Ted Williams, Warren Buffett & a Secret to Your Company’s Community Impact

November 13, 2019

One of goBeyondProfit’s founding members was asked to serve on a panel of CEOs discussing best practices in Community Impact.  Panelist Keith Reynolds Jennings kindly agreed to share his insights here for Georgia readers.

A few months ago, I started reading the classic book, Let My People Go Surfing, by renowned Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard. It was another step in my quest to educate myself on how businesses impact communities,

His opening sentence really bothered me. Chouinard writes, “No young kid growing up wants to become a businessman. He wants to be a fireman, a sponsored athlete or a forest ranger.” 

I didn’t aspire to be a business person. Did you? I think the problem is that we don’t always see the inspiring impact of businesses beyond making money. Doctors, nurses and first responders save lives. Athletes break records and win championships. Entertainers sell out auditoriums and move people to tears. Non-profits bring food, shelter and healthcare to people. 

What’s the equivalent heroism for business? 

Well, you and I know businesses do a lot. First of all, let’s not forget the steady income, healthcare and valued goods or services. But increasingly, businesses also extend themselves as volunteers and sponsors, through philanthropy and pro bono work, serving communities locally and around the world.

The challenge is companies renowned for their impact, like Patagonia, are rare.

Which raises a new question. What can your business do to achieve stand-out impact? 

I think a big idea can be found woven in the wisdom of Ted Williams and Warren Buffett.

The Importance of Focus

Warren Buffett is among the greatest investors in the history of capitalism. How did he achieve this? He cites Ted Williams’ 1986 book, The Science of Hitting, as a key influence on his investment strategy.

Ted Williams is arguably the greatest hitter in the history of Major League Baseball. His lifetime batting average was .344. According to Williams, the strike zone is around seven baseballs wide and 11 baseballs high. Picture a strike zone box filled with 77 baseballs. Each ball represented Williams’ batting average for that pitch. His “happy zone” was where he hit above .300. His strategy was to wait for pitches in that zone, then swing.

Buffett, like Williams, knows exactly which businesses will generate the highest returns over the longest periods and he waits for those businesses to show up, then he takes a big swing.

Define Your Circle of Impact

The difference between Ted Williams and Warren Buffett is that, in baseball at some point in the count, Williams was forced to swing at a less than perfect pitch. However, Buffett can watch thousands of “pitches” go by and wait for the perfect one.

Like Buffett, your business doesn’t have to jump on every community opportunity that presents itself. You can wait for impact opportunities in your company’s sweet spot. Employees and clients ask your business to sponsor golf tournaments and galas and send volunteer teams out to events. Yet which request will yield the greatest return on giving for your business AND its community?

The key to growing your community impact is to know when to say no, by defining your circle of impact. Williams knew his “happy zone.” Buffett knows his circle of competence. What is your company’s circle of impact? It might be foster and orphan care, childhood education, homelessness, etc. The key is to focus on what makes the most sense given your business.

“One-for-One” 

Imagine what would happen if your business committed to a single cause or organization over the span of a year or more. Your impact could be exponential and obvious.

I refer to this as going “one for one.” Consider visibly committing to one cause for one year or more. You may need to partner with several non-profit organizations serving that cause, but your focus is singular. Or commit to one non-profit organization and go deep for a year.

A “one for one” strategy allows your company to move from being a transactional to a transformational contributor. Instead of a series of one-and-done service projects, your employees can get to know deep causes of an issue; better understand the mission, staff, operations and beneficiaries of a select few non-profit organizations in your local community. With focus, your business can more readily commit the tools and business acumen needed to address the community challenge at hand.

To Increase Impact, Subtract

We need a world in which young people grow up aspiring to be business leaders. A world in which businesses are recognized as catalysts for strong healthy communities.

The key to community impact is rarely doing more. As business leaders, we all know that trying to be all things to all people means being nothing to no one.

The key is to focus. I recommend we subtract to drive real impact. Commit to one cause or organization for one year. Starting now.

Imagine your grandchildren seeing the impact you’ve had in the lives of others — your family, your employees, your clients, your community — and wanting to build upon your legacy.

I can.

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