In an increasingly distracting world, it’s plausibly argued that the ability to concentrate is the factor that makes the difference between success and failure. The career of Warren Buffett, whose standing as the sanest man in finance received another boost in Tuesday’s State of the Union, shows that this has always been the case.
In her biography of Buffett Alice Schroeder quotes him describing his first meeting with that other hugely-respected billionaire, Bill Gates:
Then, at dinner, Bill Gates Sr. posed the question to the table: What factor did people feel was the most important in getting to where they’d gotten in life? And I said, “Focus”. And Bill said the same thing.
Schroder had incredible access, and her book is the best biography of a living figure I’ve ever read. Read more about it here.
I’ve just finished a piece on unemployment and confidence for the RSA Journal. While I was procrastinating, I read Eamon Duffy’s review of Keith Thomas’s new book in the LRB (subscriber protected). One passage made an interesting contrast to what I was writing:
People in our society think of unemployment as a curse, and derive much of their identity and satisfaction from work. But Thomas begins his chapter on work and vocation by exploring the conventional early modern view that work was at best a necessary evil.
For classical Greence the best life was one of leisure, “not idleness, of course, but virtuous activity of mind and body, involving no manual albour and unconstrained by the need to earn a living”. For ancient Christianity, work was the “primal curse”, inflicted on humankind as a punishment for the Fall.
Both classical and Christian orthodoxies informed early modern attitudes, so that the devoutly Protestant John Locke could assert on both counts that “labour for labour’s sake is against nature”. There would be no work in heaven.