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Great Quotes, the Conscious Capitalism Edition: Epictetus on the Power of Slow

By Motley Fool Staff - Updated May 28, 2018 at 12:57PM

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The movement may be kind of new, but the ideas that underlie it are not -- as demonstrated by the ancientness of some of the aphorisms David picked this week.

For this Rule Breaker Investing podcast, host David Gardner once again climbs up onto the shoulders of giants with a "Great Quotes" episode. These five memorable bon mots offer him excellent entries into topics that Foolish investors ought to be considering. Specifically, because May is Conscious Capitalism Month, he focused on wise words that can apply to that evolving holistic business philosophy.

In this segment, he reaches back about 2,000 years to the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, who reminds us that patience in pursuit of anything great -- whether wealth or something else -- is not just a virtue but a powerful tool.

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on May 16, 2018.

David Gardner: Great Quote No. 1: Now, we're going to go chronologically through time with these, so let's go back a few thousand years. Why not? Let's spend a little time with the Greeks. Let's specifically tap the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus. Now, I have to admit I never did take classical Greek. I didn't really do that great a job studying philosophy. I recognize Epictetus. I could certainly spell it for you quite easily. But if you're like me, you may not exactly remember who Epictetus was, so before I give his quote, just a little bit of a Wikipedia backgrounder here.

Epictetus was born in the year 55 AD. He lived for 80 years -- 55 AD to 135 AD. He was born a slave at Hierapolis in Phrygia, which is present-day Turkey, and he lived in Rome until his banishment, when he went to Nicopolis in Northwestern Greece for the rest of his life. His teachings were written down and published by his pupil [as was so often the case back then]. In this case it was Arrian and those two books are his Discourses and his Enchiridion.

Epictetus taught that philosophy is a way of life and not just a theoretical discipline. To Epictetus [again, just finishing out, here, with Wikipedia], "all external events are beyond our control. We should accept calmly and dispassionately whatever happens." That doesn't feel fully Foolish to me, but then listen to this. "However, individuals are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline." There's a quick backgrounder on Epictetus.

Here's the quote [a lot shorter than the bio]. And I quote, "No great thing is created suddenly." Love it. Of course, I love all these. Why would I even present great quotes on the Great Quotes series if I didn't love it and want to share it and share it out?

Let's think about it a little bit together. "No great thing is created suddenly." Well, the first thing I think about, when I think about that, is businesses, since that's what we talk a lot about with Rule Breaker Investing, and while there have been some early start-ups that gained great scale and rose to great prominence much quicker than at any other points in history [and I'm thinking of Alphabet, or I'm thinking of Facebook], the truth is that even those companies are 10+ years old, which isn't really that much in the grander scheme of time, but is still worth respecting. And of course, many great businesses [think of something like Starbucks or Walmart] were created over decades. There are businesses that have been created over centuries that still exist today, but no great thing is created suddenly.

Now, I think America is a great country. I think there are a lot of admirable things about our country. I say that somewhat chauvinistically; i.e., I am a fan of my own country, but I'm the first to say we have a lot of faults and you, whoever you are in your own country, I hope that you admire aspects of your own and could explain that to a foreigner about what's great about what you've got.

And when I think about America, it wasn't created suddenly. In some ways it came together awfully quickly in the 1770s, but people had been living for more than a hundred years in and around the mainland, and while the Revolution happened pretty quickly and then later the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution; it all kind of came together in one era. It wasn't created suddenly, and I don't think wealth is created suddenly, either.

Back to our main focus of this podcast. I love this line from Brian Chesky. That's the CEO of Airbnb, who would be a better-known person and probably a little bit more celebrated if his company were public. You and I can't actually invest in shares of Airbnb unless we were part of the venture cap teams that have funded that massive enterprise.

But Brian Chesky recently described a conversation he'd gotten to have with Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffett. He was a younger Brian Chesky back then. He's still a pretty young guy today, but he was more like a student getting a rare opportunity to have a meal with the two gentlemen.

And he said to Jeff Bezos, "Jeff, what's the best advice that Warren ever gave you?"

And Bezos said, "Well, I asked [this of Warren]. I said, 'Your investment thesis is so simple. You're the second richest guy in the world and it's so simple, why doesn't everyone just copy you?'" [A lot of people have tried to copy Amazon at different points over the course of time.] "Why doesn't everyone just copy you, Warren?"

And Buffett answered, "Because nobody wants to get rich slow."

And what a beautiful and profound point. It's really true in this day and age. In every day and age, get rich quick will always sound great, and there are a lot of schemes promoting the idea that that is possible. But the one thing that I think you and I know, as Foolish investors, is that we can, and we will, get rich, and by doing so slowly, that's the sure way to riches.

Everything else is speculation. The more you try to compact your time frame and hit it big, the much lower your odds, and the much higher the chance that you'll end up very disappointed [maybe even alienated], and that's sad because you had a chance to do what Warren Buffett does, and what we, here, at The Motley Fool do [and throw out as a halo effect of our efforts as many places around the globe as possible], and that is to get rich slow. To enjoy the markets' compounded returns, 10% or so on average, over time. Just do the math. 10% up over 10 years or 20 [years] or 50 [years] rolls up to a remarkable sum of money that you'd love to be on top of.

And, hey, what if you could beat that 10%? What if you were, maybe, a Rule Breaker, and you had a habit of outperforming that percentage over time? That's the way to get rich. And when I think [before we go on to our next quote] of a recent conversation I had with an Uber driver, I started talking about what I do at The Motley Fool.

He said, "Do you do crypto?"

And I said, "I'm interested in it. I think that it's a technology worth following."

And it became clear to me that he only really understood investing in terms of saving money to put it into cryptocurrencies.

Now, I'm not going to be here to bash cryptocurrencies. Again, I think the technology is interesting, and I did find out recently that for the last four or five months, the No. 1 searched term at is "bitcoin." That's right. For several months now, the No. 1 most-searched term at is bitcoin, so I understand there's a lot of interest, there, and I respect that.

But, I would always want anybody, whether he or she is an Uber driver, a student, or a student of the game of life of any age, to understand, first of all, that getting rich slowly [is] by being a part owner of stocks, of corporations [of understanding that you're actually owning a part of that company and you're owning a part of Facebook when you buy a share of Facebook] as opposed to speculative cryptocurrencies.

I think speculative cryptocurrencies can be great as a small, let's say 1-5% of your portfolio. You could even go higher than that if you're going with the safer, beefier ones and maybe not just investing in cryptocurrencies, but stocks of companies that are doing blockchain. Great! But I would always want anybody of any age to make sure that they understood the stock market and what it is. It's a farmer's market, except rather than getting fruits and vegetables, you're getting parts of public companies. I would want to make sure everybody understood that and realized that's where you want to have almost all your money. You want to keep saving and be inspired by better and better returns you'll get over time with compounding in the stock market.

Back to Epictetus. "No great thing is created suddenly," and more recently Warren Buffett, "Yeah, I get rich slow."

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. David Gardner owns shares of Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Facebook, and Starbucks. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Facebook, and Starbucks. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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