Talking Big Ideas.
“I’d rather wrestle grizzlies than compete with Mrs. B!”
~ Warren Buffett
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 in search of 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 Buffet 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.”
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.
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 Buffet, the nurse spoke to something deep inside Klein. Stories that inspire us will likely inspire our audiences. Enthusiasm is contagious.
I can’t recall how many times I’ve shared the story of Leonard Read & William Benz. I came across it as an intern living in the basement of the FEE Mansion. I’d dig through everything I could find on Read’s approach to dealing with difficult people because it felt profound and true to me.
What gets you excited?
Perhaps you discovered compelling stories researching a paper or project. Maybe you came across 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 time commitment or 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.
The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon says that once we become aware of something, we begin to see it often. Be on the lookout 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 open up your collection.