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Warren Buffet, Success, Correlation and Causation

Written By: Jason Shafrin - Aug• 30•17

Warren Buffet once stated:

 “The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.”

I agree with with Buffet’s statement.  However, many self-help blogs have interpreted this as a causal statement. Gregg McKeown of Entrepreneur magazine comments on the Buffet quotation as follows:

As I wrote in a piece for Harvard Business Review, this means, “Not just haphazardly saying no, but purposefully, deliberately, and strategically eliminating the nonessentials. Not just once a year as part of a planning meeting, but constantly reducing, focusing and simplifying. Not just getting rid of the obvious time wasters, but being willing to cut out really terrific opportunities as well. Few appear to have the courage to live this principle, which may be why it differentiates successful people and organizations from the very successful ones.”

I agree that focus is important, but does the ability to say ‘no’ cause people to become successful?  Perhaps not.

Very successful people have a lot more opportunities to do different things.  Consider the case of the President of the U.S.  Whatever your political leanings, any U.S. President has innumerable opportunities to do different things.  They are asked to make more appearances, give more speeches, travel to more countries, receive more book offers, etc.  Senators are also very successful people but do not receive as many opportunities.  Did “saying no” get President Obama elected?  Did “saying no” get President Trump elected?  Both are unlikely the case.

Thus, I would say that the “saying no” phenomenon of very successful people is perhaps 5% causal–that very successful people are more focused on the end goal–and 95% just a correlation that very successful people have lots of opportunities.

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