On Friday, CNBC’s Becky Quick reported that multibillionaire oracle and investor Warren Buffett did not have plans to invest in Facebook, which is set for an initial public stock offering later this month. Oh, it’s not because he doesn’t like Facebook, nor does he think the social media platform is a bunch of hype. In fact, he said he thinks that what’s happening at Facebook is “extraordinary”. “People get excited when a company does that well,” he said, “And they should.”
No – the reason he’s decided not to invest in Facebook, or similar companies is because, as he admits, he doesn’t understand the social media sector of technology. No dummy, he’d no doubt understand it perfectly well if he’d studied it, but he’s just chosen to become an expert in other kinds of businesses. And Warren Buffett didn’t become one of the wealthiest people in the world by investing in things he didn’t fully understand.
His comments echo those of former Fidelity Magellan Fund manager Peter Lynch, who wrote in his book Beating the Street that investors ought not put their money into anything they can’t explain with a crayon. Literally. We think that’s excellent advice.
The same holds true for the willingness of people to “invest” themselves in your organization. If people don’t understand what we’re all about well enough to be able to describe it with a crayon, literally – a crayon – then they can’t, and therefore won’t put themselves into their work with the kind of Commitment we need.
Here’s an assignment: Go out and get a box crayons. Then, in your next staff or team meeting, give everyone a plain sheet of white paper, and one of the wax implements, and ask them to portray, using only that crayon, what your organization (or team) is all about. Use the results as a springboard for a meaningful discussion about what your organization is, in fact, all about. If your team struggles a bit more than you’d like, or if you’re not particularly happy with what you see, strive to solidify that understanding of what you’re all about over a reasonable time, say, six months or so. Then come back and revisit the discussion with your team.