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How to Find Good Stories

Bob Ewing
February 23, 2024
Screenshot 2024-02-23 074727

Talking Big Ideas.

“Before there were books, there were stories.”
~ Salman Rushdie

Warren Buffett loves to tell the story of Rose Blumkin. 

She was born in a small Russian village in the winter of 1893. One of eight children. As a young woman, she immigrated to the United States for a better life. She had to trek through Siberia, China, and Japan. She snuck past border guards. When she finally arrived in America, she was broke and spoke no English.   

In her mid-40s, during the height of the Great Depression, Rose used her meager savings to open a small furniture store in a basement in Nebraska. 

Half a century later she was bringing in $100 million a year. 

Known as Mrs. B, she was famous for her low prices. Her competitors sued her on the grounds she must be selling at a loss to drive them out of business. She convinced the court her business was sound — and sold the judge $1,400 worth of carpet. 

She never spent a day in school. And she never learned to read or write. Yet Buffett said, “Put her up against the top graduates of the top business schools or chief executives of the Fortune 500 and, assuming an even start with the same resources, she’d run rings around them.”

“I’d rather wrestle grizzlies than compete with Mrs. B!”

~ Warren Buffett

Mrs. B. had her 100th birthday party postponed. She was still working every day and insisted the party be moved to a time when her store was closed. 

How did Buffett come across the story of Mrs. B?  

He was paying attention. 

Buffett has his eyes set on savvy businesses with strong earnings potential. Mrs. B naturally appeared on his radar. 

Warren Buffett and Mrs. B

The psychologist Gary Klein loves to tell a story about a neonatal nurse. Klein spent decades researching the power of intuition and the nurse embodied his findings. She saved a baby’s life by following her instincts rather than listening to the doctors around her. 

As Mrs. B did for Buffett, the nurse spoke to something deep inside Klein. Years ago I interned at the Foundation for Economic Education, and I was quickly drawn to their approach to dealing with difficult people. It felt profound and true. I can’t recall how many times I’ve shared this story of the FEE founder Leonard Read: 

What excites you? 

Perhaps you discovered compelling stories by researching a paper or project. Maybe you found a story you love in a favorite TV show, movie, or video game. A conversation with a loved one, a powerful presentation, a social media feed. 

We discover new stories all the time. Some of them resonate. And then they fade away – unless we make an effort to hold on. 

Commit to a habit of holding onto the stories that resonate with you. This isn’t a big commitment or a difficult task. Just jot down a few sentences that give a quick overview of the stories as you happen upon them. Or speak the stories into Otter in your own words while they’re fresh in your mind. 

You don’t have to be the author of the stories you save. Buffett and Klein didn’t write the stories of Mrs B and the neonatal nurse. They spotted them in the wild and held onto them, as did I with Leonard Read’s story about William Benz.  

The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon says that once we become aware of something, we begin to see it often. Look for good stories, and you’ll start finding them all over. Save them, and they will build up over time. 

Eventually, whenever you need to find a good story, you can simply scan your collection.

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