Warren Buffet's Principle (The Little Game, Part 3 of 3)

[Note: Some of you won't like this, and that's cool—we all own our own photography. It just means this post isn't for you, that's all. Don't sweat it—even excellent treatments can't be good for every patient.]

For those of you playing along, in Part 1 you wrote down 25 categories that your photography falls into; in Part 2 you prioritized them or ranked their importance to you.

Here's the big idea:

You should not only concentrate on your Top Five categories, but also actively avoid the other twenty.

The idea comes from "The Oracle of Omaha," renowned billionaire investor Warren Buffett. The story (which I first got wind of in the book Grit) is that one day Mr. Buffett was talking to his pilot, Mike Flint, about Mike's career goals. First, Buffett asked Flint to list 25 of his goals in life. Next, he asked him to think about it for a while and then circle the top five.

Obviously, you'd work hard on your top five.

But what, Buffett asked, about the other twenty?

James Clear, who heard the story secondhand and wrote about it*, tells it this way:

"Flint replied, 'Well, the top five are my primary focus, but the other twenty come in a close second. They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit. They are not as urgent, but I still plan to give them a dedicated effort.'

"To which Buffett replied, 'No. You’ve got it wrong, Mike. Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top five.'"

The concept is simple. The other day, I used fashion photography and macro shots of insects as two genres of photography furthest from my own interests—I don't care about them at all. I've taken exactly one fashion shot in my life and zero closeups of insects. But what that means is that fashion and bugs aren't distractions for me; they're not the things standing in the way of my accomplishing anything. The things that are preventing me from accomplishing what I want to are things I like to shoot and enjoy shooting...just not enough to put them in my Top Five.

My observation over many years is that photographers, for some reason, hate being limited. We all really do like to think we can do everything. Again and again I see this in the work, and hear it in the statements, of photographers of all levels. I even worked up a private little name for it in my own mind—"token genres." Pictures we take which are outside of the mainstream of our work, but which we made just because we had the opportunity to do so and because we wanted to show the world we could. We must think this shows our range and adaptability—when what it probably actually says to the world is, "I'm all over the place and don't really have much of a clue what I'm best at."

I wrote about something similar many years ago when I suggested that you should never have just one wedding shot in your portfolio. The reasoning was that anyone not looking for a wedding photographer couldn't care less if you once shot at a wedding, and anyone looking for a wedding photographer wants someone who specializes in weddings—who's passionate about and committed to photographing them—and that would mean someone showing a portfolio that's exclusively of weddings. Having no wedding shots in your portfolio is fine. Having a portfolio full of wedding work is also fine. Anything in between doesn't do you any good. Nobody's going to hire a photographer to do their wedding based on one photograph. One wedding picture in a portfolio is just taking up space.

Whether you're a professional, an aspiring pro, an artist, an aspiring artist, or an advanced amateur or committed enthusiast, it's just a fact that although you might conceive of yourself as a jack of all trades who can "do anything," you simply cannot do everything well. And when prioritizing, it's not hard to give up the things we don't care about anyway. What's hard for us to give up are all those things we kind of like and enjoy and have spent some time doing—and are a bit proud of ourselves for, if we're honest—but that fall outside of our Top Five. Those are the things, according to Warren Buffett, that are sapping attention, time, energy, and effort from our central interests, our best skills, and what we most want to do. Those are our distractions. They're what are holding us back. They're what we must avoid...painful though it may be.

By the way, I don't think this means we can't still shoot anything at all...if it's in front of us and it's easy. It just means we should recognize distractions for what they are, and that we shouldn't expend time, effort, and energy on those distractions.

Lovin spoonful Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind?

I have more to say about this, but I don't want to dictate the conversation too much. So I'll wait till tomorrow or Saturday to continue. I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the meantime.


*There are numerous accounts of the story online, but James Clear says he heard it from his friend Scott Dinsmore who got it directly from Mike Flint.

Original contents copyright 2018 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.

Harsh reality

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[Author: Michael Johnston]

Tags: Photography, Omaha, Warren Buffett, Buffett, Flint, Michael Johnston, James Clear, Don, Mike, Michael C Johnston, Scott Dinsmore, Photographic aesthetics, Mike Flint

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