Warren Buffett, arguably the world’s greatest investor, when considering an investment tends to look at and stay within what he calls his “circle of competencies.” He learned this concept from Thomas Watson, founder of IBM. Watson said, essentially, “I don’t know everything but what I know I know. And I tend to operate within my circle of competency.”
When Buffett first met fellow billionaire Bill Gates in 1991, he declined to invest in computer technology, specifically Intel and Microsoft. He didn’t know computers, simple as that. (He later invested heavily in Bill and Melinda Gates and their philanthropic ventures.)
Bill Gates knows computers. Henry Ford knew cars. Gene Simmons knows rock and roll branding. Warren Buffett knows chewing gum, soft drinks, insurance and textiles, among other things. These successful men stayed and stay within what they know. And they profit doing so.
What are your circle of competencies? What things do you know better than the average bear? Buffett tells potential job seekers to seek a job they would do if money were no option. Corollary to that he likens the résumé building approach to career development the equivalent of saving sex for old age. It misses the point.
Here are some things to think about when evaluating your circle of competencies:
- What do you find yourself thinking about and pursuing when off the clock?
- What ignites your passion—what subjects and pursuits? Dead giveaway on that one is your body language. Your eyes fire, your pulse increases, you get excited and it’s obvious to those who know you.
- What do you read about that is not part of some school or work assignment? Same goes for viewing and listening.
Challenge: Focus on what lights you up and genuinely interests you—whether the pursuit is popular or not. Then start doing deep dives in these areas. You’ll be surprised how far you can go with them.
Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist (Roger Lowenstein)
Tap Dancing to Work: Warren Buffett on Practically Everything, 1966-2013 (Carol J. Loomis)