Do it tomorrow

A good name, good advice, and 7 other things worth your time.

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Here’s some good advice from Thomas Murphy, age 95.

Honestly, I feel like this is a name I should have known earlier in life—first because it’s so close to my own, but also because of his career: Murphy started as a television executive in the 1950s — first employee at Capital Cities, in fact — and ultimately built an enormous media juggernaut that acquired ABC.

He served as chairman and CEO of the combined company until 1994, so I guess he’s a bit before my time—but he's still going strong, and sits on the board of directors at Berkshire Hathaway.

Berkshire brings us to Warren Buffett, the so-called Oracle of Omaha, who once credited Murphy with giving him some of the best advice he ever got.

That advice is, basically: “No rush. Do it tomorrow.”

Not everything, mind you—but if you’re angry, or annoyed, and about to react to something with emotion, wait a day or so.

As Buffett put it in the 2015 book, Getting There, by Gillian Zoe Segal:

“He said, 'Warren, you can always tell someone to go to hell tomorrow.' 

It was such an easy way of putting it. You haven't missed the opportunity. Just forget about it for a day. If you feel the same way tomorrow, tell them—but don't spout off in a moment of anger.”

I must admit, there have been a few times in my life when I probably would have been better off following Mr. Murphy’s advice.

Now, Buffett is 90, and he apparently places Murphy giving him this advice at least 45 years ago, when Buffett would have been in his mid-40s, and Murphy might have been around 50.

That means it was maybe 10 or 15 years too late for what Buffett describes as the dumbest mistake he ever made. In fact, I laughed out loud when I read Buffett's words here, because it flies in the face of a famous time that he was unable to “forget about it for a day.”

Back in the early 1960s, you see, Buffett was in a dispute with the chairman of a very old textile company that he’d invested in.

It was not a great business; in fact Buffett had bought a stake in it specifically because it was falling apart. He hoped to wring a bit of value out of it under what he called his “cigar butt” theory of investing.

Basically, he’d find old companies, undervalued and trending downward, and try to wring as much value out of them as he could before they completely died off.

In this case, however, Buffett grew angry with the chairman when he tried to nickel-and-dime him and renege on the terms of a deal. So, Buffett acted angrily and rashly, and started buying more and more stock just so that he could fire the chairman.

Net result, as Buffett wrote in one of his shareholder letters, he suddenly had a huge part of his investment capital tied up in “a terrible business about which I knew very little. ... I became the dog who caught the car.”

That company, drumroll please, was Berkshire Hathaway, and now Buffett owned it.

He wound up using it used it as a holding company acquiring other businesses, of course, but he didn't give up on the textile industry part of it for decades afterward.

He later claimed that chasing after this dying, unprofitable business, instead of investing in more promising industries, cost his ventures hundreds of millions of dollars.

So, bottom line advice: Stay in control of your emotions. Don't make moves out of anger. Take a deep breath before reacting. Wait until tomorrow.

But if you do insist on acting rashly, at least do it in a way that gives you a good story many years later.


7 other things worth your time

  • Aw, man. Americans' latest assessment of their mental health is worse than it has been at any point in the last two decades. About 76 percent of Americans rate their mental health as good, down from 85 percent a year ago. (Gallup)

  • Shoppers waited seven hours in the freezing cold outside a Walmart in Michigan overnight to try to get their hands on a Sony PS5, which is basically the hottest gift of 2020. However, it turned out it was all just a rumor: Walmart didn’t actually have any of the devices. Sorry about that! (WWJ Radio)

  • Pfizer will deliver enough doses of its Covid vaccine for 50 million Americans, the company said. But, there are 330 million or more Americans, and Pfizer also says the government failed to lock in more doses, so other countries will be ahead of the U.S. in line. Of course, this is not the only vaccine; Moderna is also on track for emergency FDA authorization. (AP)

  • The first man to receive the Covid vaccine in the UK is named William Shakespeare. I just think it’s important for people to know that. (Business Insider)

  • This is just so 2020: a rookie day trader who lost $127,000 buying and selling stocks using the RobinHood app is now making videos monetized on YouTube, telling other people what not to do. (NPR)

  • About 1/3 of workers who kept their jobs during the pandemic said they took a pay cut. But on the other hand, people who are doing well are doing really well — to the point that applications for mortgages bigger than $766,000 jumped 59% over last year. (CNBC, Bloomberg)

  • I just kind of love this video of a SpaceX Dragon capsule docking with the space station while moving at about 25x the speed of sound. (Elon Musk)


Thanks for reading. I’ve written about Thomas Murphy’s advice at Inc.com in the past. If you liked this post, and you’re not yet a subscriber, what are you waiting for? Please sign up for the daily Understandably.com email newsletter, with thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of 5-star ratings from happy readers.

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