It's amazing how crazed the stock market can be. People can predict a rout midday and by the closing bell everything is pretty much where it was to begin with. Those who want to win at investing often look at billionaire Warren Buffett, whose annual letter to investors earlier this year had some great advice for entrepreneurs.
There's another lesson, though, in his approach to investing that is pure gold for business strategy. It's simple, but then often the best ideas are.
Ready for it? Wait.
Play the Long Game
No, not wait for the point. Learn to wait. Stop reacting so quickly. The business world is fast-paced, certainly, but it's so much slower than most people think. For example, look at the crash of 2008, which was many years in the making and took some years to bottom out. The market dropped to half its value and now it's higher than ever. The losers were the ones who panicked and sold.
Patience and a willingness to look at a larger picture of data, metrics, and performance grant amazing powers of perseverance and wisdom. The problem is that too few people, including entrepreneurs, really understand data. They jump when numbers move up and down in what seems to be significant amounts.
But that's not what counts. The importance in a pattern is the long-term trend. For a reminder, here's a graph created through the site YCharts that shows the S&P 500 index over time through the middle of July 2014.
Patience Is a Critical Virtue
Yes, things dropped like a stone starting in 2008. But look again: they had done the same during the dot com fiasco and recession in the early 2000s. To sell out when stocks began to plummet meant one of three things: Investors were heavily leveraged and needed to sell to get enough cash to cover their positions; they were convinced that the market would drop and never return to its then-present levels; or they were really crafty and wanted to pull in cash so they could buy even more after the drop seemed to bottom out a bit.
My bet is that most were in the second category.
Long-term investment and long-term business management are similar. If you're constantly reacting to bumps and jumps, you're a plaything of accident or an adrenalin junkie, not an executive controlling a business.
Sure, there will be times when you have to act quickly and decisively. However, far more frequently there are ups and downs on given days with trends seen in the collection that turn into months and years. Develop the patience and discipline to see how things move over time and take the steps necessary to steer them in the direction you want.