Circle of Competence

Brain gears and cogs. Mental illness, psychology, invention andThis past weekend, my family and I trekked back to Omaha, Nebraska, for our 13th annual “pilgrimage” to visit the Oracle of Omaha; that is, we attended yet another Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholders Meeting.  As ever, it did not disappoint.  And, once again, as the leaders of the BRK cult, Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, made their way on stage, their adoring fans (myself among them)… um, that is, shareholders… greeted them with a standing ovation and raucous applause.  Warren’s response, “Welcome to the 50th Annual Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders’ Meeting.  I’m Warren and this is Charlie.”

Each year, when I see these two together, I marvel at the duration of their business partnership, the friendship they have built, the fierce way with which they rush to one another’s defense… we should all seek to have relationships like this one.

As such, I want to call to the attention of the CLC community a concept often associated with Warren Buffett that is not new, but which bears fresh consideration in the context of networking; that is, one’s “circle of competence.”

In his 1996 letter to shareholders, Buffett remarked,

“What an investor needs is the ability to evaluate selected businesses.  Note that word ‘selected’: You don’t have to be an expert on every company, or even many.  You only have to be able to evaluate companies within your circle of competence.  The size of that circle is not very important; knowing its boundaries, however, is vital.”

Then, in a talk I heard last week, Janet Lowe, author of the book, Damn Right: Behind the Scenes with Berkshire Hathaway Billionaire Charlie Munger, said that, when they met, “Warren expanded Charlie’s circle of competence.”  I don’t know; perhaps Ms. Lowe was specifically talking about Warren’s insight on good investment opportunities, but I’m not so sure.  Yes, when Warren Buffett thinks about circle of competence as he articulated in that 1996 letter, he was specifically focused on investment insight, but I believe this concept has far reaching implications for every part of our lives.

So, in the context of networking, think about the people with whom you surround yourself.  Are they feeding you more of the same information and experiences and ideas as those you already possess?  Do they have the same knowledge set, skills and areas of expertise as you do?  If so, okay.  Certainly, they are probably important friends, business associates and acquaintances, but, what are they doing to expand your mind, shift your perspective or give you new ideas to consider?  And, on the flip side, for whom are you expanding his/her circle of competence?  It is, likewise, your responsibility to serve in this capacity for others.

So, think about it, who in your own network expands your circle of competence?  Who in your network do you want on your team because they enrich you with fresh ideas, new concepts, additional ways of thinking?  Who is it who challenges your way of thinking and helps you to think more creatively?  Once you’ve identified them, why not reach out and get together for a visit simply to get a little intellectual stimulation?  If you can’t think of anyone, time to broaden your network and expand your circle of competence.

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