The Digest #174

Published on November 10, 2023

Working Hard

Walter Isaacson’s latest book was probably the most difficult one to write. In Elon Musk, we have an odd collection of short stories, divided into ninety-five chapters, consuming over six hundred pages. With a subject that is only fifty-two years old and runs three major businesses in a manner that can only be described as chaotic, how can a writer keep up, much less decide when the time is right to publish a book?

Elon Musk is a highly flawed individual and it seems that money and power have failed to deliver much happiness. At the same time, only a very biased observer could claim that he has not accomplished a great deal in a relatively short period of time. It is clear that he works extremely hard and does not believe in a “work/life balance” either for himself for those who work at his companies.

It is easy to conclude that working hard is the problem, but the reality is that almost everyone who has accomplished great things has worked very hard, a point that Paul Graham made in How to Work Hard. But working too hard can backfire. It is important to determine the point at which working harder actually produces worse results:

“The only way to find the limit is by crossing it. Cultivate a sensitivity to the quality of the work you’re doing, and then you’ll notice if it decreases because you’re working too hard. Honesty is critical here, in both directions: you have to notice when you’re being lazy, but also when you’re working too hard. And if you think there’s something admirable about working too hard, get that idea out of your head. You’re not merely getting worse results, but getting them because you’re showing off — if not to other people, then to yourself.”

I have no idea what Elon Musk’s “limit” is and I suspect that he does not know either. He has an enormous capacity for work, but the book indicates that he has crossed the threshold many times, suffering severe psychological consequences as well as traumatizing many loyal employees. Depending on the quote on Tesla stock, he might be the richest human on the planet on any given day, but is he happy? 

One lesson from the book is that people need to be honest with themselves regarding how hard they are willing to work and those who run large organizations must figure out how to succeed given that the vast majority of people are not going to work ridiculously hard over very long periods of time. Another lesson is a very old one: money does not automatically buy happiness, even hundreds of billions of dollars.

Berkshire Hathaway’s MSR Group

The final article in my series on Berkshire’s third quarter earnings covers the manufacturing, service, and retailing group. This article includes a free preview:

Previous articles in the series appear below:


ProPublica Allegations Against Warren Buffett, by Robert Faturechi and Ellis SimaniNovember 9, 2023. I debated whether to include this article, which is based on information from stolen tax returns, especially since Warren Buffett has not yet responded. I do not view the article to be persuasive and consider the comparisons to David Sokol’s trading of Lubrizol shares in 2011 to be disingenuous. Nevertheless, the article is newsworthy and was picked up by CNBC. I may write more about the story if Mr. Buffett chooses to respond. Am I worried? No, because Mr. Buffett has more than earned the “seamless web of deserved trust” of longtime shareholders. (ProPublica)

  • Sokol’s Statements on CNBC Contradict Lubrizol’s Proxy Statement, March 31, 2011. Although David Sokol was never charged with violating any laws, I was highly critical of his trading of Lubrizol shares around the time Berkshire was considering acquiring the company. This article, and others on my website, document the situation in detail. Unfortunately, the CNBC interviews that are embedded in my articles no longer work. (The Rational Walk)

Why International May Finally be a Focus at Chipotle by Conor Mac, November 8, 2023. Growing international awareness of Mexican cuisine could allow Chipotle to leverage its brand outside the United States, especially in Europe. (Investment Talk)

Nvidia Envy: Understanding the GPU gold rush by John Luttig, November 9, 2023. “In 2023, thousands of companies and countries begged Nvidia to purchase more GPUs. Can the exponential demand endure?” (Luttig’s Learnings)

J.B. Hunt and BNSF tout premium domestic intermodal service by Bill Stephens, November 7, 2023. The new premium service called “Quantum” aims to convert 7 to 11 million truckloads that have never moved on rail before. (Trains)

Ben Graham’s Mother Gave Him a Key MessageNovember 8, 2023. It’s interesting to read about Ben Graham’s childhood on a blog written by his granddaughter. Graham’s mother was flawed but she always believed in her son’s abilities. (Beyond Ben Graham)


FedEx: Anytime, Anywhere, November 8, 2023. 57 minutes. Transcript. Fred Smith founded FedEx in 1973. The company now moves ~15 million packages a day. The Memphis hub handles an amazing 500,000 packages per hour(Business Breakdowns)

Anna Wintour, November 6, 2023. 1 hour, 12 minutes. David Senra shares his insights from reading a biography on the longtime Editor-In-Chief of Vogue. (Founders)

The First Attempted Nazi Takeover of Germany: The Beer Hall Putsch of 1923, November 9, 2023. 43 minutes. One hundred years ago, Adolf Hitler attempted to seize power but lacked sufficient military and police support. (History Unplugged)

The Federalist Papers, November 9, 2023. 50 minutes. Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay published a series of essays in 1787 and 1788 to support ratification of the United States Constitution. This discussion highlights the critical nature of the essays in their time as well as in the centuries since. (In Our Time)

Le Jardin de l’artiste à Giverny

In The Digest #173, I included The Rokeby Venus which was attacked by “climate activists” this week. Here is another work of art that was attacked this year. Aside from being a criminal act, this stupidity will turn public opinion against the activists, especially since heightened security at museums will inconvenience all visitors.

Copyright, Disclosures, and Privacy Information

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The Digest #174
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