When we talk about business plans, we talk about very specific plans on how to start and run a business. However, before we write a business plan, shouldn’t we define for ourselves what we want to work on in life?
I extensively thought about what I want to work on in life – in parts quite philosophically. I did not develop my plan on what to work on in one evening. It is more the result of my merged interests, projects I worked on, books I read, and people I met. Something which evolved over many years.
Over the past weeks, I tried to distill this clutter and write what you might call “My Plan for Work“. By reading it, you’ll get a great understanding why I work on what I work on. Hopefully, it will also help and inspire you to design your own “Plan for Work” as well.
Because work is a crucial part of life, I started with the meaning and significance of life itself – before we can talk about work.
The Significance of Life
Work is an inextricable part of life. There is no work-life-balance. There is only life. Work is a crucial part of it. First, before we get to the subject of work, what is life all about?
In 7.5 billion years, the thermonuclear fuel of the sun, hydrogen, will be depleted. The sun will turn into a “red giant” star which will vaporize the planet Earth we inhibit today.
It is a beautiful reminder that – in the cosmos of time – nothing we do or could ever achieve has any significance.
But we don’t have to go that far into the future to realize our total insignificance.
Off the cuff, can you name one significantly successful person of the 18th century? I can not. Less than 300 years have passed, and we cannot remember a single successful person of that time – unless we studied history.
For me, it is clear, nobody will remember my name 500 years from today. I don’t strive for it. And I believe if you strive for it, it’s megalomaniac. What is the point of wanting people, who you’ll never get to know, to know your name anyway?
All status and ego games are sheer waste of human potential and a degradation of the soul.
Because nothing I could ever achieve will be of any significance in the cosmos of time, the question of how I want to live my life – thus what I want to work on – becomes a spiritual and philosophical question.
Luckily, the question of what it means to live life is already answered within the question itself: life is supposed to be lived.
I don’t want to merely survive until I die. I want to feel alive. I want to truly live every single moment of your life.
How do I feel alive and truly live? By taking risks.
I cannot live my life to its fullest by opting for the easy, safe, and comfortable options. Only by stretching beyond my comfort zone do I truly feel alive. When I face a choice, I always try to choose the riskier more difficult option – even though the easy option might be the right choice. Why? Only by picking the riskier option do I feel the adrenaline pumping through my body and oxytocin being released. I truly live life by taking risks and stretching my comfort zone.
But is life solely about living and expressing our beauty and creativity on earth?
No. I believe to purely live life is not enough. We have to fulfill our potential. Somehow, all of us were gifted with a surprisingly high intelligence, high creativity, and high curiosity. If god only wanted us to live life, why would he have given us such a high intelligence, creativity, and curiosity? But having these qualities enables us to question everything, to solve problems we see and to invent solutions. I believe that we were born on this planet to fulfill our full potential. Not to merely survive. But to become the absolute best version of ourselves.
Becoming the best version of oneself also mean’s I have to nourish and develop my soul and expand my consciousness. How do you develop your soul? By living rightfully.
At the core of all major religions – whether it is Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, or Hinduism – you can find guidelines on how to live rightfully.
You might summarize the core teachings from all major religions into these 10 rules which I try to abide and live by:
- Love and respect God, the universe, and all living beings.
- Treat others as you would like to be treated, with compassion and kindness.
- Practice self-discipline, self-control and strive for mastery.
- Seek inner peace and live in harmony with the world around you.
- Follow a moral and ethical code, including not lying, stealing, or harming others.
- Be humble and avoid pride and arrogance.
- Be honest and truthful in all your actions and dealings with others.
- Show gratitude for the blessings in your life.
- Be generous and give to those in need.
- Seek spiritual enlightenment and strive to live a life of purpose and meaning.
No matter which religion you follow, I believe religions should still play an important role in our society. Not because of the literal teachings but particularly because of the ethical guidelines they offer.
I always try to abide and live by these ethical guidelines. They allow me to live a principled and spiritual life full of risk and adventures.
As I’ve already mentioned, work is an inextricable part of life. This means all these principles also apply equally to what I work on. I don’t look at work and life as two separate things.
Business as a Playing Field
Work and thus business is not only about earning a living. It is what makes the world work. Everything around me – the house I’m living in, the MacBook on which I’m typing this text, the chair I’m sitting on and the Sencha tea I’m drinking – was created by an entrepreneur who took the risk and created something of value for society.
For me, business is like a giant playing field with dozens of industries, hundreds of sectors, and thousands of niches in which you can create value for society.
Within this gigantic playing field, I can choose the character with which I’d like to play the game of business.
For example, I can be an inventor, an entrepreneur, a scientist, a manager, a specialist, or an investor. I strive to be all of them – at the same time.
And because the playing field of business is so gigantic, I can also choose the location: where I want to work.
Next, I can also choose the people with which I want to work and do business with – ranging from partners to investors and employees.
Exactly because we as humans are so insignificant, I see work – and thereby business – as a game I am supposed to play in order to achieve self-mastery, to prove my character, to develop my soul, and ultimately fulfill my potential.
Mimesis in Business
The playing field of business is gigantic. The options seem unlimited. The most important task for myself is to define exactly the character with which I want to enter this playing field of business. If we don’t carefully define the playing character ourselves, we will end up imitating what others are doing.
This is explained beautifully in the mimetic theory of René Girard. It is a theory of social psychology that suggests that people imitate the desires and behaviors of others, rather than following their own individual desires and values. In the context of business, this means that entrepreneurs are influenced by the desires and behaviors of others when deciding what business they’d like to start.
For example, an entrepreneur may observe that a particular industry or type of business is currently popular or successful, and may decide to start a similar business in order to imitate that success. This can lead to a proliferation of businesses that are very similar to one another, as each entrepreneur is imitating the desires and behaviors of others rather than pursuing their own unique ideas and values.
Imagine a playing field where a small part is crowded with people, while all other parts of the playing field are sparsely populated.
The problem is that independently considering our own passions and interests is not as easy. According to René Girard, mimesis is an innate and universal human tendency that arises from our need to form relationships and social bonds, making it impossible to completely escape. Therefore, the best way to minimize mimesis seems to lie in our choice of role models. To do so, I have consciously selected those who embody the values and qualities I admire, rather than simply imitating those who are most successful or popular.
Three of my biggest role models are Alfred Herrhausen, Peter Thiel, and Charlie Munger.
Alfred Herrhausen was a prominent German banker and former chairman of Deutsche Bank who played a key role in shaping the country’s economic and political landscape during the late 20th century. His worldview centered around the importance of business as a force for positive change in society. He was committed to building bridges between the worlds of finance, politics, and culture to create a more sustainable and equitable future. Unfortunately he was murdered in a car bombing before I was born, but his biographies and essays inspire me who I want to become.
Peter Thiel is an American entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and author, known for co-founding PayPal, investing in numerous successful startups, and his controversial views on various social and political issues. His worldview is characterized by his belief in the transformative power of technology, his embrace of contrarian and libertarian ideals, and his vision of the future as a space of boundless innovation and progress. His courage to stand up for contrarian standpoints and his relentless aim for real progress strongly define how I think about business and innovation.
Charlie Munger is an American businessman, investor, and philanthropist, best known as the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway and a close partner of Warren Buffett. His worldview is marked by his belief in the value of rational thinking and lifelong learning, by his focus on seeking out high-quality businesses with long-term potential, and his commitment to ethical behavior and personal responsibility. His rational approach to life and business helps me as a compass in my life and business.
Freeing Myself from Mimesis
Back to mimesis and our playing field of business. As I started to grasp the ramifications of mimesis, I sat down to define in which area of the gigantic playing field of business I don’t want to play in.
The answers surprised me. I did not want to start another startup. Neither did I want to become just another value investor who is allocating capital to undervalued businesses. Just as getting involved in finance – such as corporate finance and private equity – was turning me off. Even though I am naturally interested in writing or creating media, I had no interest in creating just another media company.
Having defined what I don’t want made it easier to define in which area of the gigantic playing field of business I want to play in.
As I reflected on my authentic self while considering the opportunities I saw at hand, slowly, things got clear, and I created a vision which I am very excited about.
My vision is to blend these seemingly contrarian philosophies of the exciting high-growth, high-risk, short-term startup-venture-capital world and the conservative high-cashflow, low-risk, long-term value-investment world.
Not in any industry, but particularly in health.
One thing I don’t want to build is a conglomerate of dozens of great businesses which are part of all kinds of different industries. Instead, I want to build a streamlined business focussed on a few selected future-proof niches within the health industry. Quasi a conglomerate within the health industry.
Why health? Ever since I can remember, I’m fiercely interested in health and longevity. In essence: How to be as healthy as possible to live as long as possible. This is why I dedicated my life to it and formulated my massively transformative purpose: “Inspire and guide humanity to reach our full potential and live a fulfilled and naturally healthy and long life.“
Combining these contrarian business philosophies in an area I’m extremely passionate about – health and longevity – gives me a purpose to wake up each morning with excitement. In the long term it will also be my edge over anyone who competes with me.
Creating a Plan
As I started to think about ways to combine these disciplines, I also looked at the overall big picture. Trends which will inevitably impact and transform our society.
The first thing I realized was it was not blockchain or artificial intelligence which is about to impact our society drastically in the near future. Rather it is the demographic change. We are entering a Silver Economy, an economy shaped by the demographic transition, in which – among others – business owners have to find a successor, or they must shut down their business. Hence, thousands of well-conducted and vital businesses will be for sale over the coming 15 to 20 years. These are businesses which are providing real value to our society today. Some of them might be described as boring and unsexy businesses – especially when compared to startups – such as home health, handicraft businesses, laboratories, or snow removal. These businesses are crucial for a functioning society. Artificial intelligence cannot yet care for your grandmother, draw blood, repair your sink, or clear the snow from our highways. Each boring business provides crucial products and services just as dozens of jobs which in turn support dozens of families.
For me, it became clear that I wanted to use this opportunity to apply and combine principles from both worlds – the value investment and startup world – to create a unique business.
My decision was clear that, instead of founding a startup with a high failure rate, I will start by acquiring great businesses at a fair price. Businesses with a solid track record of consistent earnings growth, strong cash flows, and a clear path to continued growth.
My overall idea is to find three or four businesses in three or four niches within the health care or health technology industry. As soon we find and acquire a great business in a certain niche, we will follow up with multiple further acquisitions within the same niche. Not with the goal to create the largest but rather the best run and most profitable group within that niche. A long-term approach with a strong focus on sustainability rather than aggressive growth.
I don’t build a business with the intention to sell it. I rather invest my time and energy into building a business I can be proud of, a business which creates value for society, a business I can still joyously be the chairman of when I’m 99 years old.
To build such a long-term oriented business, I defined a strict – quite conservative –investment hypothesis:
1. Small, Excellent Businesses at Fair Prices
We buy excellent businesses at fair prices – which are too small for traditional private equity firms but often too large for employee buyouts – which excel in quality, management, and potential.
2. Healthy and Sustainable Growth
We put quality over quantity by focussing on a smaller portfolio of excellent and industry-leading businesses and by avoiding aggressive growth by acquiring mediocre businesses.
By following these principles of acquiring excellent, small businesses at fair prices and by emphasizing health and sustainable growth, we will build up a healthy basis of equity and cashflow. Thus, we not only create a very healthy business, we also create a foundation from which we can develop technology and new business models to disrupt markets we are participating in. By combining stability with innovation, we create unique competitive advantages which will allow us to evolve into a monopoly within our niches.
Traditionally, one starts with an innovative bold business idea. Instead of starting with the bold idea, we stay open-minded to great businesses and opportunities in a wider range of promising, future-proof, and fragmented niches within the health and longevity industry. The market will then guide us towards three to four specific niches within the health industry through the businesses we find and acquire.
As we find and acquire the first business, we stick to this niche by seeking further great businesses to acquire within that specific niche to build a very profitable portfolio of companies within that niche.
The plan is to repeat this process in three to four different niches of the health industry resulting in a health conglomerate with three to four portfolios of extraordinary high quality businesses.
As soon we established a foundation within one niche, we will not only optimize these through digitalization, marketing, sales, and branding – but also develop new innovative business models and technology which will create unique competitive advantages and lift these businesses out of their competitive landscape into a new blue ocean.
If you know me, you’ll know that I’m nothing but short of ideas. Give me a problem or show me a business, and I’ll give you dozens of quality ideas on how you can solve it and improve it. Every day I come up with at least a dozen of ideas of how I can solve a problem, improve an existing business, or innovate. Innovation is in my blood.
By changing the order – from finding a great business first before turning on my idea engine gives me mental freedom. Instead of starting with dozens of innovative and revolutionizing ideas, I first focus on one thing: finding great businesses. Innovation comes second – with the aim is to infuse innovation into great but seemingly boring businesses to grow them and fulfill their full potential.
I’m absolutely certain that ultimately, by focussing on the long-term, I can build a unique business over the next decades, the likes of Berkshire Hathaway. And by doing so, I can attain self-mastery, build my character, fulfill my potential, and most importantly live a principled and exciting life.
What It Is All About In The End
Again, in the end, nothing I can ever accomplish will be of any meaning within the endless vastness of the universe. Nothing. This makes it all the more important that I focus my energy on living rightfully and developing my own soul and consciousness.
We spend approximately one third of our day working. Work is such a crucial part of who we are. Therefore, to fulfill my own potential, I have to strive for mastery in what I work on.
I believe that only by constantly striving for self-mastery and by applying and developing our creativity and intelligence can create progress and by doing so ultimately fulfill our potential on earth.