RWH010: High-Performance Habits w/ Guy Spier (Part 2)
RWH010 : HIGH-PERFORMANCE HABITS
W/ GUY SPIER
09 July 2022
In this episode, William Green speaks with Guy Spier, a renowned hedge fund manager who has beaten the S&P 500 by almost 250 percentage points since launching the Aquamarine Fund in 1997. Guy is also the author of a classic memoir, “The Education of a Value Investor.” This conversation has been divided into two episodes. Here, in Part 2, Guy discusses the high-performance habits that helped him become a successful investor and create a truly abundant life.
IN THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL LEARN:
How Guy Spier deals with the many competing demands on his time and energy.
Why it’s vital to have clarity about your life mission and to structure your life around it.
Why it’s helpful to write your own obituary or funeral speech.
What strategies help Guy to focus better and handle the challenge of having ADHD.
How to construct an environment that enables you to think calmly and deeply.
How Guy structures his reading and why he routinely sends notes to his “future self.”
Why he owns a minuscule quantity of about 100 stocks.
Why he believes the real key to learning is to nurture relationships with the right people.
What guiding principles help him to decide how to manage his time.
Why he reads great novels and studies mathematics, instead of living a narrower life.
What you should optimize for in life. Hint: it’s not money.
What advice Guy has on how to compound goodwill.
Why the best path to success and happiness is to focus heavily on lifting up other people.
What he learned from Jordan Peterson about the unexpected power of telling the truth.
Disclaimer: The transcript that follows has been generated using artificial intelligence. We strive to be as accurate as possible, but minor errors and slightly off timestamps may be present due to platform differences.
William Green (00:00:03):
Hi, folks. Welcome to part two of my conversation with Guy Spier. If you didn’t get a chance to listen to part one already, you may want to listen to that episode first.
William Green (00:00:12):
As I’m sure you know by now, Guy is the manager of the Aquamarine Fund and the author of a wonderfully candid memoir titled The Education of a Value Investor. He’s beaten the market by a significant margin over the last 25 years, which is a rare and impressive feat given just how difficult it is to outperform over really long periods of time.
William Green (00:00:34):
In this part of our conversation, we talk in depth about some of the high-performance habits that have helped Guy to build a successful investment career. Among other things, he explains how he’s created an environment in which he can think calmly and deeply. He talks about various strategies that have helped him to focus despite the challenge of having ADHD.
William Green (00:00:54):
He explains how he structures his life around a clear and defined mission, how he nurtures the right relationships, and why he’s so committed to being radically truthful. We also discuss his belief that the best part to success and happiness is to focus heavily on lifting up other people. Thanks so much for joining us. I hope you enjoy this episode.
You’re listening to the Richer, Wiser, Happier podcast, where your host William Green interviews the world’s greatest investors and explores how to win in markets and life.
William Green (00:01:28):
I wanted to ask you a bit about the downside of opening yourself up to everyone and trying to be kind to everyone and all of the reciprocation issues that come up, because it seems to me you’re putting yourself out there in so many different ways. You write white papers, you put out a newsletter, you’re active on Twitter and LinkedIn and the like, and you’re on podcasts like this a lot. Then people come to you and ask you to mentor them or ask you for advice.
William Green (00:02:04):
Because you’re a decent bloke and you want to be loved and you’re kind and all of these things, you’re bombarded with stuff, with people encroaching on your time and your space. I remember you saying to me recently, you said, “I’ve had this spate of people coming at me from every angle, wanting help, wanting advice, wanting money,” stuff like that.
William Green (00:02:24):
I’m wondering how you deal with that, because I’m wrestling with this a lot personally, where I just feel overwhelmed by the increasing complexity in my life partly that followed my book coming out, partly that followed this podcast coming out. But if you’re getting masses of messages over Twitter and LinkedIn and your website and stuff, and you really want to help people and you really want to be decent to people and you want to respond when people are really kind to you, it’s really tough because you have this sense that you’re failing the whole time. You’re dropping the ball the whole time.
William Green (00:02:55):
And so, I heard you asking something similar when you were interviewing someone on your podcast recently, and I don’t think they felt the same pain that we do. So I’m wondering how you grapple with this question.
Guy Spier (00:03:07):
The first and easy answer is to say not very well for all of the above reasons. I think that what comes up for me as you’re asking the question is that if I have clarity about what my mission is in life, then I at least can have a better plan to deal with it.
Guy Spier (00:03:25):
I think that even more than that, if the mission is the right mission, you might be lucky enough to attract people into your life who’ll help you to deal with it. I think that my mission on the business side has been to build a successful fund to protect family wealth, to compound wealth.
Guy Spier (00:03:41):
As you were talking, I say, well, if you take that one step further and say I want to build great businesses, now there’s, first of all, that in the interest of growing wealth and protecting wealth and ensuring something that lasts more than a couple of generations, then I have a template of which I can engage with those people, and potentially, to the extent that I’ve been able to attract staff, can also engage with those people.
Guy Spier (00:04:08):
And so, now you’re not responding to them as the celebrity with his fan base, which I can tell you is an extraordinarily shallow experience and not really worth very much at all, that even in our little world of publishing and authoring is a little bit heady and overwhelming at first and very shallow very quickly. But then you can engage with them and say, “Look, it’s so nice that you want to feel touched by me or you want to engage with me. Here’s my life mission. Do you want to join me? Here are the ways you can join me on my life mission.” And so, then they become a part of your army in life, your team, the people who are going to help you to get where you’re going, if you like.
Guy Spier (00:04:51):
I think that my answer is to get quite strategic about it and to say, “Well, what am I trying to achieve here?” They’re coming at you for a reason. If it’s just about your ego, if you have the misfortune of thinking about it so narrowly that it’s just about your ego, first of all, it will be an increasingly shallow experience. Second of all, it’s not going to get you very far. Sooner or later, those people are going to be turned away.
Guy Spier (00:05:14):
But if you can make them a part of your movement, if you like, your tribe, and the tribe’s got to be about more than just self-perpetuation, then I think that it can become a very meaningful experience.
Guy Spier (00:05:24):
I try to offer as many internships as I can to people who come at me at that stage in life. I make them very short. They’re only two weeks long for the most part. I tell them, “Look, this is enough for you to experience the environment that I’ve tried to create around me in Zurich and enough time for me to experience you in such a way that I can write a genuine letter of reference if you ever need it. I’ll be happy to do that when you need it,” which makes them happy. I mean a problem there is that it’s just not scalable. There’s just only so many people that you can have around.
Guy Spier (00:05:54):
I think that, interestingly enough, William, so you were there at that. I think that you came to the meet and greet that we had. What I experienced at the meet and greet was that it was a nice event at the Berkshire meeting, but what we’re going to do next year at the meet and greet is have people give five-minute talks. So it’s going to be have an educational component to it rather than just a networking component to it.
Guy Spier (00:06:17):
I think that that’s really the strategic way to deal with it, William. In a certain way, I think it’s an interesting question for you. So notice, audience, how I’m turning this around and making this about William rather than about me, is to say, well, actually, what is my William Green’s life mission? What do I want my life from here forward to be about? What are like some attractive endpoints for me, because that will help you to deal with and structure the way people come in at you.
Guy Spier (00:06:42):
I think that, interestingly enough, William, even if you don’t have staff, I’m very impressed by people who have … David Perell is the first guy who I saw do it. It started with Derek Sivers, who started with his now movement. Rather than having a start page on your website, you have a now page.
Guy Spier (00:06:59):
These are the things that I’m working on, so that when you attract an audience, when you attract a fan base, hopefully they’ll get to your now page, and then they see what you’re up to. It’ll help them to decide how they want to engage with you and you get a productive engagement.
Guy Spier (00:07:14):
There’s another guy who works at Stripe called Patrick McKenzie, who wrote a blog post effectively on … He writes and he says, “I like to receive emails, especially about software, because I love building software. If you want to write me an email about software, here’s how you should go about doing it. Here’s how you’re likely to get a response. I’m not promising a response to every single email.” So he tells people how to engage with him.
Guy Spier (00:07:40):
Then David Perell, basically his now page is effectively a start here, which basically says, “I don’t know who you are and I don’t know what you bring to the table, but here’s how you can engage with me in a productive way, if you like.” That’s all structured around one’s life mission. I think that what you and I … Probably we do realize it now, but we didn’t five years ago is that I think that you and I would want to be educators, even if there was no money in it.
Guy Spier (00:08:05):
So there is just a certain joyfulness of seeing the world unfold in a certain way. So that is certainly part of my life mission. Life is better when I feel like people have learned something around me. Building financial security, building a successful fund, building successful businesses, those are all life missions.
Guy Spier (00:08:23):
I think that what’s really interesting … It’s an interesting exercise to do. So I have a document that I won’t share it with the world, but I’ll have … I don’t know, maybe I have shared it with you, is that you want to make your life mission, the document that you write, to be one that you can share with as many people as possible. I think that what often happens is the first time we write these things, we don’t want to show it to anyone because it’s personal.
Guy Spier (00:08:44):
But to the extent what differentiates extraordinary successes from less extraordinary successes is that Mahatma Gandhi was willing to share his life mission with the world. To the extent merely sharing what your mission is becomes a way of achieving it and structuring the incoming hoards, if you like.
Guy Spier (00:09:00):
Sorry, I want to loop back to something in our destination analysis. A really extraordinarily powerful exercise for any of us to do is to write our own obituary or to write our own funeral speech. When you go, what would you like your best friend to say about you at your funeral is a good example of destination analysis.
Guy Spier (00:09:22):
I think that I’ve gotten to that more meaningful and nuanced approach to fan base or people coming in at me, and I’m sorry that it took so long, because I think that my initial reaction, it all started around publishing the book, was I just wanted to sell more copies of the book.
Guy Spier (00:09:39):
And so, I engaged with people in the hope that they’d buy more copies of the book, because I was desperate to … In part I wanted for it to be a success and in part my ego was involved. I morphed into something a little bit more spiritual and better for the long term, but I should have morphed into that sooner and earlier, if you like.
William Green (00:09:59):
There’s a slightly related question that I wanted to ask you about ADHD. As I mentioned in my book, one of the challenges for you has been, I guess, how to focus on the right things, whether it’s investing or family or whatever, while also dealing with this somewhat debilitating challenge to focus.
William Green (00:10:18):
You recently have been telling me that I have ADHD as well, and I have no idea. I certainly have some attentional issues that I try to remedy with about 15 cups of coffee a day.
William Green (00:10:28):
Stacy Smith, who sent a question to me on Twitter, I got something like a hundred questions for you on Twitter, as you may have seen, which is amazing. Stacy said, “My question is does he think having ADHD has been additive to his success? Perhaps it’s an evolutionary advantage accompanied by a gift. Obviously the energy has to be channeled, but there is usually no shortage of it.”
William Green (00:10:48):
I think it’s a really interesting question, like how you coped with having ADHD, what workarounds you’ve had to come up with to deal with it and whether it has, in some ways, been additive to your success.
Guy Spier (00:11:01):
I am not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, although in a different life, I would’ve loved to have been. I think it’s a really interesting place to live one’s life. But my understanding is that these are all labels, and we have to be very careful with labels. At the end of the day, every brain is unique. Every mind is unique.
Guy Spier (00:11:19):
And so, I’m happy to have the label ADHD. But the label probably doesn’t communicate very much. So every person has it differently. There’s enough commonalities between the people who are labeled ADHD for it to be called something. But at the end of the day, when we come to individuals, we shouldn’t assume that they’re the standard ADHD.
Guy Spier (00:11:38):
In my case, I rejected the diagnosis, if you like, for about 20 years. I just said, well, this is all total garbage. But I eventually came, and actually through some things that happened recently, I started to realize that it did really strike home.
Guy Spier (00:11:53):
But the one thing for me is that when I’m in highly structured environments and environments that put me under a lot of pressure, then I can become hyperfocused. So I can become hyperfocused on something that’s deeply interesting to me and I can become hyperfocused when I’m under an enormous amount of pressure.
Guy Spier (00:12:10):
In my last or second to last year at university, I got threatened with being sent down because I was performing so badly in my college collections college exams. I was really fearful. It was something that I really didn’t want to happen. I become unbelievably disciplined and unbelievably focused. Sometimes it’s not attention deficit, but it’s inconsistent attention, if you like.
Guy Spier (00:12:32):
I guess I’m just drawing Stacy’s attention to the fact that, at the end of the day, we have to learn how each of individual minds functions. I think that at times when I’ve been hyperfocused, either because I’ve been super fearful or because I’ve been super interested, quite surprising at what I’ve been able to achieve. It’s a shame that I haven’t spent more time in that state because I would’ve been able to achieve more.
Guy Spier (00:12:56):
The book was certainly written around that state. I was just so fearful of getting to the end of the process without having a … Even before you came into the picture, I could not have gotten that manuscript out without being in that state of fearful discipline, which is not my normal state.
Guy Spier (00:13:12):
So I think that that’s made a contribution, but I think that to the extent that I’ve achieved some kind of financial security and independence, actually it’s been an even bigger handicap, because now there’s no motivation, if you like.
Guy Spier (00:13:25):
So one way of thinking of me is like I’m the guy in the hunter-gatherer village who sits around doing not much, who’s useless for everything, and is bored. Then suddenly he discovers that there’s a mammoth walking around, and he gets super focused. Every now and then one in three mammoths, he actually manages to bring home. People think, “Oh, that’s what he was useful for.” Then he sits around doing nothing for another N amount of time until another mammoth shows up in the pictures. What could happen if you had more consistent attention? Yeah, I hope that’s helpful.
Guy Spier (00:13:54):
In terms of workarounds, the workarounds for me have been endless, if you like. I think that ultimately the biggest workarounds for me are an extraordinary wife, Lory, who at first didn’t want to accept that this was a real thing, like me, and we’ve come to understand.
Guy Spier (00:14:12):
So there are plenty of things that I forget, overlook, and it can be really annoying to live with that. Part of Lory being willing to live with it is me taking full responsibility for the bits of it that I can control, because there’s an element to it where people use it as a crutch or they use it as an excuse. In some cases I just have to damn well make myself focus because, otherwise, life’s miserable for my wife.
Guy Spier (00:14:37):
But to have a wife who understands, who’s a teammate with me, around how we organize the house, how I organize my day. I need clean surfaces. It’s not enough for me to remember to take a particular medication. I need it right in front of me every day when I brush my teeth. If it’s not right in front of me, I will forget. Having a physical environment …
Guy Spier (00:14:59):
So interestingly enough, in The Education of a Value Investor, an element of me wanting to structure the physical environment has got nothing to do with trying to be a good investor and so much to do with just not wanting to be distracted.
Guy Spier (00:15:11):
The second huge workaround is an assistant in the office who is fully engaged with those handicaps and understands that it’s part of her job to help me with those handicaps. But she cannot do that job well, neither can Lory, if they don’t have somebody like me who’s willing to fully acknowledge and own the bits of it that I can’t control and also to own the bits of it that I can control. It’s demotivational to be around somebody who you’re pretty sure they can control something, but they just can’t be bothered to.
Guy Spier (00:15:39):
Over and above that, the coffee is certainly self-medication. If you take medication, which I’ve been having wonderful experience with, as we said at the beginning of this talk, I’m on 20 milligrams of Vyvanse, or in the UK, it’s called Elvanse. William, you have the right to ask me forever into the future, “Guy, have you taken your meds?”
William Green (00:15:58):
Well, what’s funny, what our listeners won’t know is that right before we started talking, before we read a little Zohar, Guy said to me … Yeah, yeah, I asked Guy, “Are you bringing your A game,” and he said, “Yeah, yeah. I took some Vyvanse.”
William Green (00:16:10):
I looked at him and said, “Guy, I know you so well. I know that you took them,” because there were moments where we were working on the book together where we would be sitting in your living room in Zurich, for example … I mean we worked on it in many places, including Israel and … I can’t remember where else, but Connecticut, Greenwich, Connecticut.
William Green (00:16:27):
But I would look at you and you would have your laptop on your lap and I could just see your eyes wandering. I would be like, “Guy, step away from your keyboard. Close the computer,” because I could just see your attention wandering. So the drugs have clearly helped.
Guy Spier (00:16:43):
But that’s something that I only started doing the last month or two. I got to a place where I just said I actually want to try what it’s like with drugs, and I’d never really taken them. This dose, what was explained to me by an extraordinary guy, Dr. Ned Hallowell, is that he said, “Look, this is just like taking your morning coffee. But what you’ll find is this is more effective than morning coffee.”
Guy Spier (00:17:03):
And so, you’ll find that instead of wanting to drink 15 cups a day, as you said, you’ll want to drink less coffee. This thing will get your attention where you want it without your heart palpitating and having sleepless nights because you’ve drunk too much caffeine and all sorts of other things.
Guy Spier (00:17:18):
It’s only been the last month or two that I’ve been taking it consistently. I don’t really notice the difference. It’s a really low dose. But at the office, and you’re the second person at the office, they say, “Oh, we see a big difference. We see a huge, huge difference.”
William Green (00:17:31):
Yeah, you are locked in a way. Yeah, you’re just locked in. I can see it in your face. You’re locked in a way that you wouldn’t be otherwise.
Guy Spier (00:17:42):
William Green (00:17:42):
But one of the things that I worry about is I think part of your brilliance, and my moderate talent, is that our minds are all over the place and that we make connections between things that aren’t necessarily linear and logical. I do think that’s a part of the gift of having a nonlinear, slightly scattered, very creative mind. I’m asking this completely out of ignorance. I do feel like any of that goes, like when you try to medicate more so that it’s more directed.
Guy Spier (00:18:10):
So I think that the fear that you’re going to have a fundamental aspect of your personality changed when you take a medication that’s not a pain medication, for example, and is temporary is certainly a fear. That may be a part of why I had been told that I ought to try it to see what life is like with it and I was like, “No, I’m not doing that.”
Guy Spier (00:18:29):
Funnily enough, a friend has been asked to deliver a talk on the future of Judaism, and he sent me an early draft. It’s raised some really interesting questions for me. Normally, I would not really be able to focus on those questions and now I am able to focus. I do want to think them through and I have been thinking them through and I’ve been doing some reading around the subject.
Guy Spier (00:18:50):
I don’t think that I would’ve been able to engage with those questions, which I’m really interested in but not that much, in that focused way. So I think that you’re expressing a fear, but the impact is far more hard to tell and diffused. It’s not like something that, oh, it takes away your creativity or something like that.
Guy Spier (00:19:08):
I certainly don’t understand the medication. What I understood from my recent visit to the psychiatrist was that you have to take it consistently, but you take it early in the morning and the effect lasts about eight hours. So if you like, William, every evening, my body is Vyvanse-free, if you like.
William Green (00:19:28):
On a related subject, one of the things that had a huge impact on me when we were working on The Education of a Value Investor was you talked to me about wanting your mind to be like a calm pond so that you could see the ripples. You talked about how you created a physical environment that helped you to think calmly and deeply.
William Green (00:19:48):
I was looking at some old notes from a conversation that we had had years ago, and you said the best ideas require you to think slowly and deeply. I’m wondering if you could talk a bit more about how to create an environment in which you can think in this very long term way that we’ve been discussing, where you’re looking for businesses that occupy the economic high ground, where you’re thinking about long-term destinations, where you’re trying to build an honorable and decent life, where you’re not so caught up in the dopamine hits of constantly checking email and Twitter and WhatsApp notifications and stuff. What’s worked for you in trying to construct a calm environment?
Guy Spier (00:20:28):
My thinking and understanding has actually evolved quite a lot since and mostly in the last couple of years. It actually starts with this idea of space repetition. There’s this idea that … I hate to tell you where I first saw it, William, because it was on the blog of Dominic Cummings.
Guy Spier (00:20:52):
Those of us who connected to British politics or who observe British politics, most of us don’t feel much happiness or admiration when we think of Dominic Cummings, because he’s actually a contemporary of mine, of William, of mine and Williams at Oxford, although I never met him. He was the genius behind Brexit and he was an advisor to Prime Minister Boris Johnson for a while. And so, he’s hated for being the guy who engineered the Brexit vote in the UK. But I can tell you that his blog, he’s got a fine mind and a voracious mind.
Guy Spier (00:21:24):
And so, what is the idea of space repetition? The idea is that when you want to learn something, you need to repeat it frequently early on when it’s not well-wired into your brain. But the more well it’s embedded in your brain, the less frequently you need to repeat it. But you shouldn’t ever stop repeating it. The periods between the repetition is extended over time.
Guy Spier (00:21:47):
And so, what on earth has this got to do with investing? The key is that when you’re sitting in front of the computer, interruptions abound and opportunities to examine new pieces of information or to read new things abound. So now what I’ve done is on the other side of my computer, with no monitor visible, I will structure my reading into … I’m constantly printing stuff out on the computer side and asking for things to be printed out. Then on the non-computer side, I’m structuring my reading into so now, next few weeks, and sometime.
Guy Spier (00:22:22):
And so, I will read through things, consider them, and then decide whether I want a reminder for myself to read this in a few weeks again, or maybe read it sometime, meaning maybe six months down the road again. It’ll either be a post-it note or it’ll be a three by five card, or it’ll be a page ripped out of the annual report or of the 10-Q, whatever the hell else it is, that is like a note to my future self and an approximately time to arrive at some point in the future which will remind me to consider this again.
Guy Spier (00:22:55):
What I find interesting about that is that, first of all, when I’m sitting on the other side of the computer and I’m sitting amongst all those papers, I think that is a calm place to sit, because you don’t have all of the electronics and the interruptions.
Guy Spier (00:23:10):
So I find it interesting what comes up for me again and again. I think this idea from the Jewish world, from the term turn it and turn it again. So there are some ideas that I’ve just been chewing on for a while, where I’ll scribble the questions that are unanswered on it, for example. I find it fascinating.
Guy Spier (00:23:29):
I was asked by a friend recently about DaVita. DaVita’s a company that’s in Ted Weschler’s portfolio. The current CEO of Nestle, Mark Schneider, was the CEO of a key competitor called Fresenius for a while. It’s a dialysis company. Berkshire Hathaway, the voracious repurchases of their own shares. Share price has done nothing for the last five years.
Guy Spier (00:23:51):
Because of this space repetition, and I’ve had it on my … To have it on my radar is I’ve been sending notes to my future self to reexamine it on a regular basis. I was able to come up with the three key questions that I had about it in a WhatsApp message, and this friend got back to me pretty quickly with some answers to those questions.
Guy Spier (00:24:13):
So this idea of space repetition as applied to investment research is a revelation for me, and I’m so happy about it. I use this idea of sending yourself a note to the future that your future self will encounter. I found that extraordinarily productive as a way of structuring that calmness and structuring the … Rather than carrying around with me the idea of, oh my god, I really need to do more work on DaVita, I can put it out of my mind because I know I’m going to come across it again in three to six weeks or whatever I’ve decided. That’s one huge modification that is not in the book at all.
Guy Spier (00:24:50):
And so, that’s space repetition. Another very powerful idea that … So now I don’t remember the name of the person whose blog I read about it, but it’s the close open loops. So in a world of limited attention … And I would say that, yeah, call it Vyvanse-
William Green (00:25:06):
I think it’s Dave Allen. Is that from the Getting Things Done, this whole idea of closing open loops.
Guy Spier (00:25:10):
It’s not from Dave Allen, but he’s talked to the guy. The guy that I’m talking about references Dave Allen. It’s all based on the same idea. So in a world of limited attention, and I’m not talking about ADHD, we all have calls on our attention.
Guy Spier (00:25:24):
If you write something, William, if I write something, if I make some progress, how do I close that open loop? Where is it going? I think that all the productive people that I know have ways to close open loops. I see you …
Guy Spier (00:25:37):
So for those of you who’ve not spent time with William, William will take out his phone in the most unusual circumstance and he’ll start tapping away at his notepad. It’s like, “What are you up to?” He’s like, “I’m taking notes.”
Guy Spier (00:25:49):
So William has vast amounts of notes, and I suspect that you have a process by which you review those notes. You’re absolutely right. That’s the David Allen system of, I don’t know if David Allen said it, capture habit, create the capture habit, because a thought circling in your head is enormously energy draining. But the minute it’s captured on paper or in some capture vehicle, then you know that you can take care of your future self and come back to it.
Guy Spier (00:26:14):
In the investment research process, we talked about one closing of open loops, which is like the physical structure of how bits of paper moved around. But I own a small number of shares in about a hundred companies. That’s a way of ensuring that once a year I receive all of their annual reports and proxy statements. I’m taking care of my future self that these companies will come up in my attention again. I have ways of doing that through the Bloomberg as well, not related to price movements.
William Green (00:26:43):
That’s interesting. Tom Gayner has something similar, where he owns about a hundred stocks. But probably like you, most of the money is in 10 or 20, probably in his case. And so, for you, you’re actually very concentrated. I didn’t realize that you had these small stakes in so many companies.
Guy Spier (00:26:59):
Stakes would be an exaggeration. It’s like I’ll buy one share in my Charles Schwab account. Every time I log into my Charles Schwab account, it says, “Would you like to go paperless?” They try by every way, shape, or form to convince me to go paperless, because it’s expensive for them to send out that stuff. I’m like, “No, I don’t want to go paperless. I’m really happy receiving the paper.”
Guy Spier (00:27:19):
Since I wrote that chapter on structuring your environment, these are incredibly nitty-gritty, grainy things, if you like. I think that that’s interesting and I’m super happy with that.
Guy Spier (00:27:32):
Then I think that the other thing that comes out for me when you ask about creating an environment in which the mind … So just to take a step back on that, what I’m talking about is take that thing out of your mind, where it’s going to act as a disturbance, and put it somewhere. Let your subconscious work on it and know, have the confidence that you’ve put it somewhere where you will inevitably come to review it again so it’s not lost forever.
Guy Spier (00:27:53):
That’s taken an enormous weight off my mind. It’s made the process of doing research so enjoyable because I can leave open questions on any situation, company, thing, and know that I’ll come back to them, and know that in the meantime, between now and when I come back to them, the question might be answered in some random way that I’m not even aware of, if you like.
Guy Spier (00:28:13):
There are many of those things that I review creates steps for action. Then I’ll take action, which might be as simple as send the person a research report, set up an interview with them, which of course generates yet more knowledge and either stuff to read and what have you.
Guy Spier (00:28:28):
It’s simply this. I think that we did get to it in the final chapters of the book, but it’s something that … There’s this interesting thing where I wrote something which is inchoate. Then William writes something and I say, “William, that’s incredible. You’ve ripped the ideas right out of my mind,” or it’s like you read my mind because I know I didn’t say it, but you wrote it. It was a line in the book where it said, “Find your way into the presence of the right people because they’ll teach you everything.”
Guy Spier (00:28:54):
I think that in a certain way from the book, one thing is to become far more granular about how I structure the environment. The other thing is just to realize that it’s all about having the right relationships. If you have the right relationships, you’re going to learn everything that you need to know. I think that’s even more important now in my mind than it was then.
William Green (00:29:13):
Yeah, you once said to me relationships are the killer app. I have no idea whether, again, that was a phrase that you’d stolen from someone else, but that stuck with me. You once said to me there are certain people you need to have in your life who you’d be happier to fly across the ocean to go spend a couple of days with, because they’re really important people in your life.
Guy Spier (00:29:32):
I flew over to LA for Lulu’s 50th birthday party. I’m so glad that I did that. It wasn’t just Lulu’s, it was people around Lulu. Then this year, I was touch and go whether or not to attend the TED Conference, but I knew that I’d get some quality time with Lulu. That was a big part of why I wanted to attend the TED Conference.
Guy Spier (00:29:52):
I can tell you, William, that the meeting that happened is far less likely and probably it wouldn’t have happened had I not previously flown to Vancouver for the TED Conference. For your interest, and I hope this is relevant for the listeners, but I’ve been invited to something that I think that I would learn a lot from, some extraordinary people there in San Diego in the middle of July. It’s in the middle of the children’s school holidays. There’s a part of me that really wants to go because of all of that and there’s a part of me that doesn’t want to go through the [inaudible 00:30:23] is what we would call it in my family.
Guy Spier (00:30:25):
But, in general, I think the choice of where to live, perhaps the best choice is not necessarily which country or city has the best tram system, as Zurich does certainly have the best tram system in my opinion. But where will you find yourself in the nexus of the best people that you want to have in your life? I think that if I was setting up my environment from scratch again, I would put far more weight on the actual relationships that I have and which people do I want to be close to.
Guy Spier (00:30:52):
It was not dumb for Ted Weschler when he started working for Berkshire Hathaway to go and live in Omaha, not just to be close to Warren but all sorts of other people around Omaha who are also close to Warren. But you had a question.
William Green (00:31:06):
It’s more of a comment. Years after your book came out, you started to say to me … Actually, when I talked about cloning Nick Sleep by putting my Bloomberg terminal somewhere uncomfortable so I wouldn’t use it a lot, or I put my library in a certain position in my office so that I would spend more time there, you were like, “Those are great. Those are really useful things to do, but it’s so much less important than building the right ecosystem of relationships, having the right partners in the fund, having the right CEOs in your life, and having a good relationship with your wife and kids, things like that.”
William Green (00:31:38):
I thought that was a really interesting modification where you started to deepen your sense of what creating a good ecosystem actually is all about. There is an element of creating a physical environment that’s really important. I remember you once saying to me you wanted to have pictures of all of your investors in your study.
Guy Spier (00:31:55):
Staring down at me.
William Green (00:31:56):
Yeah, because it would remind you of your responsibility to them, just as Warren has a picture of his father in his office. So the physical environment is important, but I thought that was a really interesting deepening of your view of what actually makes your environment and your ecosystem work for you.
Guy Spier (00:32:10):
What I want to share with somebody who might be listening to this is that I think it’s a really fun process because it’s not like the end picture is one that we can all see. In fact, none of us can see the end picture of what it’s going to look like.
Guy Spier (00:32:22):
But my point to you, the listener, is if you come across somebody who you think is a positive influence, make that extra effort, send them a holiday card. Make that extra effort to invite them to a dinner that you’re having. It doesn’t mean that you have decided upfront that this person’s going to have this key role in your life. Just draw those people a little bit closer to you.
Guy Spier (00:32:43):
Those people who are negative in one way or another, it doesn’t mean that you have to walk up to them and say, “I’ve decided that you no longer should have a part of my life.” Just be a little less quick to respond to their inquiries and just have them a little bit more on the periphery of your life. That doesn’t mean they’re not valuable to you. It’s just that you’ve decided to place them a little farther away.
William Green (00:33:04):
When it comes to these decisions about how to manage your time, how to basically take care of all of these competing interests, like your friendships, your family, your kids, whether to travel or not, what to do in terms of charity and helping other people, managing your fund, analyzing stocks, do you have particular principles that guide you to help you decide how to spend your time and how not to spend it?
Guy Spier (00:33:27):
It’s a document that I pull out probably just a little bit more than once a year, but I found it extraordinarily powerful. In that document, I start off with a summary of my life mission and I then go on to … I deal with things that flow from that that I’d like. It’s a wishlist of things that would be nice if they happened over the following one month, three months, six months, one year. It’s just lists of things.
Guy Spier (00:33:55):
Then it goes in particular areas of my life with similar kind of what it would be nice to achieve. It’s got my relationship with Lory. It’s got my relationship to each of my individual children, my family as a whole, my business. I find it very interesting how, at some point, so many of the things were getting struck off the list because they were getting done.
Guy Spier (00:34:15):
I created a list at the end, which was titled Celebrating Success and Also Learning From Failure, some things that just continued to be on this document that never ever got done and I realized they weren’t going to get done. They were actually a failure in one way or another and I put them in that bucket.
Guy Spier (00:34:32):
Then the list of successes has been extraordinarily long. I think that in the process of reviewing that document, and you’ll have fun with this, if it’s on the High Holy Days, on the High Jewish Holy Days, I think there’s an auspicious time to pull that document out and review it.
Guy Spier (00:34:47):
I think thinking through that, that’s been a time when I’ve been able to weigh and judge what to put in where I should be more or less focused. I think that what’s fascinating merely by asking …
Guy Spier (00:34:58):
So there’s an example. William’s asked a really, really great question. When you upgrade your friendships, you’ll get asked really great questions, which require you to think about them and perhaps come up with good answers. To the extent that you come up with good answers, the result is that you’ll live a more enriched life.
Guy Spier (00:35:17):
I think that when you do that, it makes me think that I don’t know how much time I’ve spent really thinking about priorities as I go through that document. But the mere fact that I’m being asked the question and the mere fact that I’m trying with that document, I think puts me ahead of many, many people in the game, not the most ambitious and most successful who are also doing that but ahead of many people.
William Green (00:35:38):
Your life also is unusually broad. When I look at a lot of great investors or super successful business people or super successful writers and the like, they’re narrow.
William Green (00:35:50):
I was struck by this the other day. I was listening to one of your podcast episodes and you were interviewing … I think it was David Sumpter, the mathematician. It’s really clear you’re really fascinated by math. Then it’s also really clear that you’re fascinated by great literature and that you’ve been reading Stendhal and Tolstoy and stuff like that.
William Green (00:36:06):
I’m wondering about that decision to have breadth in your life, because it was interesting when you were talking to Sumpter, you said something about realizing that there are certain things that you wanted to understand before you died, that there were beautiful problems in mathematics and you wanted to understand them before you died.
William Green (00:36:22):
I’m wondering about that breadth of wanting to read, wanting to study great literature, wanting to read Thucydides’s History of the Peloponnesian War. Is that just a matter of being true to yourself? Because someone like Charlie doesn’t read fiction at all. There is a benefit to different types of narrow focus.
Guy Spier (00:36:41):
So the hilarious thing is if somebody listening to this listens to the episode with David Sumpter, you’ll see a wonderful example of somebody who’s an accomplished and successful mathematician who’s just quietly humoring a guy who’s very enthusiastic and knows very little.
Guy Spier (00:36:55):
One of the feedbacks I got from our CFO, Mark Chapman, is, “Guy, you didn’t ask him about even one of the damned equations. Hey, I enjoyed the interview Guy, but, look, I can take a personal anecdote from our interactions.”
Guy Spier (00:37:09):
I can remember asking you about In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. You said that the book had a huge impact on you. What I experienced when you said that was a sense of envy that you’d had the experience around the book. The way I would interpret that feeling of envy that I had for William Green’s experience having read that book was that my life would be richer and better if I found the time to read that book.
Guy Spier (00:37:39):
I think that I can honestly say that I’ve not read the book. That’s easy to say. But I think that my life would be a less rich life if all other things being equal, I came to the end of it not having read In Search of Lost Time. I think that we need to deeply respect the feelings that come up like that feeling of envy that I had for your having read it and my having not read it, because who knows what lies at the end of that?
Guy Spier (00:38:07):
I’m not being curious for the sake of being curious. I think that not to respect those feelings and to act on them is a disrespect of your own life, the mystery of who you are on the planet and who you’re destined to become.
Guy Spier (00:38:24):
And so, for me, it’s not just that Riemann’s hypothesis, if it ever gets proven or not, is like a museum piece that I need to have seen before I die. It’s that perhaps if I go and learn more about it, I will uncover things in myself which will enable me to live a better, richer, more meaningful life, and that I’ll be denying a part of my destiny, if you like, if I don’t engage with it.
Guy Spier (00:38:51):
We have to live lives that are true to ourselves. I’m far happier when I have the opportunity to exercise that curiosity. If somebody could point out that I would be “more” successful if I didn’t indulge in these curiosities, my answer would be that’s not a more successful life. We don’t know where these curiosities lead and what insights come out of them.
William Green (00:39:15):
Sorry. I was just going to say I had a conversation with a young, very smart hedge fund manager a few weeks ago, just privately. He clearly had modeled his fund very much on Nomad, on Nick and Zak’s approach at Nomad. And so, he wasn’t trying to maximize assets under management in any way. It was just about returns, absolute returns. He just didn’t care about managing an enormous amount of money. I remember him saying to me, “Yeah, it’s all about what are you optimizing for?”
William Green (00:39:40):
It’s actually such a simple way to put it that’s really profound, like when you look at your life just to say, “Well, what am I optimizing for? Am I optimizing for the highest returns for the most money, the most profits? Am I optimizing for balanced life, for a happy life, for a richer life?”
William Green (00:39:56):
I think it’s very different for each of us, and it’s been hard for me to figure that out, because I think there’s so much external pressure to become more successful, to make a better living, to impress people, particularly from the culture we came from of going to fancy private schools in Oxford and Columbia and Harvard and places like that. You’re very prey to external pressure to be something that you’re not. Does that make any sense?
Guy Spier (00:40:20):
Yeah, it’s very clear to me that maybe in the very early years of a fund’s existence or of this particular individual’s career, optimizing for AUM or returns is not the dumbest thing in the world. But I think that even then it may well be the dumbest thing in the world, or asinine was the word that came to mind. Why? Because how much money did the person leave when they died? To the billionaire, he left all of it.
Guy Spier (00:40:46):
I think that a rich life or a happy life for me is one in which extraordinary opportunities keep showing up because I’ve invested so much in my environment, where extraordinary opportunity is just to have a wonderful dinner, to have a wonderful meeting, to get a profound insight. A life that’s embedded with massive optionality, and something that I’ve said in … I’ve used this thought experiment in some talks where I compare myself to Chelsea Clinton who has more optionality, certainly in American political life.
Guy Spier (00:41:16):
Who’s more likely to be nominated to be the head of the World Health Organization, the SEC, the World Bank, become a senator, any interesting position of high public office, but also get invited to the most interesting weddings, the most interesting parties, have the most interesting set of friends. I think that, hands down, Chelsea Clinton wins that game against me because her parents … Her father was president, but she’s also a bright person who’s got plenty of her own stuff to bring to the table.
Guy Spier (00:41:48):
I can choose a life in which I create that kind of optionality around me, certainly not to the degree that it is around Chelsea Clinton. But where it’s around me in one way or another or where I don’t have it and I’m not optimizing for what a number in a piece of paper, a bank balance. It’s absolutely clear to me that you want to optimize, but you don’t have to become like Chelsea Clinton. She’s just one example.
Guy Spier (00:42:08):
But the other example that I give, William, which forgive me if you’ve already heard it from me, but I think it’s very powerful. Assume that a very special weapon goes off that destroys all bank balances and all ownership, but it doesn’t destroy actual business and actual properties. So it’s a weird kind of weapon.
Guy Spier (00:42:26):
And so, it sets the slate clean. Every individual is starting from zero. Guy Spier is starting from zero and Warren Buffett starting from zero. Even at Warren Buffett’s age, who would have the best set of opportunities? Who would have the best opportunity to accumulate not just wealth in terms of financial wealth, but also interesting life, interesting relationships, interesting opportunities, Guy Spier or Warren Buffett? Hands down Warren Buffett.
Guy Spier (00:42:52):
I think that what’s interesting about that is that it separates his enormous financial wealth from the even more enormous, whatever you want to call it, non-financial wealth that he has.
Guy Spier (00:43:04):
We were talking, I think, earlier on the relationship I was using with regard to something or other, the tip of the iceberg, what’s above the waterline, what’s below the waterline. We see, and it draws our attention Warren Buffett’s financial wealth. But what we don’t see is what’s below the waterline, this non-financial wealth of relationships, opportunities, people who are grateful to him in one way or another, that creates in a certain way the wealth that’s above the waterline.
Guy Spier (00:43:32):
I think that the person who’s optimizing for wealth or who’s optimizing for us this under management return is trying to look at the tip of the iceberg, what’s above the waterline, and is asinine. But what’s below the waterline, that is what’s really meaty and that’s what’s really, really important.
Guy Spier (00:43:48):
That’s why it is the smartest thing in the world when you do a deal with somebody, as Warren tells us that he does, to always leave something on the table, to always leave them wanting more, to always leave them feeling like they had a good deal. You’re building this up for the listener.
Guy Spier (00:44:04):
William, you answered it so extraordinarily well. I received a holiday card from Warren, a Christmas card. I took a photograph and sent it to William. My question genuinely, I said, “William, why on earth is he doing this? He had lunch with me. There’s nothing good I can do for him.”
William Green (00:44:24):
Just to be more specific about this, because you’re probably trying to be humble and not admit it, but the thing that Warren did is he said your annual report is great. And so, he’s done this twice over the last few years. So he’s telling you basically, “I read the annual report and it’s great.” One time he did it and he said, “And your partners must be very happy.” And so, the question you asked me was why, why does he do it?
Guy Spier (00:44:47):
Exactly. So this is a guy who’s not optimizing for returns in Berkshire Hathaway if he’s spending even one fraction of a brain cell to send this letter to Guy Spier. I think that the answer is that he’s building what’s below the waterline. He’s building this enormous wealth of …
Guy Spier (00:45:01):
So I’ll tell you, I’m working on a project with an intern in which we’re looking very carefully at what would it take for there to be a successful purchase by Berkshire of a rather large European business. We’re going to approach their board and talk to them about why they might want to consider selling it to Berkshire. We’re coming at them in a nuanced way. This is not going to be a crass approach.
Guy Spier (00:45:28):
I’m doing it without any interest in getting any fee or any personal self-benefit, but because I know that if it were to happen and I could get written into the history of that deal, that would be a way to repay Warren.
Guy Spier (00:45:39):
I think that he’s got tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people feeling like that. It’s good for Berkshire Hathaway, but it’s good for a successful, productive, happy life. You want to live a life in which there are so many positive things coming at you that you can only do a small number of them. You want to create the conditions for that.
Guy Spier (00:45:57):
You do that by not optimizing for returns or AUM, by optimizing for … I don’t know who originated this. You want to grow goodwill. You want to be somebody that people want to have in the room. People want to have you on their deal, that people want to have you in their fund, that people want you on their team because you’re working constantly to have good things happen around you.
William Green (00:46:18):
When I wrote about you in Richer, Wiser, Happier, one of the things I talked about was this concept of compounding goodwill, which I think it’s such a simple idea that it’s very easy for people … For their eyes to glaze over and not really to concentrate on it, but it’s hugely powerful. I mean, a, it makes you happier when you behave decently, but, b, there’s so much reciprocation. There are just so many people out there who wish you well and want to help in the way that you want to help Warren at this point. Many people want to help you.
William Green (00:46:47):
It was interesting to me that I got several questions over Twitter about exactly this, about compounding goodwill. So someone’s called Miko Dizon, which his tagline is … At Kaizen Investing said, “What are the easiest ways you can compound goodwill in relationships, both with family and friends?” Someone called Stuart South said, “What’s the most fulfilling experience you’ve had in your quest to compound goodwill? How has it changed your outlook on life and investing?” I wonder if you had any thoughts on either of those questions, given your grand social experiment in compounding goodwill over many years.
Guy Spier (00:47:21):
Literally, I was remembering the other day. So there’s a side of me that’s slightly unhinged and doesn’t have very good social awareness, which helped me in this. I decided to buy a packet of wrapped hard-boiled sweets and I literally gave it to every person I talked to. I gave them a sweet. I’d say, “Would you like a sweet?”
Guy Spier (00:47:43):
I was motivated by this idea of these damned Hare Krishna fundraisers handing out paper flowers. I thought, well, at least this thing’s edible. It’s better than a sweet.
Guy Spier (00:47:52):
And so, my answer to the questioner is start with what’s in front of you and just do the best thing that you can see that’s in front of you. Now I don’t think there’s anything wrong with handing out sweets to every single person you meet, but there are probably more effective strategies.
Guy Spier (00:48:08):
Start with something that’s in front of you and then analyze it and figure out what’s good and bad about it, and then figure out where you’re going to go next. So there’s no simple and easy answers. What’s right for me is not right for somebody else.
Guy Spier (00:48:19):
In the book, the thank you notes idea is really a way of describing all of that without having to go into enormous amounts of detail in all the ways that one can and does do it. Just something that is very motivational for me right now is that I really try. I don’t think I’m doing a particular good job of it, but actually, William, I want to talk to our small team about it.
Guy Spier (00:48:42):
If you’re an investor in my fund, I want to try and make good things happen to the extent that it’s within my power to do that. That’s a way of creating goodwill, if you like. And so, I try to reward the fact that people have decided to send me some of their hard-earned money. I mean hopefully the returns are going to be decent.
Guy Spier (00:48:59):
But there’s somebody who’s recently … He is a partner in a venture capital fund. He’s a strategic partner, actually, and he’s one of our investors. I want that venture capital fund to be extraordinarily successful. I’ve set it down to look over their deals and see if there’s anything I can do to help push those deals forward. That’s a way of creating goodwill around me that’s particularly motivational.
Guy Spier (00:49:23):
But I got a guy who sent me a thought short thesis on one of the stocks that I own. I really appreciate the fact that he thought of me. I wrote back to him with some research on the company at hand that he would not have been able to access directly.
Guy Spier (00:49:35):
Again, just trying to find … In a certain way, what we can see from that is that I’m not doing it in an undirected way. I’m doing it directed towards people who’ve already, in a certain way, thought of me and been helpful to me, and then tried to encourage more of that behavior. But you could do it from a standing start. I mean if there’s an industry that I realize that I really ought to be engaged with, then why not start?
Guy Spier (00:49:57):
The thoughts are endless. I think that in terms of the most transformational thing for me, to answer the second question, I do think that … So I’d moved on from suites and now I was writing thank you notes. It’s a well-told story. One of the thank you notes that I wrote was to Mohnish Pabrai for having attended his meeting. That led to a dinner that led to many other things. That’s been an extraordinary result from one simple thank you note. But it’s really not one simple thank you note from many thousands of thank you notes. And so, that’s one little piece of enormous growth and success.
Guy Spier (00:50:30):
Another example that I like to give is that I was invited onto the Harvard Business School Alumni Board, simply because I chose to write some people and send them a regular holiday card. I didn’t even know they were on the alumni board, but it made them think of me positively. And so, that when a space came up, perhaps I was a little bit higher on the list than some other people, simply because I was sending them a regular holiday card.
Guy Spier (00:50:53):
But I think in answer to that person’s question, William, what is more fascinating is not the stories that I can tell, but stories that I couldn’t even tell because these are where the results have come to fruition in a way that we can identify them. But I think that in a certain way, doing the stuff resets the playing field such that you’re not even aware of the influence that it has on the environment in which you’re operating. I’ll give one short idea here.
Guy Spier (00:51:21):
I don’t know what the truth is, but I remember a friend of mine asking … I have the most incredible people working for me, especially the person who deals with my ADHD, Chantal Hackett. I’m extraordinary grateful to her.
Guy Spier (00:51:34):
A guy asked, “How did she end up in your life? How do I find somebody like that?” What I want to say is it’s not like you put an ad in the paper. It’s you start vibrating the world in a certain way. You start dealing with the world in a certain way, and that attracts certain people into your life. I guess I’m giving a placid version of the law of attraction really, aren’t I? The famous [inaudible 00:51:52].
William Green (00:51:51):
Well, look, to go back to what you were just saying a minute ago about how you don’t know all the ways in which these acts of kindness reverberate, just you’ve helped me in so many different ways over the last quarter of a century, but we literally wouldn’t be here talking now if you hadn’t introduced me to Stig Brodersen back in probably 2015.
William Green (00:52:12):
And so, I did a podcast interview with them. I think you had done one of the earliest podcast episodes with them. Then you kept suggesting friends who should go on the podcast. And so, I was on something like the 33rd episode or something like that fairly early.
William Green (00:52:25):
Then over the years, went on again when Richer, Wiser, Happier came out, and then became friends with Stig. That’s ended up leading to me doing this podcast and to me having you on the podcast today. So there are hundreds of examples of that, of different ways in which one action years ago has vibrated out in all of these different ways.
Guy Spier (00:52:47):
I want to tell a story about VALUEx this year. I don’t know where the thought came to me from. William, sometimes attends VALUEx. And so, you’ll be interested to hear this.
Guy Spier (00:52:56):
This is the talk that I gave, or the idea that I shared. I really don’t need to own an Abramovich style yacht in the Mediterranean, but I certainly would love it if one of my friends did. I got up in the room and I said, “I really have realized that I don’t care to have vast levels of wealth the way, say, Warren Buffett or other people do. Whatever level of wealth I end up achieving, I really want to get there with a bunch friends who are also pretty rich.”
Guy Spier (00:53:26):
I said to the room, “And that means you guys. I want the people in this room to end up being extraordinarily successful because I want to get to a place your … Destination analysis. I want to get to a place. The last thing I want is to … The guys optimizing for returns and for AUM. No, what about optimizing for getting to the desired destination in good company, with great company, with wonderful friendships?”
Guy Spier (00:53:52):
And so, I said, “I’m dedicated to helping you guys get there. I’ve got to start somewhere and you guys are a pretty good place to start. I hope that you guys dedicate yourselves to that.” It resonated with the room and made me see the room differently.
Guy Spier (00:54:07):
Long ago gave up seeing my investing friends as rivals, which is a terribly destructive thing to do. But I went from seeing them as neutral to being people on my team.
Guy Spier (00:54:18):
So I have another thing going with a group of friends that I meet with from time-to-time online, where I’ve promised them that when they get to a billion in AUM, I’m sending them a magnum of champagne and congratulations. I will be so happy to send that magnum of champagne out.
Guy Spier (00:54:32):
It was fascinating for me to see what an extraordinary … People leaned forward in their seats at the VALUEx meeting when I said that. They felt empowered. They felt loved. They felt like they were on a path to somewhere. How exciting is that? I mean that for me is more interesting than building wealth, actually.
William Green (00:54:53):
Yeah. It’s a very powerful idea. I’ve seen you do this increasingly over the years, try to lift up other people. I’ve seen you do it in a lot of ways. The great irony of it is I think you’ve become happier as you’ve done more of it.
Guy Spier (00:55:07):
Well, no. It’s not the irony. The extraordinary result. The deep joy is that it’s actually … I mean I don’t know if I’m overstepping the description, but it is actually the best path to success for yourself. Isn’t that a little counterintuitive?
Guy Spier (00:55:24):
I guess on some level, you do have to be self-interested. You can’t utterly destroy yourself to help others. So you have to take care of yourself in the process. But if you can take care of yourself, and then work really hard on the success of others, sooner or later, things are going to explode for you.
William Green (00:55:42):
I couldn’t sleep last night after working obsessively preparing for our conversation. I tried going to bed and I couldn’t. So I get up in the middle of night and I was reading a David Hawkins book that I can’t remember reading before. I think I read pretty much everything multiple times.
William Green (00:55:56):
But he was saying at some point that when you’re taking care of other people … And I’m missummarizing this. But basically when you’re taking care of other people, the universe conspires to make you more successful anyway. And so, he would argue that you actually can forget about yourself to some degree. Obviously that’s a very high level of consciousness that we haven’t got to.
William Green (00:56:18):
But I see that in someone like Arnold Van Den Berg, that I see the more focused he is on just taking care of other people, the more free, the happier he is, the more the world takes care of him. It sounds very mystical and so very easy to dismiss for people who are super rational, but it just has one thing going for it, which is that I think it actually happens to be true.
Guy Spier (00:56:42):
I was telling you before we got onto this podcast that you’re … Again, we’re trying to talk about something that is not apparent and obvious. You brought something out in Arnold Van Den Berg which is absolutely extraordinary. There’s something about who you are in the world that made him want to bring that out with you.
Guy Spier (00:57:01):
He’s brought out many of the thoughts that he shared with you with other people and with me personally, but the way he did it with you on the podcast and the depth that he went to to reveal himself, who he really is as a person, was extraordinarily special.
William Green (00:57:18):
Thanks. He’s a wonderful role model. I mean here in many ways, we were talking before about who to clone, and there are aspects of Arnold that the older I get, the more I’m like, yup, that’s something I really need to clone, aspects of his kindness and decency and concern for others and exuberance and enthusiasm. It’s amazing to see.
William Green (00:57:36):
We’ve talked quite a bit over the last couple of years about Jordan Peterson, who I don’t know a lot about. I know he’s very controversial in many ways. This is a clinical psychologist, for people who don’t know him.
William Green (00:57:48):
But there’s one specific idea that comes from him that’s very similar to what David Hawkins would teach in things like Power vs. Force that I really wanted you to talk about before I let you go, because I also think it’s a master principle of life. It’s very related to this idea of you always being very candid about your mistakes, your limitations, not trying to sugarcoat the truth. Can you talk about what you’ve learned from Jordan Peterson about the importance of honesty and truthfulness?
Guy Spier (00:58:18):
Yeah. So what comes up for me is that something that … It came up somewhere on social media, where we said if you want an adventure, tell the truth, which sums up David Hawkins in many ways.
Guy Spier (00:58:29):
And so, he and Sam Harris, in addition to David Hawkins, have thought very, very carefully about what it means to tell the truth. One of the books that he got me to read, not fully, but to dip into, is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, in which Solzhenitsyn, somebody who was a dissident, who’d been imprisoned in the Soviet Gulag for many years, wrote not about the cruelty of the system, but wrote about how he was guilty. He was complicit.
Guy Spier (00:59:03):
You ask, “How the hell are you complicit? You’re imprisoned. You’re a dissident.” He talks about all the ways, all the small lies, all the small untruths that a Russian citizen had to accept for the system to succeed and to perpetuate itself.
Guy Spier (00:59:18):
It’s asking Russian citizens not to rise up and revolt, but to pay attention to the ways in which allowing those untruths created a system that was basically evil and not reflective of what the citizens actually wanted to survive and thrive.
Guy Spier (00:59:35):
And so, I think probably the same is true of individual lives. We start with small untruths and we start with small acceptances of something that doesn’t really quite fit. The next thing we know, we’re living a fake life. As we know from David Hawkins, a fake life is not a very powerful life. Any moment you can catch yourself in either telling an untruth and stopping it or becoming more truthful about your experience with the world is an opportunity to create a more rich, meaning … Real life that’s full of adventure. That’s certainly one of his ideas.
William Green (01:00:06):
He put it in such a strange way. Can I-
Guy Spier (01:00:08):
William Green (01:00:09):
Because you had quoted it in an interview and it made me go back to the source and see what he said. So this is the line from Jordan Peterson. He said, “I’ve never in all my years as a clinical psychologist, and this is something that really does terrify me, seen anyone ever get away with anything at all, even once.”
William Green (01:00:27):
Then he says, “Someone twists the fabric of reality and they do it successfully because it doesn’t snap back at them that moment. Then two years later, something unravels and they get walloped and they think, ‘Oh my god, that’s so unfair.’ Then we track it and it’s like what happened before that? That’s where it went wrong, because you can’t twist the fabric of reality without having it snap back. It doesn’t work that way. And why would it? Because what are you going to do? Twist the fabric of reality? I don’t think so.”
William Green (01:00:56):
I read that and I was like, whoa, that’s a startling and fascinating claim, that if you lie, you’re somehow twisting the fabric of reality and it’s going to come back and bite you in the butt.
Guy Spier (01:01:07):
It’s extremely powerful and I think it’s true. I think it’s absolutely true. I think it’s profound. I think around that time, we discussed how the letters in Hebrew for truth all have a solid base and all the Hebrew letters for lie, it’s just an interesting capitalistic idea.
Guy Spier (01:01:23):
When you weave lies, even small lies, reality will bear down on those lies and destroy them sooner or later. So you want to build a life in which that doesn’t happen.
Guy Spier (01:01:35):
But I think that Jordan Peterson for me is, look, he took a decision that he would take every single one of his lectures and just record them and put them online. There’s 500 hours of Jordan Peterson’s lectures, him extemporizing. They’re unedited. He’s not trying to present himself in any way, shape, or form. All his thoughts as he delivers those lectures are there for the world to see.
Guy Spier (01:01:56):
I think that’s part of … You see the same spirit when Warren has a three-hour lunch with me and Mohnish, and he basically tells us afterwards, “There’s nothing that was private there. You can share everything with the world.” And so, he’s, in a subtle way, putting that lecture online metaphorically.
Guy Spier (01:02:11):
It’s the part of me that’s inspired to just say whatever it is that’s about me, even if it’s an uncomfortable truth that I’m embarrassed or don’t really want to get out into the public. I’m better off letting it appear in the public and let the cards fall where they may, because that is aligning myself with reality. If I align myself with the reality, however uncomfortable it is, I have a better future ahead of me. That thinking weaves its way into all sorts of places.
Guy Spier (01:02:39):
I think quite separately from that, I think that Jordan Peterson has a wonderful … I mean it’s his concepts around order and chaos and how we deal with mishaps in life and how do we deal with where we’re going. There’s a wonderful article that I found of his in which he talks about the opening chapters of Genesis as being a blueprint for human creativity.
Guy Spier (01:03:03):
And so, I think he has a nuanced and very interesting view of religion that is really fascinating for me. Religion is a practical guide to how to live our lives. He has this fascinating insight that for me, I mean I just enjoy taking out and thinking about it.
Guy Spier (01:03:17):
He says, look, the scientific world can describe with increasing accuracy what is. Whether it goes all the way from the beginnings of the universe, to the web telescope, to quantum mechanics, to biology, all those things, it doesn’t have any guide at all as to what humans should do about it.
Guy Spier (01:03:36):
Is it possible that the world’s ancient texts are actually the most powerful guide to what we as humans should do? Because nowhere in the world of science is the question asked, what should I as a human do? Armed with all this knowledge or not, what should I do? This idea that the realm of religion is about giving a blueprint for human decision-making and handing things down over multiple generations.
Guy Spier (01:04:02):
He’s asked the question somewhere, what is a more powerful reality? Our scientific knowledge that’s been around for 200 years or these blueprints through the great literature of biblical, but also other kind of like Homer’s Odyssey and Nibelungenlied. It comes in forms of the mythologies of the various different peoples of the world. He says those are guides to human action that have lasted millennia. So which is actually more real?
Guy Spier (01:04:30):
Now I’m not about to take some mystical approach to the world and discard science or anything, but he’s willing to take those positions, which are unpopular, which are looked down upon by the world’s scientific and rational community.
Guy Spier (01:04:43):
He’s a guy who operates very clearly by an inner scorecard, a very powerful inner scorecard. Actually, I think that he would say that the enormous success that he’s achieved as an author and as a public thinker is because he’s been truthful. So it’s right in there with Mahatma Gandhi. For the listeners interested, he wrote this book … His autobiography is subtitled A Story of My Experimentations with the Truth.
Guy Spier (01:05:07):
He’s a living example of how … David Hawkins, is he says, truth has power. Just an inspiration of being an inner scorecard. Whether you agree with him or not, he’s living his life. He’s an example there for all to see of somebody who’s living his life by an inner scorecard.
Guy Spier (01:05:23):
This fabric of reality idea for me is extraordinarily powerful that it snaps back. It’s funny because we go in my family into questions of whether you should tell white lies.
Guy Spier (01:05:35):
Sam Harris has a very short book online. Sam comes to the conclusion, if I remember correctly, that even white lies, it’s not worth telling them at the end of the day. You should find a way to speak what you feel without having to tell the white lie. I think he’s probably right.
Guy Spier (01:05:50):
I think that we’re getting at something profound, William, really profound. It’s at the core of all success. It’s at the core of all wisdom and many paths to it. Just to do a short call out for your book, is that what are the paths to that? Well, certainly the world’s various religions are a path to it. But I think that what you’ve figured out is that many of these world’s great investors are also figuring out a path to it, and they seem to be better at it than many other people. And so, they’re worth studying.
Guy Spier (01:06:24):
Your example of Arnold Van Den Berg, obviously Warren and Charlie, but also very clearly Nick Sleep, are actually getting it, this idea of what’s underneath and what’s truthful, because from that flows everything. Value investing is just a branch of wisdom at the end of the day. It’s a branch of truth. It’s a branch of wisdom.
William Green (01:06:42):
It’s all related. And so, I think this was one of the things that became most beautiful and profound to me as I worked on that book, was the realization that if the way you behave in one area is going to show up in another area, as Charlie Munger would often say, if you’re dishonest in one area, it’s going to show up in another area, or if you’re acting in a way that creates chaos, it may not show up in your financial life, but it’ll show up in your family life.
William Green (01:07:07):
And so, it’s all … What’s that line that Charlie often quotes? It’s all one damn relatedness after another. You can’t separate these things out.
William Green (01:07:15):
I guess what you and I have been trying to work towards, that we work towards in your book and then in my book, which is a continuation of your book, is really it’s all about worldly wisdom. It’s trying to figure out a few principles, on average, work pretty well in life and business and investing.
Guy Spier (01:07:30):
I think that it is valuable, a significant addition in my life, as an example of that, your book, as an example of that. The listener’s interest investing and getting rich and making money is also a path to wisdom. You can elevate that pursuit to be a spiritual pursuit, with the help of guides like Arnold Van Den Berg and William Green and other characters in the book. That makes our life, my life far more meaningful.
William Green (01:08:03):
Thank you, Guy. You’ve been a great teacher to me on many fronts over many years. But I said to a friend of mine recently, I was asking him about his rabbi. I said, “Is he a really good teacher?” He’s like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. But more than that, he’s a friend.” I was like, “That’s high praise.”
William Green (01:08:18):
And so, thank you. You’ve been a great force, so good in my life in so many ways. But above all, you’ve been a really good friend. So thank you.
Guy Spier (01:08:26):
One of these days, not on this podcast, William and I might tell the story of some interesting things that unfolded between us earlier this year, which I said internally, William, I think at least on my side and I suspect on your side, although I can’t speak for you, it made me realize how valuable the friendship was, how fragile all things that are valuable are, and how close we were to losing it.
Guy Spier (01:08:49):
But the good thing is on the other side, I think that, certainly from my side, I value it so much more and I didn’t realize it. We were an inch away from tragedy basically.
William Green (01:08:59):
Well, it was a challenge and we avoided catastrophes. So thank you so much. All right, folks, that concludes episode two of my conversation with Guy Spier. If you didn’t get a chance to listen to part one already, I hope you’ll check that out as well.
William Green (01:09:15):
Meanwhile, if you’d like to learn more from Guy, I’ve included various resources in the show notes for this episode, including a link to his podcast and his free newsletter. I’d also strongly recommend reading Guys’ memoir, The Education of a Value Investor. Of course, I’m hopelessly biased because I helped him to write it. But I do think it’s an excellent book, partly because he’s so committed to being truthful about his own flaws and the mistakes he’s made along the way.
William Green (01:09:41):
One of my favorite memories of working with Guy on the book came when we were in his kitchen in Zurich. He suddenly got really excited and said, “I don’t care if this book ruins my reputation. I just want to give an honest account of who I am.” I have to say I found his determination to be so candid incredibly impressive and pretty courageous.
William Green (01:10:02):
Meanwhile, thanks a lot to everyone who wrote to me on Twitter to suggest questions for me to ask Guy. As a way of saying thanks, I try to give away one signed copy of my book Richer, Wiser, Happier per episode to a person whose question I’ve used. Today’s winner is Stacy Smith.
William Green (01:10:18):
If the spirit moves you, please feel free to follow me on Twitter, @williamgreen72, and do let me know how you’re enjoying the podcast. It’s always lovely to hear from you.
William Green (01:10:28):
I’ll be back again very soon with more in-depth interviews about investing and life. My next guest is Daniel Goleman, whose blockbuster book Emotional Intelligence has sold more than five million copies. Until then, many thanks for listening. Take care.
Thank you for listening to TIP. Make sure to subscribe to We Study Billionaires by The Investor’s Podcast Network. Every Wednesday, we teach you about Bitcoin and every Saturday, we study billionaires and the financial markets. To access our show notes, transcripts, or courses, go to theinvestorspodcast.com. This show is for entertainment purposes only. Before making any decision, consult a professional. This show is copyrighted by The Investor’s Podcast Network. Written permission must be granted before syndication or rebroadcasting.
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