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Expressing ideas as neatly as Buffett


beerbaron
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My first contact with a Buffett letter was maybe 4 years ago, I did not know anything about the man nor value investing. The only thing I knew was that he was the world's richest man and that he built it's fortune from scratch; which I highly admired. Since then, I have read most of it's life-story, investments thesis and political ideas. But every time I red what he said I went: "I wish I would be able to express my ideas as clearly as he does". It's not it's fortune that makes me sick but the way he is able to transform a complex subject into a childish example that makes perfect sense.

 

I've listened to leadership class, great rhetoric professors or even Dale Carnegie but none of them could give me the tools to express myself as fluently as Buffett does. Did anybody else on this forum try something similar, and what helped them accomplish their goal?

 

BeerBaron

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There are few skills that can't be helped by deliberate practice, and this isn't one of them!

 

Break down what clear speaking means to you into very clear, distinct components.  Then take each of those components and break them down into subcomponents.  Analyze each component of clear speaking and each component's subcomponents.  In your analysis, what do you see as being the key skill or way of thinking for every component and subcomponent?  What can you do to practice that key thing?  Write this all down - each subcomponent, their subcomponents, and the key thing for every component and subcomponent.  Then, with that list, figure out what you can do to practice every key thing.  Then practice every key thing, one at a time, deliberately until you're perfect at each one.  Then bring every subcomponent together into their components and practice them as a whole.  Then bring every component together into the whole of clear speaking and practice everything together as a whole.

 

It's just like a golf swing or skiing.  As a whole, it's complicated.  If you can break it down into parts, practice those parts, and then bring those parts together, it may get a lot simpler, and maybe even natural!

 

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I agree that Warren is great at simplifying complex topics, especially on investing.  Check out L J Rittenhouse's Do Business With People You Can Trust.  There's a great comparison in it of a before and after explanation of a financial strategy in a prospectus.  The "before" version that was in the prospectus was almost incomprehensible.  Warren's "after" version sparkles with clarity.  :)

 

One prerequisite for writing clearly is knowing the subject very well. 

 

Another necessity is to revise, cut and rewrite until it can't be improved anymore.  Even Shakespeare did this.  Warren does this too, and he also has Carol edit his more important communications such as his annual shareholders letter before publication.

 

:)

 

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Interview: Warren Buffett describes his experience with Dale Carnegie Training on the BBC

 

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Buffett

Buffett returned to Omaha and worked as a stockbroker while taking a Dale Carnegie public speaking course.[citation needed] Using what he learned, he felt confident enough to teach an "Investment Principles" night class at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

 

http://www.usefulman.com/2011/04/28/how-to-be-a-warren-buffett-part-ii/

"“I actually have the diploma in the office. And I don’t have my diploma from college. I don’t have my diploma from graduate school, but I’ve got my Dale Carnegie diploma there, because it changed my life.”

 

What knowledge did Buffett learn exactly from Carnegie that he prizes so dearly? Well, like the book says, he  learnt to win friends (lots of them, rich) and influence people (also rich, including government).  He also learnt something not really covered in ‘How To…’ : the art of public speaking.

 

“I was terrified of public speaking when I was in high school and college. I couldn’t do it — I mean, I’d throw up and everything. So I took this Dale Carnegie course. And as soon as I finished it — I was 20 years old — I went out to the University of Omaha and I said I want to start teaching ’cause I wanted to get up in front of people and make sure I didn’t lapse back….”

 

It all comes down to persuasion. Going from a throwing up youth to being a steward of billions of dollars will take a few friends.  Here’s a little nugget: Buffett had seven investment partnerships running before he was 30.  To get that level of trust with other people’s money, at that age, takes some serious persuasive skill.  Just go ahead and try.

 

Buffett had the good fortune of learning from Carnegie in person.  Today there are Carnegie training franchises around the world that teach his principles.  You needn’t wait though.  I recommend reading his classic text now.  Carnegie wrote several great texts such as How To Live Without Fear and Worry, and I suspect Buffett may have read some of these too.  I suggest you do too, and in Part III I’ll move onto the technical and psychological aspects of Buffett’s business philosophy, starting with Buffett’s all-time favourite investing book, Ben Graham’s The Intelligent Investor."

 

edit: in public speaking courses you actually learn some basic principles on how to express yourself clearly, pitch whatever it is you are pitching, what works on an audience and what doesn't etc.  As a side note, from listening to Buffett I got this little tool he is using to simplify and summarize whatever he just said. It goes something like: Now, I'm not saying that [whatever]... I'm saying that [whichever].

 

 

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Interview: Warren Buffett describes his experience with Dale Carnegie Training on the BBC

 

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Warren_Buffett

Buffett returned to Omaha and worked as a stockbroker while taking a Dale Carnegie public speaking course.[citation needed] Using what he learned, he felt confident enough to teach an "Investment Principles" night class at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.

 

http://www.usefulman.com/2011/04/28/how-to-be-a-warren-buffett-part-ii/

"“I actually have the diploma in the office. And I don’t have my diploma from college. I don’t have my diploma from graduate school, but I’ve got my Dale Carnegie diploma there, because it changed my life.”

 

What knowledge did Buffett learn exactly from Carnegie that he prizes so dearly? Well, like the book says, he  learnt to win friends (lots of them, rich) and influence people (also rich, including government).  He also learnt something not really covered in ‘How To…’ : the art of public speaking.

 

“I was terrified of public speaking when I was in high school and college. I couldn’t do it — I mean, I’d throw up and everything. So I took this Dale Carnegie course. And as soon as I finished it — I was 20 years old — I went out to the University of Omaha and I said I want to start teaching ’cause I wanted to get up in front of people and make sure I didn’t lapse back….”

 

It all comes down to persuasion. Going from a throwing up youth to being a steward of billions of dollars will take a few friends.  Here’s a little nugget: Buffett had seven investment partnerships running before he was 30.  To get that level of trust with other people’s money, at that age, takes some serious persuasive skill.  Just go ahead and try.

 

Buffett had the good fortune of learning from Carnegie in person.  Today there are Carnegie training franchises around the world that teach his principles.  You needn’t wait though.  I recommend reading his classic text now.  Carnegie wrote several great texts such as How To Live Without Fear and Worry, and I suspect Buffett may have read some of these too.  I suggest you do too, and in Part III I’ll move onto the technical and psychological aspects of Buffett’s business philosophy, starting with Buffett’s all-time favourite investing book, Ben Graham’s The Intelligent Investor."

 

edit: in public speaking courses you actually learn some basic principles on how to express yourself clearly, pitch whatever it is you are pitching, what works on an audience and what doesn't etc.  As a side note, from listening to Buffett I got this little tool he is using to simplify and summarize whatever he just said. It goes something like: Now, I'm not saying that [whatever]... I'm saying that [whichever].

 

Yes, taking the Dale Carnegie Couse was a turning point for me also in greatly improving my communication and mutual understanding.  One caveat: take the course, but don't buy the recently "updated" edition of How to Win Friends and Influence People.  It's horrible!  It violates every rule of clear communication.  It's almost like taking the clear Buffett version of the statement in the prospectus and turning it into the long winded version that lacks the punch and is hard to understand.

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One prerequisite for writing clearly is knowing the subject very well. 

 

Agreed. You can tell someone has really mastered a subject when they are able to teach it clearly.

 

I think it also helps to have a very broad base of general knowledge and experience on which to draw (i.e. Charlie's mental models), so that you can make useful connections between different subjects. One of Warren's favourite techniques for communicating his ideas is to use analogies and parables that people can relate to. These often come across as "folksy" or "home-spun," but they are incredibly effective tools for simplifying and communicating complex ideas. This is partly because they use concrete examples (vs. abstract theory), partly because they allow people to relate the subject to something they are familiar and comfortable with, and partly because the human brain just seems to be wired to remember stories.

 

Another piece is to know your audience well, and to tailor the message for that audience. I think Warren used to imagine that he was writing his shareholder letters to his sister, who has basically no business or finance training.

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I agree that Warren is great at simplifying complex topics, especially on investing.  Check out L J Rittenhouse's Do Business With People You Can Trust.  There's a great comparison in it of a before and after explanation of a financial strategy in a prospectus.  The "before" version that was in the prospectus was almost incomprehensible.  Warren's "after" version sparkles with clarity.  :)

 

One prerequisite for writing clearly is knowing the subject very well. 

 

Another necessity is to revise, cut and rewrite until it can't be improved anymore.  Even Shakespeare did this.  Warren does this too, and he also has Carol edit his more important communications such as his annual shareholders letter before publication.

 

:)

Sanjeev - We need a "Like" button for posts like the one I am quoting.

 

Additionally, Buffett himself has said that whenever he writes the letter he thinks of it as writing to his sisters.

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Beer,

 

The more and more you talk about it, the better you will be at expressing your ideas.  I remember Mohnish when he first started...not so good.  Today, he's probably one of the best you will hear at expressing investment ideas succintly and poignantly enough, so that both the experienced and novice investor understand completely.  Even alot of what Buffett says is repetition of things he's thought about thousands of times over the last 60-70 years.  I assure you that when Buffett was younger, he was not even remotely as eloquent as he is today...or even 30 years ago.  Cheers! 

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Buffett is one of my favorite people in the world, but if you watch his speeches, he says the same things over and over again. I was watching a speech from 2001 the other day and there were many, many things I've heard several times over in other speeches/writings.

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Buffett is one of my favorite people in the world, but if you watch his speeches, he says the same things over and over again. I was watching a speech from 2001 the other day and there were many, many things I've heard several times over in other speeches/writings.

 

That's a consequence of aging.  When aging sometimes progresses to borderline dementia, expressions often become stereotypical with merely a limited number of stock phrases and pat stories in the repertoire.

 

However, I wouldn't worry too much about Warren in this respect.  His thoughtful remarks at the AGM show that he hasn't lost it, although many of his illustrative anecdotes are canned comments that his fans have often heard several times before.  :)

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Buffett is one of my favorite people in the world, but if you watch his speeches, he says the same things over and over again. I was watching a speech from 2001 the other day and there were many, many things I've heard several times over in other speeches/writings.

 

Those were my thoughts also when I read Parsad's post about Buffett's repetition.  He does so many interviews, speeches and talks now he has no choice but to repeat.  But, that also illustrates his conviction with his beliefs. 

 

He handles being asked the same questions day in, day out remarkable well.  I don't think I would have the patience to answer the same questions over and over again the way he does.  Mind you, he chooses his interviewers well.  If Becky Quick asked me the same questions, I'd probably answer with a smile too.  :)

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Buffett is one of my favorite people in the world, but if you watch his speeches, he says the same things over and over again. I was watching a speech from 2001 the other day and there were many, many things I've heard several times over in other speeches/writings.

 

That's a consequence of aging.  When aging sometimes progresses to borderline dementia, expressions often become stereotypical with merely a limited number of stock phrases and pat stories in the repertoire.

 

However, I wouldn't worry too much about Warren in this respect.  His thoughtful remarks at the AGM show that he hasn't lost it, although many of his illustrative anecdotes are canned comments that his fans have often heard several times before.  :)

 

Isn't it also a function of being asked the same questions over and over again for years/decades? Do you want him to change his answers if his mindset hasn't changed?

 

Having watched him so much I pretty much can tell what his answer is going to be based on the question he's being asked.

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Buffett is one of my favorite people in the world, but if you watch his speeches, he says the same things over and over again. I was watching a speech from 2001 the other day and there were many, many things I've heard several times over in other speeches/writings.

 

If someone followed you around, read a few biographies of you, watched videos of your speeches, saw you on TV, heard recordings, read the books that you have publicly said you have read, read speeches and books by your teachers and colleagues, etc..  They'd probably feel that you got repetitive after a while, especially if you were speaking mostly on just one topic :)

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Buffett is one of my favorite people in the world, but if you watch his speeches, he says the same things over and over again. I was watching a speech from 2001 the other day and there were many, many things I've heard several times over in other speeches/writings.

 

If someone followed you around, read a few biographies of you, watched videos of your speeches, saw you on TV, heard recordings, read the books that you read, etc..  They'd probably feel that you got repetitive after a while, especially if you were speaking mostly on just one topic :)

 

Very true.  At the end of the day, people just don't have innovative or inspirational or unique thoughts very frequently.  Someone like Buffett would have them more often than most.  But most people have a few stock stories and such that they bring out on any one topic.  How many times have you met someone new at work or wherever and your find yourself regurgitating the same stories you've told about your life dozens of times. 

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