Lesson #2: Keep Your Wits About You

In 1974, when Forbes asked Buffett how he felt about the stock market at the time, Buffett replied, “Like an oversexed guy in a whorehouse.” Whether it was talking to the media about smart investments or explaining the company’s performance in his annual letter to shareholders, Buffett never lost his sense of humour. Indeed, it became one of his trademarks for which he is revered.

Buffett’s ability to make light of a situation was one of the key factors that allowed him to handle even the most stressful of circumstances. It also allowed him to brush off any negative comments that might have appeared about him in the press. When he was once rebuked for his unkempt appearance, he joked, “I buy expensive suits. They just look cheap on me.” When others grew concerned about his habit of chasing down every meal with Cherry Coke, he said, “I drink five a day. That’s 750 calories. I would have lost 70 pounds a year if I didn’t drink them. Really, it’s been a lifesaver.” And, when his mathematics and investments were once challenged, Buffet shot back, saying, “There are three kinds of people in this world: Those who can count, and those who can’t.”

A humble man, Buffett often spared no expense when it came to poking fun at himself. While conducting an interview on the Charlie Rose television show, Buffett was asked what the response was of Berkshire CEO Charlie Munger to Buffett’s decision to give away over $30 billion in stock to the Gates Foundation. “He said, ‘You finally had a good idea,” Buffet replied. “It took me 40 years to get that out of him…Yes, one good idea. He’s not expecting another one.”

Buffett excels not only at making fun of himself, but of other people too. He was never afraid to mix things up and to have a little fun – even if it was at the expense of others. “I am quite serious when I say that I do not believe there are, on the whole earth besides, so many intensified bores as in these United States,” he said. “No man can form an adequate idea of the real meaning of the word, without coming here.”

Buffett’s quick wit gave him the unique ability to put a humorous twist on nearly everything. This was a characteristic that he never lost, even in the worst of times. When his strategy of value investing was being called into question, particularly for its simplicity, Buffett dismissed the critics for their fondness for all things difficult. “Ships will sail around the world but the Flat Earth Society will flourish,” he said.

For all his kidding around, Buffett nevertheless remained entirely serious when it came to making money. “The first rule is not to lose,” he says. “The second rule is not to forget the first rule.” Buffett’s number one goal was to realize a profit for himself, for his company and for his investors. He just wanted to have a little fun along the way.

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