Fong on Gates on Buffett

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June 15, 2013 by juicefong

Warren Buffett and I think the same way about our time! The only difference between us is a mere $60 billion (as of 2013).

Bill Gates joined LinkedIn on Thursday, and promptly wrote a beautiful and short piece on Warren Buffett: “Three Thing’s I’ve Learned From Warren Buffett.

I liked all three things that Gates pointed out, but in thinking about the recent soliloquy on my way of operating, a particular passage struck me as highly resonant. This came under the heading “Know how valuable your time is:”

No matter how much money you have, you can’t buy more time. There are only 24 hours in everyone’s day. Warren has a keen sense of this. He doesn’t let his calendar get filled up with useless meetings. On the other hand, he’s very generous with his time for the people he trusts. He gives his close advisers at Berkshire his phone number, and they can just call him up and he’ll answer the phone.

Gates is right. Two of the world’s richest men still can’t buy more time (#firstworldproblems). And so, I love the way Buffett is described: doesn’t fill his calendar with useless meetings; gives his time freely to those he trusts; takes calls out of the blue from close advisers. I think Buffett is successfully mimicking the Juice Fong way!

Don’t fill up your calendar with useless meetings: I walk by a couple glass-walled conference rooms several times during the day to get to our kitchenette at the office. I often look inside those rooms and see people in meetings who look miserably bored out of their minds. Man, that has to suck. Maybe you guys don’t have to meet—have you considered that?

I think a lot of people (especially younger folks) feel more important when they’re part of a meeting, so they like to fill their calendars up and look all special. Could you just handle that on your own? Does it really require all these people? Does it really require YOU? Meanwhile, many senior-level people probably don’t relinquish enough trust to others, so they have their noses in everything…and they’ve gotten used to pressing the mute button to blow their nose, because they’re in back-to-back meetings all day and can’t get up to go to the bathroom.

I just looked on my own calendar for the work week that just past: I had exactly 6 hours of scheduled meeting time, all of them 30 minutes. The rest of the week, save for a one-hour call I host with our CEOs, was completely free for me to use however I want (#sweeeeeeeet). If you want to learn how, come talk to me.

For people you trust, be generous with your time: One of the most important ways I can spend my time is for my own people. These are the folks who are doing the most important work and if they need me, I always make myself available. My job is to help them work through a roadblock, advise them on how to proceed with a certain project, or push them to be greater and greater. The worst thing I can do is be a hard-to-reach bottleneck who slows down the pace they’re trying to keep. Isn’t it annoying when you’re waiting for days to hear back from someone? Don’t be that guy.

Give people your number and let them call you: Looks like Buffett also stole a page right out of my playbook on this, where his close advisors have his number to call him up whenever. Know what, Warren? I’ve one-upped you! If you’ve received an email from me, you’ve seen a simple signature that includes my cell phone number and “call anytime” right next to it. It’s one thing to list your phone number on your email signature, but recently I took it one step further to ensure people know they can call me whenever they want if they need something.

Guess what—it works. If people are desperate enough to need my advice, they can call me at any time, and I want them to. We accomplish a lot of things very quickly like this. And, it’s fun. You don’t know who’s going to call but when you hang up a few minutes later, you feel like you’ve accomplished something and really helped someone out. Otherwise, this happens:

  • On Monday, you email Justin to explain what you’re working on and why you want his time/advice, and ask him if he has 30 minutes to discuss (something that actually only requires 10 minutes) later in the week.
  • Justin replies and says, “Yes—I’ve got lots of free time.”
  • You set up a nifty little Outlook calendar invite, double-check the details and send it along to Justin.
  • He accepts your invite for 30 minutes, to occur that Friday.
  • The day before, you realize some other meeting with three other people has been rescheduled over this one, so you email Justin to see if you can move your meeting to the following Monday.
  • Justin replies and says, “No problem.”
  • You re-send the invite for Monday and he accepts.
  • On Monday you get on the phone with Justin and it doesn’t really start until about 2 minutes in because no one really calls right at 10:30, and it’s totally acceptable to have a couple minutes buffer.
  • Then you spend the next 5 minutes bull-shitting about your weekends.
  • By now you’re actually ready to talk about whatever it is you wanted to talk about. It only takes about 10 minutes, but you’re watching the clock.
  • It’s 10:47 and you have two decisions: You can either 1) fill up the remaining 13 minutes with meaningless talk that makes you feel good because you’re technically “busy on phone meeting,” (i.e. you are important) or you can 2) decide to end the call and say something like, “Well let me give you 13 minutes back” because people think of their time so rigidly around here and they’re good at quick mental math…

Wouldn’t it just be easier if you picked up the phone and called me? The whole process above took a week to resolve something small. You probably took 10 minutes between composing an email, making and adjusting the calendar invite. And meanwhile, the whole discussion only needed 10 minutes to begin with. You’re wasting your time and you’re wasting my time by going through this rigid process of emails and calendar invites. Time to cut out the fat and go back to calling people. (I basically described this under “Play loose” and “Make sh*t happen” in my post the other day.)

So as you can see, I’m just like Warren Buffett.

Justin Fong (@jgfong) heads the small but mighty internal communications team at Teach For America. This morning he admired Buster Posey’s three doubles last night against the Braves. You can too.

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