Three Things Any Business Can Learn From Steve Jobs and Warren Buffett

It’s hard to know which piece of news of the last 18 hours will have the greatest impact over the long-term. Steve Jobs’ announcement that he is stepping down as Apple’s CEO, or Warren Buffett’s decision to invest $5 billion in Bank of America.

Earlier this year I wrote about the only real failing one could realistically pin on Mr Jobs - the lack of a clear succession plan for when this day finally came. Whether August 24th, 2011 comes to be seen as the day that marked Apple’s zenith, or just another milestone in a company history littered with milestones, remains to be seen of course. Personally, I hope fervently it is the latter.

If this is as good as it gets for Apple, we shall all notice the loss of innovation and inspiration and personal freedom and expression and competitive challenge that he brought. Whether you like or use Apple products or not, he raised the bar to staggering heights for everyone. The long-term implications of that are enormous. 

Warren Buffett’s announcement, however, may in fact be the piece of news with the more far reaching impact on our lives. Stabilizing a financial system that some are saying is showing all the signs of the 2008 crash but with consequences this time that would be far, far greater - there being no money left with which to bail anyone out. 

Which, of course, is what happens when you leave it to committees to solve giant problems. Today, the banks are even bigger, while still operating on foundations designed to support a different economy.

Out of all this uncertainty, however, come three truths that any business leader can learn from. Follow these and you are learning from the best:

  1. Do What You Love.  These men built their success on following their passion, and allowed their natural talents to solve problems they cared about solving. This is not a small thing. Notice how your own creativity emerges, unbidden and unforced to solve problems that really matter to you, and how you then apply those experiences to push yourself further. The trick to doing what you love is getting paid for it. But if you aren’t doing what you love somewhere in your life, there’s no chance that will ever happen. 
  2. Invest in What You Believe. Both people and companies are guilty of showing too little commitment to their beliefs. If you believe in something, put yourself at risk. A least enough to feel the consequences if it doesn’t work the way you expect. If it turns out well, you gain confidence and capital (financial or intellectual) to invest again. If it doesn’t, you have something perhaps even more valuable in the short-term. Knowledge.
  3. Believe in the Power of the Individual. It is argued by many economists that Warren Buffett prevented the collapse of the global economy by choosing to invest in Goldman Sachs at the height of the crisis. If Goldman had gone under, there was no-one - before or since - who could see where the bottom would have ended up. His actions this morning, have sent a wave of relief through the banking industry, and as we all know to our cost, most of the modern economy is driven by confidence.

Steve Jobs’ announcement has raised a central question amongst the millions of words already and still to be written about him. Is it really possible in today’s technological, information driven society that the world’s most valuable company can really be dependent on one man?

The answer, of course, remains to be seen. The fact that it can even be posed is a reminder to all of us that we are capable of more than we know, and restricted only by the magnificence of our dreams.