“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because somebody planted a tree a long time ago” – Warren Buffet
On the Money: Alan Steel
Now that we’re a few days into 2020 I wonder how many of you have already given up on your New Year Resolutions ? According to a bunch of statisticians with too much time on their hands, every year most of us last a maximum of eight days in January before deciding “You know what? Let’s just wait until next year (again) before dumping our bad habits for better ones. It’s only a year after all. Plenty time. Another year will no make any difference.”
Why is it so many of us play this game? Year after year we’re drawn into short-term thinking instead of playing the long game. It turns out our brains are still wired for instant hits rather than delayed gratification, such as bothering to plan ahead for superior benefits.
How come? If you think about it, our brains have evolved slowly over thousands of years. Our ancestors lived through times when following immediate urges were crucial to their survival. Let’s face it if our distant ancestors got the chance to eat, mate and so on; it made sense to grab any opportunity. They might not get another chance. “I could be deid the morn” as my grannie used to say, and that wasn’t that long ago.
So we’re still wired for instant gratification. Too many of us live in the moment now because for thousands of years it was drummed into us that survival was the priority, not long term planning.
If you want to know more about this I recommend the ebook by Sam Kyle , Playing the Long Game, available online for less than the cost of a pint of beer, or for those attempting a Dryanuary, cheaper than a latte, and can be read inside an hour if you can ignore Facebook for that long.
Let me tell you a true story about the long game. In Summer 2007, my wife and I were having breakfast in a waterfront hotel in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Into the dining room burst this old chap, a real character, full of fun and chat. He flitted from table to table spreading loud laughter around the room. When he came to our table he asked where we were from and apologised for interrupting our quiet breakfast. Then he explained that having survived a brain tumour and an aneurism, he was making the most of any time he had left to enjoy life and add laughter and fun to the lives of others.
After he left the dining room the chap at the next table asked if we knew who that was? We said we had no idea. “that’s Wayne Gretzky’s dad” he replied. “Who’s Wayne Gretzky” we stupidly asked. “What? You have never heard of Wayne , the finest ice hockey player EVER in the history of the game?” Seems we’d struck a nerve there. Oops.
So we did some homework. Google Wayne Gretzky and you’ll learn what can happen by playing the long game. Because it turns out that the world’s best-ever ice hockey player wasn’t born with any superior skills or special attributes like strength, physique or even speed. Apparently, he was shorter, lighter and slower than average. But his dad Walter coached him day after day to concentrate on skating to where the puck was going to be, not where it’s been. So Wayne concentrated on being at least two steps ahead. And became the best ever in his sport. And still revered to this day.
Years and years of him following a long-game strategy paid off big-style. By the way, his dad Walter, now 81 is still alive and despite further health issues, I bet he’s still making others laugh and feel good. Have you noticed that radiators have more fun than drains? And if you walk around New York do remember that every skyscraper isn’t there thanks to drains and other short-term addicts. Same goes for the world’s great companies, and long haul successful fund managers like Warren Buffett.
Another example of a dad inspiring his son is that of Gabriel Perot. Gabriel was a cotton trader who gave his son, Ross Perot, a number of maxims of long game thinking for him to follow throughout his life. Such as ……
“Meet obstacles or meet failure”
“Diamonds are chunks of coal that stuck to their job”
“No matter how small your lot is in life, there’s room enough on it for a service station”
“You cannot dream yourself into a character. You have to hammer away and forge yourself into one”
“If you spend too much time thinking about what could happen, you’ll spend too little making things happen”
His son clearly paid heed to the maxims. When Ross Perot died aged 81 he was worth over $4 billion.
My dad used to say “if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right, no matter what it is”. He built furnaces as a fireclay bricklayer. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a brickie building walls or an IFA building futures, doing it right makes the difference. Stick by it over the long haul and it’s remarkable what you’ll achieve for yourself, and far more importantly, for others.
While you’re thinking about all that, think about planting some trees. And one day the shade will be really appreciated by someone else. Pass it on.
Alan Steel is chairman of Alan Steel Asset Management
Alan Steel Asset Management is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. This article contains the personal views of Alan Steel and should not be construed as advice. Do check your individual circumstances with your advisers.