When Bill Gates first met Warren Buffett, their host, Gates’ mother, asked everyone around the table to share the single most important factor to their success. Gates and Buffett both gave the same one-word answer: “Focus.”
In the words of Bill Gates Jr.’s college roommate, Andy Braiterman, “Bill had a monomaniacal quality […] He would focus on something and really stick with it. He had a determination to master whatever it was he was doing.” One of his ex-girlfriends described him as being extremely focused and intolerant of distractions. He didn’t own a television and had even dismantled his car radio. She elaborates: “In the end, it was difficult to sustain a relationship with someone who could boast a ‘seven-hour’ turnaround—meaning that from the time he left Microsoft to the time he returned in the morning was a mere seven hours.”
Warren Buffett, too, had focused on a single goal for decades. According to his biographer, Alice Schroeder, even as a child, his dream was to become rich and he had devoured a book on One Thousand Ways to Make $1,000. “Opportunity knocks,” the reader is told on the very first page of Buffett’s favorite read. “Never in the history of the United States has the time been so favorable for a man with small capital to start his own business as it is today.”
When he was 11 years old, Buffett announced that he would be a millionaire by the time he was 35. At 16, he had already saved up $5,000 from various enterprises. In today’s currency, that money would be worth about $60,000—not bad for a 16-year-old. His prediction was only off by five years. He made his first million by the time he was 30.
Recent scientific research has shown that most successful musicians and athletes owe their extraordinary success not to talent as was previously thought, but to a lifetime of dedicated practice or training from early childhood. Many people who haven’t managed to achieve the success they were hoping for blame their bad luck, lack of talent or lack of connections. The truth is that some people are more successful than others mainly because they are better at focusing their mental resources.
The weakest living creature, by concentrating his powers on a single object, can accomplish something. The strongest, by dispensing his over many, may fail to accomplish anything.
The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.