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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

How small investors can widen their Circle of Competence

Warren Buffett is a strong believer of the Circle of Competence concept. If a company or business doesn’t fall within his Circle of Competence, he won’t touch it. He famously avoided buying into any high-tech company in the 1990s – when every one and his brother-in-law were investing in dot.com companies. He didn’t understand how high-tech companies were making money, and whether they had sustainable businesses. He missed the boom – and the inevitable bust that followed.

Warren Buffett is one of a kind. You and I will never be able to match his skill and wisdom in investing. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t follow some of his money-making principles. What if our Circle of Competence is too limited? Is there a way to widen the Circle?

Let me give you the bad news first. You can’t widen your Circle of Competence in a hurry. It is a process that will take a lot of time and effort. The good news is that the process is not difficult or complicated. It takes patience, perseverance, and a plan.

First make a short-list of all the knowledgeable people you know. The list isn’t likely to be a long one if you are looking for people with real knowledge. Not some one who knows how many hundreds Tendulkar scored before the age of 25, or the exact locations of the seven wonders of the world. But some one who knows about the economy, business and industry.

Next, figure out how you can meet such people without imposing too much on their time and patience. May be he is a friend’s father or your wife’s uncle. If you inform them in advance that you want to meet them, and the reasons for the meeting, knowledgeable people will be more than happy to share some of their experiences.

Don’t know anyone knowledgeable enough? Join discussion forums and investment groups. There are many in cyberspace. Each group or forum will have a few knowledgeable members. Try and pick their brains.

Going to a family wedding or a party? Don’t just waste your time eating and drinking and being merry. Introduce yourself to people you don’t know, and find out about what they do. If you show genuine interest in their activities, they will give you a lot of information that you won’t find in TV channels or pink papers.

Carry on this process for some time, and you will be amazed at how much wider your Circle of Competence can become. Then, have the discipline to stick to your Circle of Competence when choosing stocks to buy. That will prevent you from getting badly stuck in the shares of a company that you really know nothing about. Like Suzlon, or Punj Lloyd, or Bartronics.

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What is your Circle of Competence?

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