighting an uphill battle against history. War doesn’t really solve anything but replaces one set of problems for another
  20. Civilization is social order leading to cultural creation – human relationships, trade and commerce, art, government, etc.
  21. History repeats itself at large, but not in detail. All civilizations decay either from internal strife or lack of trade and commerce
  22. Durant is not an optimist and not a pessimist but a realist about the future. Hard to say if progressing or regressing – simply changing
  23. Progress is glacially slow and human nature has hardly changed in thousands of years. Progress means attaining the same ends (sex, wealth and health) through more efficient means
  24. If humans are different today than 50,000 years ago it is because our accumulated social culture is stronger and more refined than before, not because our biological nature has changed
  25. History is philosophy teaching by examples
  26. The excess of anything leads to its opposite reaction. (e.g., the excess of liberty leads to slavery)
  27. Every generation rebels against the preceding one
  28. If youth but knew and old age but could
Summary
  1. Pound for pound may have the most wisdom of any book. An amazing summary of history’s major events and themes. Social order leading to cultural creation is one of man’s defining accomplishments and without it we might still be living in caves. Also, the idea of history being philosophy in motion I thought was a great way to think about it

Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger by Peter Bevelin

Summary

  1. Through real life examples, many of them centered around Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, Peter Bevelin helps the reader learn how to think better, make fewer poor decisions  understand ourselves and others better. Discusses mental models, human fallibilities, heuristics, instincts, human psychology, biology and more.

Key Takeaways

  1. Peter Bevelin lives in Malmo – visit when go to Sweden
  2. Main goal is to understand why people behave the way they do. “This book focuses on how our thoughts are influenced, why we make misjudgments and tools to improve our thinking. If we understand what influences us, we might avoid certain traps and understand why others act like they do. And if we learn and understand what works and doesn’t work and find some framework for reasoning, we will make better judgments. We can’t eliminate mistakes, but we can prevent those that can really hurt us.”
  3. Learn from other’s mistakes
  4. Learn the big ideas that underlie reality and develop good thinking habits (namely, objectivity)
  5. This book is a compilation of what Bevelin has learned from reading some of the works of the world’s best thinkers
  6. Book is broken down into 4 parts – what influences our thinking, examples of psychological reasons for misjudgments, reasons for misjudgments caused by both psychology and a lack of considering some basic ideas from physics and mathematics and lastly describes tools for better thinking
What I got out of it
  1. Seriously good read if you’re at all interested in understanding how and why we make decisions (both bad and good) and how we can go about improving our thought processes and tools. Fantastic read and couldn’t recommend more highly
Part 1 – What Influences Our Thinking?
 
  • Brain communicates through neurochemicals and genes are the recipe for how we are made
  • Behavior is influenced by genetic and environmental factors
  • The flexibility of the brain is amazing as it can change due to our thoughts and experiences
  • Mental state (situation and experience) and physical state are intimately connected – beliefs have biological consequences, both good and bad
  • World is not fixed but evolving – evolution has no goal
  • Pain (punishment) and reward (pleasure) have evolutionary benefits with pain avoidance being our primary driver
  • Hunter-gatherer environments have formed our basic nature – competitive, access to limited resources, many dangers, self-interest, ostracism = death
  • Cooperation leads to trust, especially amongst relatives
  • Fear is our most basic emotion and it guides almost everything we do. Repeated exposure lessens instinctual reactions
  • Novelty is always sought out
  • Reputation, reciprocation and fairness are big human motivators
  • Very painful to lose anything, especially status, once obtained. Higher status linked to higher health and well being
  • People learn their behavior from their culture
  • Assume people will act in their self-interest
  • Don’t blindly imitate/trust others – think rationally and form your own opinions
Part 2 – The Psychology of Misjudgments
  • Outlines 28 reasons for misjudgment. These are never exclusive or independent of each other. Many of these echo similar sentiments to Cialdini’s Influence
    1. Bias from mere association
    2. Underestimating the power of rewards and punishment
    3. Underestimating bias from own self-interest and incentives
    4. Self-serving bias
    5. Self-deception and denial
    6. Bias from consistency tendency (only see things that confirm our already formed beliefs)
    7. Bias from deprival syndrome (strongly reacting when something is taken away)
    8. Status quo bias and do-nothing syndrome
    9. Impatience
    10. Bias from envy and jealousy
    11. Distortion by contrast comparison
    12. Bias from anchoring
    13. Over-influence by vivid or the most recent information
    14. Omission and abstract blindness
    15. Bias from reciprocation tendency
    16. Bias from over-influence by liking tendency
    17. Bias from over-influence by social proof
    18. Bias from over-influence by authority
    19. Sensemaking
    20. Reason-respecting
    21. Believing first and doubting later
    22. Memory limitations
    23. Do-something syndrome
    24. Mental confusion from say-something syndrome
    25. Emotional arousal
    26. Mental confusion from stress
    27. mental confusion from physical/psychological pain, the influence of chemicals or diseases
    28. Bias from over-influence by the combined effect of many psychological tendencies working tougher
  • Behavior can’t be seen as rational/irrational alone – must have context
  • People can take bad news, but we don’t like it late
  • Evaluate things, people and situations by their own merits
  • Past experiences are often context dependent. Just because some stimulus caused you earlier pain, doesn’t mean that is still the case today
  • Create a negative emotion if you want to end a certain behavior
  • Good consequences don’t necessarily mean you made a good decision and bad consequences don’t necessarily mean you made a bad one
  • Frequent rewards, even if smaller, feels better than one large reward
  • The more “precise” people’s projections about the future are, the more wary you should be
  • Munger looks for a handful of things in people – integrity, intelligence, experience and dedication
  • Recognize your limits. How well do you know what you don’t know/ Don’t let your ego determine what you should do
  • Bad news that is true is better than good news that is false
  • People associate being wrong as a threat to their self-interest 
  • Labeling technique – when somebody labels you, whether you agree or not, you are more likely to comply and behave in ways consistent with that label
  • Avoid ideology at all costs
  • “There is nothing wrong with changing a plan when the situation has changed.” – Seneca
  • Base decisions on current situations and future consequences
  • Don’t fall in love with any particular point of view
  • Know your goals and options
  • Remember that people respond to immediate crisis and threats
  • People favor routine behavior over innovative behavior and similarly, people feel worse when they fail as a result of taking action than when they fail from doing nothing
  • Deciding to do nothing is also a decision. And the cost of doing nothing could be greater than the cost of taking an action
  • People give more weight to the present than to the future. We seek pleasure today at a cost of what may be better in the future
  • “We envy those who are near us in time, place, age or reputation.” – Aristotle
  • “The best way to avoid envy is the deserve the success you get.” – Aristotle
  • How we value things depends on what we compare them with
  • Sometimes it is the small, invisible changes that harm us the most
  • Accurate information is better than dramatic information. Back up vivid stories with facts and numbers
  • We see only what we have names for
  • Always look for alternative explanations
  • We see available information. We don’t see what isn’t reported. Missing information doesn’t draw our attention
  • A favor or gift is most effective when it is personal, significant and unexpected
  • Always try to see situations and people from their POV
  • People tend to like their kin, romantic partners and people similar to them more as well as those who are physically attractive. We also like and trust anything familiar
  • Concentrate on the issue and what you want to achieve
  • The vast majority of people would rather be wrong in a group than right in isolation
  • “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • When all are accountable, nobody is accountable
  • Being famous doesn’t give anybody special expertise – beware ads with celebrity endorsements
  • “We don’t like uncertainty. We have a need to understand and make sense of events. We refuse to accept the unknown. We don’t like the unpredictability and meaninglessness. We therefore seek explanations for why things happen. Especially if they are novel, puzzling or frightening. By finding patterns and causal relationships we get comfort and learn for the future.”
    • Consider how other possible outcomes might have happened. Don’t underestimate chance
  • Any reason, no matter how flimsy, often helps persuade others
  • 5 W’s – A rule for communication – must tell who was going to do what, where, when and why.
  • Memory is very selective and fallible – keep records of important events
  • Don’t confuse activity with results. There is no reason to do a good job with something you shouldn’t do in the first place
  • “Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.” – Plato
  • Awareness of ignorance is the beginning of wisdom
  • When we make big decisions, we could compare our expected feelings with those of people who have similar experiences today. In that sense, we are not as unique as we think we are
  • Understand your emotions and their influence on your behavior. Ask – Is there a reason behind my action?
  • Hold off on important decisions when you have just gone through an emotional experience
  • Cooling-off periods help us think things through
  • Stress increases our suggestibility
  • Stress is neither good nor bad in itself. It depends on the situation and our interpretation
  • “I’ve suffered a great many catastrophes in my life. Most of them never happened.” – Mark Twain
  • People tend to overestimate personal characteristics and motives when we explain the behavior of others and underestimate situational factors like social pressure, roles or things over which there are no control
  • The less knowledgeable we are about an issue, the more influenced we are by how it is framed
  • Advice from Munger – can learn to make fewer mistakes than others and how to fix your mistakes faster when you do make them. Were the factors that really govern the interests involved, rationally considered and what are the subconscious influences where the brain at a subconscious level is automatically doing these things – which by and large are useful, but which often mis function. And, take all the main models from psychology and use them as a checklist in reviewing outcomes in complex systems
Part 3 – The Physics and mathematics of Misjudgments
  • 9 Causes of Misjudgment/Mistakes
    1. Systems Thinking
      • Failing to consider that actions have both intended and unintended consequences. Includes failing to consider secondary and higher order consequences and inevitable implications
      • Failing to consider the likely reactions of others
      • Overestimating predictive ability or using unknowable factors in making predictions
    2. Scale and limits
      • Failing to consider that changes in size or time influence form, function and behavior
      • Failing to consider breakpoints, critical thresholds or limits
      • Failing to consider constraints – system’s performance constrained by its weakest link
    3. Causes
      • Not understanding what causes desired results
      • Believing cause resembles its effect – a big effect must have a big, complicated cause
      • Underestimating the influence of randomness in good or bad outcomes
      • Mistaking an effect for its cause
      • Attributing an outcome to a single cause when there are multiple
      • Mistaking correlation for cause
      • Drawing conclusions about causes from selective data
      • Invert, always invert! – look at problems backwards
    4. Numbers and their meaning
      • Looking at isolated numbers – failing to consider relationships and magnitudes. Not differentiating between absolute and relative risk
      • Underestimating the effect of exponential growth
      • Underestimating the time value of money
    5. Probabilities and number of possible outcomes
      • Underestimating the number of possible outcomes for unwanted events. Includes underestimating the probability and severity of rare or extreme events
      • Underestimating the chance of common but not publicized events
      • Believing one can control the outcome of events where chance is involved
      • Judging financial decisions by evaluating gains and losses instead of final state of wealth and personal value
      • Failing to consider the consequences of being wrong
    6. Scenarios
      • Overestimating the probability of scenarios where all of a series of steps must be achieved for a wanted outcome. Also, underestimating the opportunities for failure and what normally happens in similar situations
      • Underestimating the probability of system failure
      • Not adding a factor of safety for known and unknown risks
      • Invest a lot of time into researching and understanding your mistakes
    7. Coincidences and miracles
      • Underestimating that surprises and improbable events happen, somewhere, sometime to someone, if they have enough opportunities (large enough or time) to happen
      • Looking for meaning, searching for causes and making up patterns for chance events, especially events that have emotional implications
      • Failing to consider cases involving the absence of a cause or effect
    8. Reliability of case evidence
      • Overweighing individual case evidence and under-weighing the prior probability considering the base rate or evidence from many similar cases, random match, false positive or false negative and failing to consider relevant comparison population
    9. Misrepresentative evidence
      • Failing to consider changes in factors, context or conditions when using past evidence to predict likely future outcomes. Not searching for explanations to why past outcome happened, what is required to make past record continue and what forces change it
      • Overestimating evidence from a single case or small or unrepresentative samples
      • Underestimating the influence of chance in performance (success and failure)
      • Only seeing positive outcomes and paying little or no attention to negative outcomes and prior probabilities
      • Failing to consider variability of outcomes and their frequency
      • Failing to consider regression – in any series of events where chance is involved unique outcomes tends to regress back to the average outcome
      • Postmortems – Record your mistakes! Instead of forgetting about them, they should be highlighted
        • What was my original reason for doing something?
        • What were my assumptions?
        • How did reality work out relative to my original guess? What worked and what didn’t?
        • What worked well? What should I do differently? What did I fail to do? What did I miss? What must I learn? What must I stop doing?
Part 4 – Guidelines to Better Thinking
  • This section helps provide tools which create a foundation for rational thinking
  • 12 Tools for rational thinking
    1. Models of reality
      • A model is an idea that helps us better understand how the world works. Helps explain “why” and predict “how” people are likely to behave in certain situations
      • Ask yourself, “Is there anything I can do to make my whole mental process work better? And I [Munger] would say that the habit of mastering multiple models which underlie reality is the best thing you can do…It’s just so much fun – and it works so well.”
      • A valuable model produces meaningful explanations and predictions of likely future consequences where the cost of being wrong is high
      • Considering many ideas help us achieve a holistic view. No single discipline has all the answers – need to consider mathematics, physics, chemistry, engineering, biology, psychology and rank and use them in order of their reliability
      • Must understand how different ideas interact and combine
      • Can build your own mental models by looking around you and asking why things are happening (or why things are not happening).
    2. Meaning
      • Truly understand something when “without using the new word which you have just learned, try to rephrase what you have just learned in your own language.”
      • Meaning of words, events, causes, implications, purpose, reason, usefulness
      • “Never express yourself more clearly than you are able to think.” – Niels Bohr
      • Use ideas and terms people understand, that they are familiar with and can relate to
      • We shouldn’t engage in false precision
    3. Simplification
      • “If something is too hard, we move on to something else. What could be more simple than that?” – Charlie Munger
      • Make problems easier to solve. Eliminate everything except the essentials – break down a problem into its components but look at the problem holistically – first dispose of the easy questions
      • Make fewer but better decisions
      • Dealing with what’s important forces us to prioritize. There are only a few decisions of real importance. Don’t bother trying to get too much information of no use to explain or predict
      • Deal with the situations in live by knowing what to avoid. Reducing mistakes by learning what areas, situations and people to avoid is often a better use of time than seeking out new ways of succeeding. Also, it is often simpler to prevent something than to solve it
      • Shifting mental attention between tasks hugely inefficient. Actions and decisions are simpler when we focus on one thing at a time
      • Some important things we can’t know. Other things we can know but they are not important
      • Activity does not correlate with achievement
    4. Rules and filters
      • Gain more success from avoiding stupid decisions rather than making brilliant ones
      • Filters help us prioritize and figure out what makes sense. When we know what we want, we need criteria to evaluate alternatives. Try to use as few criteria as necessary to make your judgment. Then rank them in order of their importance and use them as filters
      • More information does not mean you are better off
      • Warren Buffet uses 4 criteria as filters
        • Can I understand it? If it passes this filter then,
          • Understanding for Buffett means thinking that he will have a reasonable probability of being able to assess where the business will be in 10 years
        • Does it look like it has some kind of sustainable advantage? If it passes this filter,
        • Is the management composed of able and honest people? If it passes this filter,
        • Is the price right? If it passes this filter, we write a check
      • Elimination – look for certain things that narrow down the possibilities
      • Checklist procedures – help reduce the chances of harm (pair with Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto)
        • Should think about – different issues need different checklists, a checklist must include each critical item necessary for “safety” and avoiding “accidents” so we don’t need to rely on memory for items to be checked, readily usable and easy to use, agree with reality
        • Avoid excessive reliance on checklists as this can lead to a false sense of security
    5. Goals
      • How can we make the right decision if we don’t know what we want to achieve? Even if we don’t know what we want, we often know what we don’t want, meaning that our goal can be to avoid certain things
      • Goals should be – clearly defined, focused on results, concrete, realistic and logical, measurable, tailored to individual needs and subject to change
      • Goals need target dates and controls stations measuring the degree to which the goal is achieved
      • Always ask – What end result do I want? What causes that? What factors have a major impact on the outcome? What single factor has the most impact? Do I have the variable(s) needed for the goal to be achieved? What is the best way to achieve my goal? Have I considered what other effects my actions will have that will influence the final outcome?
    6. Alternatives
      • Opportunity cost – every minute we choose to spend on one thing is a minute unavailable to spend on other things. Every dollar we invest is a dollar unavailable for other available investments
      • When we decide whether to change something, we should measure it against the best of what we already have
    7. Consequences
      • Consider secondary and long-term effects of an action
      • Whenever we install a policy, take an action or evaluate statements, we must trace the consequences – remember four key things:
        • Pay attention to the whole system, direct and indirect effects
        • Consequences have implications or more consequences, some which may be unwanted. We can’t estimate all possible consequences but there is at least one unwanted consequence we should look out for,
        • Consider the effects of feedback, time, scale, repetition, critical thresholds and limits
        • Different alternatives have different consequences in terms of costs and benefits. Estimate the net effects over time and how desirable these are compared to what we want to achieve
    8. Quantification
      • How can you evaluate if a decision is intelligent or not if you can’t measure it against a relevant and important yardstick?
      • We need to understand what is behind the numbers
        • Buffett says that return on beginning equity capital is the most appropriate measure of single-year managerial performance
    9. Evidence
      • Evidence helps us prove what is likely to happen or likely to be true or false. Evidence comes from facts, observations, experiences, comparisons and experiments
      • Occam’s Razor – if we face two possible explanations which make the same predictions, the one based on the least number of unproven assumptions is preferable, until more evidence comes along
      • Past record is the single best guide
      • The following questions help decide if past evidence is representative of the future – observation (will past/present behavior continue?), explanation (why did it happen in the past or why does it happen now?), predictability (how representative is the past/present evidence for what is likely to happen in the future?), continuation and change (what is required to make the past/present record continue or to achieve the goal?), certainty and consequences (how certain am I?)
      • Falsify and disprove – a single piece of evidence against something will show that it is false
      • Look for evidence that disproves your explanation and don’t spend time on already disproved ideas or arguments or those that can’t be disproved
      • Engage in self-criticism and question your assumptions
      • Find your mistakes early and correct them quickly before they cause harm
      • The mental habit of thinking backward forces objectivity – because one way  to think a thing through backward is by taking your initial assumption and say, “let’s try and disprove it.” That is not what most people do with their initial assumption. They try and confirm it.
    10. Backward thinking
      • Avoid what causes the opposite of what you want to achieve and thinking backwards can help determine what these actions are
        • Should also make explicitly clear what we want to achieve
      • “Wise men profit more from fools than fools from wise men; for the wise men shun the mistakes of the fools, but fools do not imitate the successes of the wise.” – Cato
    11. Risk
      • Reflect on what can go wrong and ask what may cause this to turn into a catastrophe?
      • Being wrong causes both an actual loss and an opportunity cost
      • To protect us from all unknowns that lie ahead we can either avoid certain situations, make decisions that work for a wide range of outcomes, have backups or a huge margin of safety
    12. Attitudes
      • “Life is long if we know how to use it.” – Seneca
      • Know what you want and don’t want
      • Determine your abilities and limitations. Need to know what we don’t know or are not capable of knowing and avoid those areas
      • Ask – what is my nature? what motivates me? what is my tolerance for pain and risk? what has given me happiness in the past? what are my talents and skills? what are my limitations?
      • Be honest – act with integrity and individuality
      • Trusting people is efficient
      • Act as an exemplar
      • Treat people fairly – must be lovable
      • Don’t take life too seriously – have perspective, a positive attitude, enthusiasm and do what you enjoy
      • Have reasonable expectations – expect adversity
      • Live in the present – don’t emphasize the destination so much that you miss the journey. Stay in the present and enjoy life today
      • Be curious and open minded and always ask “why?”
Appendix
 
Munger Harvard School Commencement Speech 1986
  • Avoid drugs, envy, resentment, being unreliable, not learning from other’s mistakes, not standing on shoulders of giants, giving up, not looking at problems from different POVs, only reading/paying attention to information that confirms your own beliefs
  • Be objective
  • “Disraeli…learned to give up vengeance as a motivation for action, but he did retain some outlet for resentment by putting the names of people who wronged him on a piece of paper in a drawer. Then, from time to time, he reviewed these names and took pleasure in nothing the way the world had taken his enemies down without his assistance.”
Wisdom from Charles Munger and Warren Buffett
  • Appeal to other people’s interests over your own
  • Institutional imperative – tendency to resist change, make less than optimal capital deployment decisions, support foolish initiatives and imitate the actions of peer companies
  • Board of directors have few incentives (unless large owners) to replace CEO
  • Type of people to work with – need intellectual honesty and business owners must care who they sell to
  • Need role models early on
  • Emulate what you admire in others but also be aware of what you don’t like
  • Know your circle of competence
  • Use all available mental models, not just what you’re comfortable with
  • Scale extremely important – efficiencies, information (recognition), psychology (fit in), and in some industries leads to monopolies and specialization
    • Disadvantages of scale – specialization often leads to bureaucracy
  • On what something really means – ask “and then what?” to truly get at somethings core
  • There is a certain natural tendency to overlook anything that is simple and important
  • Avoid commodity businesses
  • Deal only with great people and you will avoid 99% of life’s headaches

Buffett and Munger: A Study in Simplicity and Uncommon, Common Sense by Peter Bevelin

Summary
  1. A very interesting dialogue between Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, the “librarian” and the “seeker” of knowledge. The dialogue discusses how to live a successful, happy and fulfilling life, what to avoid in life and in business and how to improve mental biases and heuristics in order to make better decisions
Key Takeaways
  1. On fatal mistakes, prevention and simplicity
    1. Mistakes are a fact of life
    2. Don’t bother about mistakes that don’t actually matter
    3. Avoiding problems is better than being forced to solve them
    4. If we understand what works and not, we know what to do
    5. It is better to try to be consistently not stupid than to be very intelligent
    6. Thinking backwards is a great tool for solving problems
    7. Keep it simple and make it easy for yourself
    8. The secret is ignorance removal
  2. On what doesn’t work and what does
    1. Find and marry a lousy person
    2. Turn our body and mind into a wreck
    3. Only learn from your own terrible experiences
    4. Use a hammer as your only tool and approach every complex problem as if it was a nail
    5. Go through life with unreasonable expectations
    6. Only take care of your own interest
    7. Blindly trust and follow the recommendations of advisors and salesmen
    8. Mindlessly imitate the latest fads and fashions
    9. Overly care what other people think about you
    10. Let other people set your agenda in life
    11. Live above your means
    12. Go heavily into debt
    13. Go down and stay down when bad things happen
    14. When in trouble, feel sorry for yourself
    15. Be envious
    16. Be unreliable and unethical
    17. Be a jerk and treat people really badly
    18. Have a job that makes you feel miserable
    19. Work with something that goes against your nature and talent
    20. Believe you know everything about everything
    21. Associate with assholes
    22. Distort your problems so they fit your wishes
    23. Stick to, justify and rationalize your actions no matter how dumb they are
    24. Be an extreme ideologue
    25. Make it easy for people to cheat, steal and behave badly
    26. Risk what you have and need, to get what you don’t need
    27. Only look at the sunny upside (over stress the downside)
  3. On what else doesn’t work and what does in business and investing
    1. Invest your money in overpriced assets – preferably businesses without any competitive advantages or future and with lousy and crooked management
    2. If you are a businessman think like an investor and if you’re an investor, think like a businessman
    3. Investing is about where to allocate your capital
    4. Buy “wrongly” cheap productive assets you understand
    5. Things are often cheapest when people are fearful and pessimistic
    6. Be opportunistic and adapt and change when the facts and circumstances change
    7. Stick to businesses where you can assess that their economics is good and getting better
    8. Buy assets protected with a durable competitive advantage run by able and honest people
    9. Understand why it has a moat – the key factors and their permanence
    10. One test of the strength of a moat is essentiality and pricing power
    11. Go in a field, in which you have no interest, not any competence or talent for, no edge in and where the competition is huge
    12. Think about where the business is going to be in the future – not the macro factors
    13. Common sense is better than advanced math and computer models
  4. On filters and rules
    1. The right filters conserve thought and simplify life
    2. Never lose sight of what you’re trying to achieve or avoid
    3. The tune out “folly” filter
    4. The important and knowable filter
    5. The circle of competence filter
    6. The too tough filter
    7. The opportunity cost filter
    8. The “and then what?” filter
    9. The “compared to what?” filter
    10. Checklists help – assuming of we are competent enough to pick the key factors and evaluate them
    11. Have some avoid-rules
    12. Learning never stops
What I got out of it
  1. An incredible book on heuristics, mental biases, how to live, how to not live, what to avoid, the importance of thinking backwards. Highly recommend and will re-read many times moving forward
  • Buffett and Munger have an amazing ability to eliminate folly, simplify things and boil down issues to their essence and get right to the point and focus on simple and timeless truths. Succeed because rational and very seldom let extraneous factors interfere with their thoughts
  • Making better decisions helps avoid a lot of misery
  • Start out with failure and then engineer out its removal
  • Einstein’s razor – things should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler
  • The more basic knowledge you have, the less new knowledge you have to get
  • Seeking Synthesis – always putting things in context and having a latticework mindset, linking the largest areas and using/always adding to your toolbox
  • The very successful say no to almost everything – you must keep control of your time
  • Consistently rub your nose in your own mistakes
  • Best way to avoid envy is to plainly deserve the success you get
  • Set up a system and environment which plays to strengths and minimizes weaknesses
  • Ignorance more often begets confidence than does knowledge
  • There is enormous efficiency in good character. If crooks knew how profitable being honest is, they would be
  • Knowing what you ultimately want to accomplish makes it easier for you to decide what is and is not important
  • Good question for field you know little about – “can you give me a very simple example and explanation for what you’re talking about?”
  • To speak/write clearly is to think clearly – orangutan test
  • Iron rule of nature is you get what you reward for
  • No need for extra analysis – just know what you need to know
  • Attractive opportunities come from capitalizing on human behavior (fear, pessimism, greed)
  • Understanding a business should always be filter #1
  • Best way to understand moats and their key factors and permanence is to study companies who have achieved them
  • Almost always easier to figure out who loses (short horses rather than long autos)
  • Franchise – another word for moats, a product or service that: is needed or desired; is thought by its customers to have no close substitute and; is not subject to price regulation. These three allow a company to regularly price its product or service to earn high ROC. The test of a franchise is what a smart guy with a lot of money could do it if he tried. The real test of a business is how much damage a competitor can do, even if he is stupid about returns
  • Share of mind matters more than share of market
  • Best business by far has high ROC with little need of incremental capital to grow at high rates
  • If you had $1b, could you compete? – silver bullet question (ask CEOs if they could kill one competitor, who would it be and why?)
    • When speaking with management ask “If roles reversed, what would you ask if I were running your business?
  • Northern Pike Model – if you introduce a dominant species, they will soon take over (as WalMart did early on)
  • You don’t have to make money back the same way you lost it
  • It’s simple, to be a winner, work with winners – get great management and let them do their thing
  • if you can detach yourself temperamentally from the crowd, you’ll end up being very successful
  • What is important and knowable? Ignore the rest
  • Wall of Shame for things / investments that have been mistakes (don’t forget to include omissions!)
  • Always consider higher order effects and the implications