Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

Warren Buffet’s car

In 1 on April 22, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Warren Buffet often asks “What would you do if you were given a car when you were sixteen, but that car had to last the rest of your life.  How would you treat it?”

He uses this analogy when he is talking about himself, taking care of his body.

Television has been fascinating the past 24 hours in a way that reminds me of Warren Buffet and his car.  Goldman Sachs,  The Financial Reform Bill, Health Care, Food Inc, Tea Parties.  Amazing stuff.  As writer Micheal Lewis said with glee, “This is an extraordinary moment.”

Awhile back, I interviewed the former International Chairman of Goldman Sachs.  What’s he  feeling these days?  In the interview he said something I’ve heard over and over again from people in finance, people who talk about money a lot.  He said “I believe in a meritocracy.”  In other words, you get rewarded for doing good, the right thing, moving the ball down the field.  Money as merit badge.

On Charlie Rose the other night, Aaron Ross Sorkin, a writer for the New York Times asked a simple question.  What was the social utility of what Goldman Sachs was selling?  I have no idea.  But it made me wonder yet again about our definition of work and Warren Buffet’s car.

Does meritocracy mean that those who do the most work, the best work, are rewarded?  Work would be doing those things that make the car work the best for longest amount of time. Work would be done by those who help us keep our car running well.  Work would be done by us– keeping our car tuned.  We need mechanics, we might need some body work, and we need fuel and oil to make the car run and keep it running.  We must also take care of our cars ourselves.  Most of all, it means keeping the car headed in the right direction.

Which leads to the second thing my Goldman Sachs friend said to me.  “Trust is the foundation of our financial system.”

This seems so obvious.  But he was not saying we should blindly trust others.  He was saying that you need people in your life you trust– to know what the right thing to do is and then to be able to do it.  A good mechanic.  A good body guy.  How to care for your own car.  This means you need information about these people, about your car, about yourself.

This moment, the last 24 hours, has been about the importance of good information in the doing of work.  It has been about the recklessness too many of us allow into our lives or personally demonstrate.  We drive our car too fast, don’t maintain it, and leave it in the hands of people we shouldn’t.

The news has reported on food producers and the manipulation of ingredients the same way the tobacco companies manipulated nicotine absorption levels.  The military released findings saying only a small percentage of young people are fit for duty.  As David Boies said about Goldman Sachs, what makes the transactions illegal if they are, is the deception, not the packaging of something designed to fail in and of itself.  The health care debate is often centered around what we do not know or what people are saying that isn’t true.

David Brooks once wrote a column about Ryne Sandberg and his induction into the baseball Hall of Fame.  He argued it came down to one thing– Sandberg did “what he was supposed to do.”

If Brooks is right (though this seems too simple to me) how did Sandberg know what he was supposed to do?  Especially when in my work, in the recent health care debate and the financial crisis, people over and over say “I did what I was supposed to do…” and their voices trail off.  This happened in a CNN interview today with someone who lost her life savings.

At the heart of all of these things is the definition of work– what will keep your car running the best for the longest?

If work is fuel knowing and doing the right thing, what is informing your fuel?  What tells your energy what to do?

Maybe “work” is how well we take care of our car AND what we do with our car.  Too many of us drive too fast, talk on our cell phones or text when we drive, and blast the music so we don’t hear the subtle noises our car makes warning us of trouble.  We say we’re too busy and don’t have enough time.  We don’t take care of our car, but want the government to pay for its repairs.  Worst of all, we don’t know how to tell the owners of new cars (kids) how important it is to take care of their cars, that doing so is part of our work….  Maybe the true work is taking care of our own car, making it last a lifetime, helping others do the same and maybe, just maybe asking for directions sometimes.  And maybe it means slowing down, even pulling over for a while…

Want to change your life, want to get better?

Answer this question.  What informs your energy into work, tells your fuel what to do?   The answer will surprise you.

The key to doing work is knowing what is worth doing and how to do it, not about working harder and consuming more caffeine.  Pretty sure none of us would buy a car that burned oil, got bad gas mileage, did not run smoothly or backfired.

Which brings us back to the purpose of education.

How’s your car running?  Where’s it headed and will it get there?