Tag: Guy Spier

29 of the Most Gifted and Highly Recommended Books

It started with a simple question:

What book (or books) have you given away to people the most and why?

The email was sent to an interesting subset of people I’ve interacted with over the past year — CEOs, entrepreneurs, best-selling authors, hedge fund managers, and more.

While not everyone replied, and some of those that did preferred not to have attributions to them, I think you’ll find the resulting list contains a lot of gems. One book is over $400. (We ordered that one and will share what we learn.)

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“The way I give books away is basically I read a book I get excited about and then get it for like nine people over the next couple weeks and then move onto some other book I’m excited about and start pushing that on everyone. At the moment, I’ve been giving Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s Option B to a lot of people. Reading it helped me understand what someone mourning a loss is going through better than I ever had before. So the first people I thought of were those I know currently in mourning, and I sent it to most of them. Then I sent it to some other people who are close with the people who are grieving, because it’s also very useful (and fascinating) as a guide for how to support someone coping with a loss.”
— Tim Urban, author of Wait But Why

Kennedy and King by Levingston. “The reason I am giving it is because I don’t think most people have a good enough understanding of the civil rights movement and why Trump is so reviled by those who made that progress in the ‘60s.”
— The source of this suggestion prefers to remain anonymous

“I started giving books away after I met Mohnish Pabrai and I saw that he was doing it. First book I gave away was the Checklist Manifesto. Now I am constantly giving books away – my own, those of friends, and those that I think will be interesting. Sometimes I just give away my own, personal copy, and sometimes I give away a number that I buy in from the publisher. Other books (that I’ve given away) have included: Guns, Germs, and Steel, The Shipping Man, Dangerous Odds by Marissa Lankester, Sapiens, Homo Deus, Cialdini’s Pre-suasion, Peter Bevelin’s books (Seeking Wisdom, All I Want To Know Is Where I’m Going To Die So I’ll Never Go ThereA Few Lessons for Investors and Managers), Alice Shroeder’s biography of Buffett.”
— Guy Spier, Aquamarine Capital Management

“I make it a point to give everyone Simple Wealth, Inevitable Wealth by Nick Murray when they ask about my investing philosophy and my career. No single book has been more formative or more influential on how I give advice to others, and how I think about my own financial future.”
Downtown Josh Brown

Resilience by Eric Greitens. It’s a book I give someone whenever I find out they’re going through some type of adversity. In Resilience, former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens (and now governor of Missouri) shares a series of letters written between him and a SEAL buddy who was going through a rough time in his life with alcoholism, job loss, and PTSD. Greitens calls upon his background in philosophy to provide insights and advice for his struggling friend on how to develop resilience in the face of adversity and suffering. Greitens’ book is by far the best I’ve ever read on the subject. Every page has some nugget of wisdom on how you can become more resilient to big adversities, or just life’s mundane struggles. Along the way you’re treated to personal war stories from Greitens’ SEAL days, as well as excerpts from Thucydides, Aristotle, and Aquinas.”
— Brett McKay, The Art of Manliness

Addiction by Design by Natasha Dow Schull. The book is a cutting look into the machine gambling industry and the nature of addiction. It paints a telling portrait of who gets addicted and the games designed to take advantage of them.”
— Nir Eyal, author of Hooked

Chapters in My Life by Frederick Taylor Gates. Charlie Munger says that extreme outcomes – good and bad – often educate best. With useful detail, these memoirs recount the extreme good outcome of Gates, a Baptist minister with no business education or business experience, who came to be lauded by John D. Rockefeller as the greatest businessman he ever encountered, better than Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie.”
— Peter Kaufman, CEO of Glenair and Editor of Poor Charlie’s Almanack (I realize this is a very expensive book, so I’ve ordered it and will share what I learn with you).

The Power Broker – a perfect book on the relentless nature of accruing power, and how it can be wielded without a large public persona. As a counter-weight – Jane Jacobs’ biography. One of the few people to defeat Bob Moses, AND she came to Toronto, AND the godmother of advocating for urban planning in a dense manner. Deep Work + So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Cal hit’s the nail on the head – it’s not about passion, it’s about solving problems. Biographies – Arnold, Steve Martin, George Carlin – honest insight on how people succeeded, self-awareness, and more. Dumas’ Three Musketeers and Count of Monte Cristo. Just great fiction, and too many entrepreneurs don’t take the time to appreciate that. Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Sivers – just no-nonsense entrepreneur advice. No platitudes, not aspirational/inspirational – just the hard info.”
— Sol Orwell, SJO.com

“I love gifting The Specialist, a tiny little book written in the ‘30s by Chic Sale. It’s about a fictional carpenter called Lem Putt, who builds crappers. But these outhouses are the most considered, the most empathetic constructions you can imagine. He’ll suggest techniques like locating the outhouse past the wood pile, so when folks are going out to use the bathroom, they can come back with wood in their hands, rather than making it obvious they’ve just been doing their business. When you see how much thought and craft can go into building a bogger, you understand how much better we can all be at our chosen craft. Oh, and because it has been around forever, it’s fun gifting old school second hand versions, that feel like they’ve already inspired other folks to elevate their craft. I hope it makes the recipient feel more like they’re receiving ancient wisdom that has already served others well.”
— Andy Fallshaw, CEO of Bellroy

The Dream Machine by Mitchell Waldrop.”
— Patrick Collison, CEO of Stripe

Frederick Lewis Allen’s book The Big Change. It explains technology and social change better than any book I’ve come across. There are so many small lessons about how America works — culturally and economically — that I’ve never seen articulated elsewhere. “
— Morgan Housel, Partner at the Collaborative Fund

“I like to give The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Balthasar Gracián and The Waste Books by Georg Christoph Lichtenberg. Both are collections of aphorisms and notes around similar themes: how to live, how to grow and improve as a person, what success means, and how to understand and work with people as they are – not as we wish they would be. They are also quite witty, making them a joy to read. Gracián was a 17th-century Jesuit priest and administrator, and Lichtenberg was an 18th-century scientist and academic. Neither author is fond of the many failings of human behavior (many of which we’d categorize today as cognitive biases), and they don’t pull their punches. The aphoristic style also makes these books wonderful for repeated browsing. I’ve read them both many times, and every other page is dog-eared to mark a particularly insightful section. Time with either of these books is time well-invested.”
— Josh Kaufman, author of The Personal MBA

“I run a small team of about 10 remote employees, and we have had to reinvent ourselves completely more than a few times in the decade Nerd Fitness has been in business. For that reason, I’ve given “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson to everybody on Team Nerd Fitness – it’s a fast, fun, thought-provoking parable that has helped us pivot faster, embrace change, and seek out challenges rather than shy away from them. When it comes to peers and friends, I’ve gifted Ryan Holiday’s “Ego is the Enemy” more times than I can count (along with reading it multiple times myself) – it’s a great reminder that we can be our own worst enemy when it comes to growth and success.”
— Steve Kamb, author of Level Up Your Life

Guy Spier — The Education of a Value Investor: A Transformative Quest for Wealth, Wisdom, and Enlightenment

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I read Guy Spier’s book, The Education of a Value Investor: My Transformative Quest for Wealth, Wisdom, and Enlightenment, in a single sitting.

The section of the book I was most interested in reading was on his charity lunch with Warren Buffett. While details of what transpires at these lunches are fairly scant, there is a whole chapter on it in this book. I tore into that chapter first, eager to find out the pearl of wisdom that eluded me. Finding no secret, I flipped to the front and fell into the story.

I had the serendipitous pleasure of running into Guy at the Omaha airport earlier this year. What I loved about him – and his book – is that he’s open about his struggles. In a world where so many of us, myself included, are closed and guarded about things we don’t want other people to know or see, Guy is an open book. He has struggles. He’s human. He’s real. Things are not black and white. He didn’t come out of the womb fully formed with uncompromising ethics.

He’s a testament to the fact that we can make mistakes, admit them, and get better. We can change. We can even change our nature. We can find ourselves in compromising positions – be they professional, moral, or ethical – and recognize that we’ve made poor choices and find a better path forward. Guy is living proof that we can teeter on a moral cliff and change the path we are on. First, however, we must stop digging. That requires recognition that what we’re doing or about to do is wrong. “These moments of clarity are so rare in life,” he writes, “and even the people closest to us may question whether we should act on such instincts.” We only have a few of these moments in life, we must learn to recognize them and act. “If you’re going to do something, it’s best to commit to it with wholehearted gusto.”

And Guy did commit to changing himself. “When you begin to change yourself internally,” he writes, “the world around you responds.”

I hope this idea resonates because it’s important—more important, perhaps, than the fact that I had lunch with Warren Buffett. As I hope you can see from my experience, when your consciousness or mental attitude shifts, remarkable things begin to happen. That shift is the ultimate business tool and life tool.

But the question worth exploring at this point is how you go about changing yourself? It sounds so simple doesn’t it? I want to change and poof. Change. It doesn’t work like that.

One lesson that Guy reinforces is that your environment matters to the decisions you make.

“It’s important,” he writes, “to discuss just how easy it is for any of us to get caught up in things that might seem unthinkable—to get sucked into the wrong environment and make more compromises that can tarnish us terribly.” While we think that we change our environment, it changes us.

Part of the problem (of working on Wall Street) was that the competition was so fierce. This led to the belief that, if I wasn’t willing to do something, someone else would quickly step in to do it. This kind of environment is perfectly designed to get people to push the boundaries in order to succeed. It’s a pattern that’s repeated again and again on Wall Street. Through ambition, greed, arrogance, or naïveté, many bright, hard-working people have strayed into grey areas.

One non-intuitive way to improve your environment is to choose the right teachers that have already discovered the truths you want to learn.

There is wisdom here that goes far beyond the narrow world of investing. What I’m about to tell you may be the single most important secret I’ve discovered in all my decades of studying and stumbling. If you truly apply this lesson, I’m certain that you will have a much better life, even if you ignore everything else I write.

What I stumbled upon was this. Desperate to figure out how to lead a life that was more like his, I began constantly to ask myself one simple question: “What would Warren Buffett do if he were in my shoes?”

I didn’t ask this question idly while sitting in a coffee shop sipping a cappuccino. No. I sat down at my desk and actively imagined that I was Buffett. I imagined what the first thing would be that he would do if he were in my shoes, sitting at my desk.

Self-help guru Tony Robbins calls this “modelling” our heroes. “The key,” Spier writes, “is to be as precise as possible, picturing them in as much detail as we can. A related technique that he teaches is called matching and mirroring, which might involve changing the way you move or even breathe to match the other person’s movement or breathing. In my experience you start to feel what they feel and you even start to think like them.”

A few other lessons from the book are worth noting, one of which is the fundamental nature of Guy’s approach to life (not investing.)

I’ve come to see that this is a smart strategy for life: whenever I have the choice of doing something with an uncertain but potentially high upside, I try to do it. The payoffs may be infrequent, but sometimes they are huge. And the more often I pick up these lottery tickets, the more likely I am to hit the jackpot.

Remind you of anyone? That’s an approach that Nassim Taleb employs. It’s also the one that investor Mohnish Pabrai describes in his book The Dhandho Investor: The Low-Risk Value Method to High Returns. As Pabrai puts it, “Heads I win. Tails I don’t lose much.”

Another lesson is that small differences in behaviour over time can lead to incredible impacts. Sending thank-you notes is A Simple Act of Gratitude, with profound benefits:

At first my letter-writing experiment was quite calculated, since I did it with an explicit desire to improve my business. I had a clear expectation of what the results would be. But it started to feel really good, and I became addicted to the positive emotions that this activity stirred in me. As I looked for more opportunities to thank people, I found that I truly did become more thankful. And the more I expressed goodwill, the more I began to feel it. There was something magical about this process of getting outside myself and focusing on other people.

[…]

In sending out this cascade of letters, I began to open up to people in a way that I never had before, and I started to see everyone around me as someone I can learn from. As I now understand, this habit of writing letters is an incredibly effective way of compounding goodwill and relationships instead of merely compounding money. Einstein is often said to have called compounding the eighth wonder of the world. But the narrow financial application of compounding may be the least valuable and least interesting aspect of this phenomenon.

In the end the biggest lesson that I took away from meeting with Guy and reading his book is that we need to stop living our life through other people. I can play basketball every day for 18 hours and I’m never going to be Michael Jordan. I can study financial reports until I’m blue in the face and I’m never going to be the next Warren Buffett. In the end The Education of a Value Investor, is an important reminder that we need to be more authentic versions of ourselves. We need to do what is right for us and that might not be what is right for others. We need to stop pretending to be other people and compromising our internal standards or ethics. We need to find who we are and how we want to live. “Instead of trying to compete with Buffett,” Guy writes, “I should focus on the real opportunity, which is to become the best version of Guy Spier that I can be.”