The natural progression of how good ideas go wrong

Leave it to Warren Buffet to offer a thoughtful perspective. In a memorable, hour-long PBS interview with Charlie Rose during the 2008 crisis, Buffet gave a master class in how the world got into its economic mess and what we can learn from it.

At one point, Rose asked the question that scholars, pundits, and plaintiffs attorneys will be debating for years: “Should wise people have known better?” Of course they should have, Buffet replied, but there’s a “natural progression” to how good new ideas go badly wrong. He called this progression the “three Is.” First come the innovators, who see opportunities that others don’t and champion new ideas that create genuine value. Then come the imitators, who copy what the innovators have done. Sometimes they improve on the original idea, often they tarnish it. Last come the idiots, whose avarice undermines the very innovations they are trying to exploit.

The problem, in other words, isn’t with innovation itself — it’s with the imitation and idiocy that follow. “People don’t get smarter about things as basic as greed,” Warren Buffett warned Charlie Rose. He’s right. But there’s no reason we can’t be reasonably intelligent about what we learn from the idiocy of the last few years and how we move beyond it.

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The best advice I’ve ever been given is to read all of the shareholder letters from Warren Buffett. I can assure you that these letters really do contain more wisdom then a full two-year MBA program. Book nuts will appreciate one of the best books written on Buffett: The Making of an American Capitalist