Tag: Michael Eisner

Working Together: Why Great Partnerships Succeed

Why do partnerships work well? That’s the question Michael Eisner explores in Working Together: Why Great Partnerships Succeed.

Some of the most successful and accomplished people are really teams: Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, Bill and Melinda Gates, Brian Grazer and Ron Howard (who’ve won multiple Academy Awards), Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank (who started Home Depot), Joe Torre and Don Zimmer… the list could go on forever.

Partnerships (at least the successful ones) … encourage a series of characteristics—trust, teamwork, a regard for someone else, and continuing checks and balances.

Why is it that sometimes you can take two people, add them together and get a more successful result than either would have achieved working alone?

As I thought about (that question), I found myself wishing I was an artist rather than a weekend writer. Inspired perhaps by Marc Chagall, I would paint three canvases to make my point, all of a man riding a horse. The first would be a tiny man atop a giant horse, the second would be a giant man atop a tiny horse, and the third would be a man and a horse of equal sizes. In the first scenario, the horse would be too strong, and too uncontrollable for the man. The second would be equally unsuccessful, for a tiny horse can’t move with a giant man weighing him down. But the third match would be perfect, with the man and horse able to move successfully in concert. The man represents intellect, the horse represents emotion. Both need to be equally balanced for any leader to succeed.

You can’t do this stuff on your own. “Even Einstein,” says Charlie Munger, “wouldn’t have been successful if there weren’t other people he didn’t talk to all the time. Total isolation does not work. You need interaction, putting your own thoughts into expression; you learn things just from doing it.”

The best combination, (Eisner) learned, comes from partnership, when two people balance each other, constantly reminding the other of the need to keep the conscious and unconscious in harmony, to make each other smarter, make each other better.

One of the reasons that partnerships fail is that the spotlight accommodates one person a lot better than two. “But,” Eisner writes, “it takes real trust and understanding for both partners to be satisfied with that arrangement.”

Everyone was telling Michael Eisner that partnering with Michael Ovitz, the head of Creative Artists Agency “and the media-anointed most powerful man in the entertainment business” was a great idea. Buffett advised Eisner to pass on the partnership.

“Both of you want the spotlight,” I remember him saying bluntly. “Take Charlie and me: I want the spotlight, but he doesn’t. So it works. And Charlie has integrity, which further ensures that it works. You will be in conflict with Ovitz from day one, and you will never trust him. Don’t do it.”

(Eisner) did (the partnership). And Warren was right—the partnership lasted barely a year.

The key to good partnerships, says Warren Buffett, is trust.

They have complete trust, complete faith, and complete belief in each other. And that reverberates through every phone call they have, every deal they discuss, and every decision they make.

“You cannot keep score,” says Warren. “It just doesn’t work with the best of human relationships. It shouldn’t be even suppressed—it should be something that doesn’t even exist.”

And this bit was key for me. You can play the alpha-role in some parts of your life but you need to know your role in the partnership. Consider the Buffett-Munger partnership:

Munger is not the standard model for the kind of partner who prefers to lie low and fade into the background. Everywhere else in his life, Charlie Munger plays the alpha role—with his family, in board meetings for the variety of companies and charities with which he’s involved, with me when I visited him at his office. I usually don’t have trouble getting a word into a conversation. Talking to Charlie Munger is different—I did a lot more listening than talking.

“That’s one of the beauties of the partnership,” says Charlie. “I am in so many activities where I am the dominant personality. Most people do not ‘fit into’ that mode—they can only operate in that mode. Yet I am particularly willing to play the secondary role. Warren’s a more able man in doing what we’re doing, so it’s the appropriate response. There are some times you should be first, some times you should be second, and some times you should be third.

Partnerships also encourage humility. “It’s not letting ego or jealousy or your own personality take over,” Munger says. “Intelligence takes over.”

Working Together: Why Great Partnerships Succeed argues that the values of effective partnerships run counter to the factors “that contributed to the sequence of economic messes of the past ten years.” Now, then, is the perfect time to encourage partnerships “devoid of envy, jealousy, and rivalry as a way to escape from the toxic culture that has given the business world a bad name, and to instead help people chart a new, often overlooked path toward a better way of working.”

The Buffett Formula: Going to Bed Smarter Than When You Woke Up

Most people go through life not really getting any smarter. Why? They simply won’t do the work required.

It’s easy to come home, sit on the couch, watch TV, and zone out until bedtime rolls around. But that’s not going to help you get smarter.

Sure, you can go into the office the next day and discuss the details of last night’s episode of Mad Men or Game of Thrones. And yes, you know what happened on Survivor. But that’s not knowledge accumulation; that’s a mind-numbing sedative.

You can acquire knowledge if you want it. In fact, there is a simple formula, which if followed is almost certain to make you smarter over time. Simple but not easy.

It involves a lot of hard work.

“The best thing a human being can do is to help another human being know more.”

— Charlie Munger

We’ll call it the Buffett formula, named after Warren Buffett and his longtime business partner at Berkshire Hathaway, Charlie Munger. These two are an extraordinary combination of minds. They are also learning machines.

“I can see, he can hear. We make a great combination.”
—Warren Buffett, speaking of his partner and friend, Charlie Munger.

We can learn a lot from them. They didn’t get smart because they are both billionaires. They became billionaires, in part, because they are smart. More importantly, they keep getting smarter. And it turns out that they have a lot to say on the subject.

How to Get Smarter

Read. A lot.

Warren Buffett says, “I just sit in my office and read all day.”

What does that mean? He estimates that he spends 80% of his working day reading and thinking.

“You could hardly find a partnership in which two people settle on reading more hours of the day than in ours,” Charlie Munger commented.

When asked how to get smarter, Buffett once held up stacks of paper and said, “Read 500 pages like this every week. That’s how knowledge builds up, like compound interest.”

All of us can build our knowledge, but most of us won’t put in the effort.

“Go to bed smarter than when you woke up.”

— Charlie Munger

One person who took Buffett’s advice, Todd Combs, now works for the legendary investor. After hearing Buffett talk, he started keeping track of what he read and how many pages he was reading.

The Omaha World-Herald writes:

Eventually finding and reading productive material became second nature, a habit. As he began his investing career, he would read even more, hitting 600, 750, even 1,000 pages a day.

Combs discovered that Buffett’s formula worked, giving him more knowledge that helped him with what became his primary job—seeking the truth about potential investments.

But how you read matters, too.

You need to be critical and always thinking. You need to do the mental work required to hold an opinion.

In Working Together: Why Great Partnerships Succeed, Buffett comments to author Michael Eisner:

Look, my job is essentially just corralling more and more and more facts and information, and occasionally seeing whether that leads to some action. And Charlie—his children call him a book with legs.

Continuous Learning

Eisner continues:

Maybe that’s why both men agree it’s better that they never lived in the same city, or worked in the same office. They would have wanted to talk all the time, leaving no time for the reading, which Munger describes as part of an essential continuing education program for the men who run one of the largest conglomerates in the world.

“I don’t think any other twosome in business was better at continuous learning than we were,” he says, talking in the past tense but not really meaning it. “And if we hadn’t been continuous learners, the record wouldn’t have been as good. And we were so extreme about it that we both spent the better part of our days reading, so we could learn more, which is not a common pattern in business.”

It Doesn’t Work How You Think It Works

If you’re thinking that they sit in front of a computer all day obsessing over numbers and figures, you’d be dead wrong.

“No,” says Warren. “We don’t read other people’s opinions. We want to get the facts, and then think.” And when it gets to the thinking part, for Buffett and Munger, there’s no one better to think with than their partners. “Charlie can’t encounter a problem without thinking of an answer,” posits Warren. “He has the best thirty-second mind I’ve ever seen. I’ll call him up, and within thirty seconds, he’ll grasp it. He just sees things immediately.”

Munger sees his knowledge accumulation as an acquired, rather than natural, genius. And he’d give all the credit to the studying he does.

“Neither Warren nor I is smart enough to make the decisions with no time to think,” Munger once told a reporter. “We make actual decisions very rapidly, but that’s because we’ve spent so much time preparing ourselves by quietly sitting and reading and thinking.”

How Can You Find Time to Read?

Finding the time to read is easier than you think. One way to help make that happen is to carve an hour out of your day just for yourself.

In an interview he gave for his authorized biography The Snowball, Buffett told this story:

Charlie, as a very young lawyer, was probably getting $20 an hour. He thought to himself, “Who’s my most valuable client?” And he decided it was himself. So he decided to sell himself an hour each day. He did it early in the morning, working on these construction projects and real estate deals. Everybody should do this, be the client, and then work for other people, too, and sell yourself an hour a day.

It’s important to think about the opportunity cost of this hour. On one hand, you can check Twitter, read some online news, and reply to a few emails while pretending to finish the memo that is supposed to be the focus of your attention. On the other hand, you can dedicate the time to improving yourself. In the short term, you’re better off with the dopamine-laced rush of email and Twitter while multitasking. In the long term, the investment in learning something new and improving yourself goes further.

“I have always wanted to improve what I do,” Munger comments, “even if it reduces my income in any given year. And I always set aside time so I can play my own self-amusement and improvement game.”

Reading Is Only Part of the Equation

But reading isn’t enough. Charlie Munger offers:

We read a lot. I don’t know anyone who’s wise who doesn’t read a lot. But that’s not enough: You have to have a temperament to grab ideas and do sensible things. Most people don’t grab the right ideas or don’t know what to do with them.

Commenting on what it means to have knowledge, in How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler writes: “The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks.”

Can you explain what you know to someone else? Try it. Pick an idea you think you have a grasp of and write it out on a sheet of paper as if you were explaining it to someone else. (See The Feynman Technique and here if you want to improve retention.)

Nature or Nurture?

Another way to get smarter, outside of reading, is to surround yourself with people who are not afraid to challenge your ideas.

“Develop into a lifelong self-learner through voracious reading; cultivate curiosity and strive to become a little wiser every day.”

— Charlie Munger