From Warren Buffett to Mark Zuckerberg: 3 Steps to Successfully Finish Anything (the universal process)

Written by Scott August 15, 2012

Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg process over outcome

“If you do something the right way enough times, you’ll win.”

- Dan Loeb

Live LYL San Francisco Event Update: as of this morning there were only 12 spots left! You can grab your free ticket here if you haven’t. I cannot wait to see you all.

Now on to finishing what we started…

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Once you start, how do you ensure you finish?

After talking about starting last week, I noticed an interesting trend. I heard a lot of you respond in a similar way: “I don’t start because I’m afraid I’ll lose momentum. I might not finish.”

Sure, nothing is more important than starting.

But once you start, the most import thing quickly becomes “how do we set ourselves up so we can actually finish and succeed?”

The problem is most of us have really screwed up expectations.

We write a book and think it will be an instant bestseller.

We start a blog and think it’ll become the next Zen Habits within the year.

We launch a product and think the world will buy it.

We go on a diet and think we’ll lose 50 lbs right off the bat.

We expect ridiculous outcomes (often in record time) and when we don’t get them, we lose momentum. We give up. We quit.

Believe me, when it comes to misaligned expectations, I’ve been as guilty as any.

But I’ve learned (and continue to learn).

So today I want to share a simple process that has been proven over decades and generations to get real lasting results. A process for successfully finishing what you start.

It starts with a story from Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg…

Every ten years or so the finance world thinks Warren Buffett is an idiot.

It’s usually at a time when some new technology or investment vehicle is dominating news headlines, at the same time that his company, Berkshire Hathaway’s stock market returns are getting beaten by the averages. News stories start popping up everywhere talking about how “he’s lost his edge” or “how the new world is too sophisticated for his old school style.”

Buffett’s response is always the same. It might sound something like “We don’t get caught up in what’s new, shiny or different. We just stick to what’s worked.”

This happened most recently around 2000, during the tech boom. In July of 1999 Buffett took the stage in Sun Valley, Idaho to give the anchor keynote at the Allen & Company conference – arguably the most prestigious business leaders’ summit of the year.

But this year was different than others. The crowd was filled with dozens of overnight tech multimillionaires – most of which were still trying to figure out how the hell they got where they did so damn fast.

Hence, the most successful investor of the past century found himself giving a talk to a crowd that had possibly the most misaligned set of expectations of our lifetime.

His topic was pretty simple (as they typically are): The recent performance of the stock market, and the wildly-high valuations these new tech companies were being given, simply could not last.

Not exactly the message the audience was eagerly awaiting.

When he finished his talk, the newly minted experts brushed it off once again as “the old guy missed the tech boom…Sure, he was the most successful investor of our time, but whatever… This time it’s different.”

Then they flew back to Silicon Valley in their private jets.

Within about a year, the bottom fell out of the market. And most of these people went broke. 

Most the world was seduced by the money being made hand over fist. Most the world didn’t stop to think if it actually made sense.

But for Buffett, it didn’t fit into his process. It didn’t match his checklist. So he passed.

Despite how poor his investing outcome of the past few years had been (especially compared to most tech stocks of the time), he stayed true to his process. Because he knew that a proven process, executed properly, over time produces results. For him, there was no other measure.

Imagine the type of conviction that takes…

For the full story, check out the second chapter of Snowball – amazing few pages!

Then we have Mark.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Process for Changing the World (and handling tough IPO’s)

A couple days after the Facebook IPO earlier this year, a good CEO friend of mine forwarded me an email that Mark Zuckerberg sent to every Facebook employee the night before their company when public. Here’s a short excerpt (I pieced a few different quotes together):

“We don’t build services in order to make money…we make money in order to build better services… Facebook was not originally created to be a company. It was built to accomplish a social mission–to make the world open and more connected.

“By focusing on our mission and building great services, we believe we will create the most value for our shareholders and partners over the long term.” – Mark Zuckerberg

The gist of his message was simple: We built Facebook to help people, to connect them in new ways. We built it because we loved doing it. We did not build it to become rich. We did not build it to go public.

He reinforced their reason Why. He knew he had no control over what would happen the next morning, the moment their stock started trading on the open market. No one could control that.

But what they could control is staying true to their purpose, regardless of the uncontrollable outcomes they experience along the way.

The fact that the Facebook IPO was one of the worst performing IPO’s of the past ten years, is not Mark’s fault. It’s not Facebook’s fault. If anyone’s at fault, it’s the public for giving them such a rosy valuation.

But none of that is the point.

While I don’t know Mark personally, something tells me that there are things a lot more important to him than what the stock did in the first day, week or year of trading.

Mark cares about changing the world. He cares about executing on a process to further that mission. There is no one who can take that from him. IPO boom or IPO bust, he and his team will keep doing what they believe is consistent with making us all more connected – with making the world better.

Every single day Mark and his team build on that goal – no matter what the outside world says or does. That is what they control. And that is how they measure success.

You can read Mark Zuckerberg’s full letter here – fantastic read!

Do you measure by outcome or process?

This is the one questions that separates world-changers from the average.

Building things can be frustrating. Doing things that truly excite you can be discouraging.

It’s scary, takes massive creativity and when you get started you often feel incredibly far behind. Not to mention, most people try to convince you you’re an idiot.

This leaves us with two ways to operate:

  1. You can either measure yourself by the short-term results you get (and the reactions of others),
  2. Or you can figure out what actions typically lead to the long-term results you want.

You can either focus on the process or the outcome.

Most the world focuses on outcome.

Most the world gets frustrated and gives up as a result.

The key is to focus on the process that is most likely to lead to the outcome you want.

“We enjoy the process far more than the proceeds.”

- Warren Buffett

process over outcome

Most things are out of our control.

That’s a fact. So it’s on us to control the few things we can.

We cannot totally control losing 50 pounds in a year – but we can decide how we eat and exercise. We can choose to run that mile every day. Sooner or later, the weight will be gone.

We cannot control meeting the man or woman of our dreams. But we can decide to go on five dates a week.

We can’t directly control landing our dream job, but you can dedicate yourself to the self-discovery, the searching, and connecting with the right people who will likely lead you to doing work you love.

We cannot control how many products we sell in a month – but we can control our marketing message, how we treat customers and how many sales calls we make.

Last year I had no idea how to launch a product, so I asked people who had successfully done it. Then I followed their step-by-step advice, exactly, in launching How to Live Off Your Passion. The eventual results spoke for themselves. I then wrote them up in the $31k Product Launch Checklist to share with all you (btw, if you find a process that works, please share it :)).

At our investment fund we cannot control, nor predict, what the stock market will do on a daily, monthly or yearly basis – but we can control how we go about choosing the investments and keeping to a process that’s gotten results for the past 100 years.

One of the biggest causes for failure in the investment world is what’s often called “chasing returns” – altering your strategy (or “pivoting” as some like to say) to better fit today’s headlines – exactly what Buffett refused to do in 2000. We built our investment process and checklists based upon the most successful value investors of the past 100 years – Benjamin Graham and Warren Buffett, in conjunction with our team of advisors, to be sure we had confidence in a process.

You cannot control how many new subscribers you get in a month – but you can decide to show up and write your very best and most useful content for your readers. And you can decide to write 10 guest articles for other sites.

When I discovered the process that was most consistent with growing a blog (which was writing insanely useful content for this site and others), I wrote over 20 guest posts in a matter of a few months. That was my measure of success. I also have built a habit of writing 500+ words every day no matter what. I can’t control much else. But stringing sentences together – that’s all on me.

Redefine frustration – then welcome it

The problem is you may write those first five or 10 articles, and not see any results. You may invest in the investments exactly according to a proven strategy, and they may go through the floor next week. You may switch from red meat and fried foods to all veggies, and gain weight in the first two weeks.

In fact you probably will.

Making a transition is never easy.

Going against the tide is unbelievably challenging.

You get tested in more ways than you can imagine.

Most any meaningful long-term outcome requires some type of seemingly short-term sacrifice.

But it’s only a sacrifice if you measure yourself on an outward level. Mr. Buffett often talks about his “internal yardstick”. That’s how he measures his success. Not on shallow headlines and pundits’ opinions, but on how well he has stayed true to what he believes is right. That’s how he kept himself from investing in the Yahoo’s of 1999.

When process is your measure, every action consistent with that process is a success. 

Don’t get on a scale every morning. Just start running.

Don’t check the stock market every second. Just do your research.

Don’t check your sales non-stop. Just create valuable things and communicate that to your customers.

Don’t refresh your subscriber and web stats every couple hours (as I used to do). Just do the work you know people need your help with.

What’s the good that can come from it anyway?

One of two things could happen:

1. Your stats are super high, which excites you, but also immediately causes you to either get a little lazy or raise your expectations to unrealistic levels. You also might attribute this short-term success to something you’re doing, when it could be due to something that has nothing to do with your actions.

or

2. Your stats are lower than expected, which kills your drive and inspiration. You stop creating. You give up. You think you’re failing – then you actually do.

Neither of which helps your situation.

We must stop measuring ourselves by the things we cannot control.

the right process ensures results

3 Steps for Creating a Process that Ensures a Successful Finish

1. Identify your long term goal and be sure it has a “Reason Why” that actually means something to you.

Making money is not an adequate reason. That’s a result. For a refresher, look back at Simon Sinek’s Start with Why work. With the right Why, you can handle most any outward objection. This is what Zuckerberg put across so strongly in his pre-IPO letter.

2. Find a simple process that has been proven to consistently get your desired long-term results.

This is why Live Your Legend puts such a huge focus on surrounding yourself with passionate people and finding the right models. Go out and find someone who has done what you want to do (or something similar). Deconstruct what they did and how they did it. Create a process based on what you learn. For a refresher, reread On Modeling the Impossible and How to Do Anything.

*Very important: You must have complete confidence that the process will yield results over time. If you don’t fully believe in it then you’ll give up at the most crucial times (i.e. sell your best stocks when the market crashes, or stop writing when visitors don’t come beating down your homepage in the first couple months of launch).

The best place to find this confidence is from people who have crushed it in the past. Our investment process came from Mr. Buffett’s work. We believe in it 110%. Having a bad quarter does not change our thinking, as long as we stayed true to the process. And I learned the importance of creating content and guest posting from Leo Babauta and Corbett Barr (and a few others). Then I worked my ass off to do the same. I deeply believe that over time, that’s the work that pays off – no matter how the “numbers” look on any given week.

Commit to a simple process you believe in. Hint: usually it’s the simple ones that actually work.

3. Execute and measure success by what you can control.

Measure every day and every action based on how well you stayed true to the process you believe in. Work your ass off to execute. Surround yourself with people who believe the same – customers and employees alike. Congratulate yourself every time you do something you know is consistent with your long-term vision. I mean every single time. I still put a note of recognition on my calendar every time I publish a blog post.

No matter how big or small the victory, celebrate them all.

Dedication to a process is what moves mountains.

If you have the confidence that your process will yield results, then how well you stick to it is the only thing that should matter or motivate.

Chase the outcome and you’ll either quit early or start acting in a way that will lead to failure.

People will tell you you’re wrong. Let them talk.

If you believe it what you’re doing, you won’t hear them anyway.

Measure what you can control. Embrace the process. The rest will follow.

Once you start, that is the only way to finish.

-Scott

For the comments: What is your process? What steps do you whole-heartedly believe will lead to results over time? Share them with us. If you don’t have a process yet, get one. Tell us one thing you’ll do today to start establishing that process.

Live San Francisco LYL meetup – 12 spots left

Just a little reminder – as of this morning there were only 12 spots left for our first ever live event in San Francisco. You can grab your free ticket here if you haven’t. I cannot wait to get so many of us in the same place at once – after all, that’s when the real magic starts to happen! Less than two weeks to go. We have some fun things in store. I’ll update the attendees soon…

P.S. Also keep an eye out next week for a fun announcement about our upcoming How to Connect with Anyone course!

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