Legendary investor Chuck Akre told Patrick O’Shaughnessy that “imagination is more important than knowledge.” From his perspective, a person can be brilliant and still fail IF they lack the curiosity (“imagination”) to stick with a challenging problem long enough to really solve it.
Imagination, curiosity, creatively – these can’t be taught, they can only be cultivated. We can get ourselves into the habit of finding and exploring new ideas just as easily as we can slip into a habit of settling on one thing that we believe works and shutting everything else out. It pays to have a guiding framework that we balance with our ability to explore. We need smarts and a good sense of imagination to take us somewhere new.
In practice, Akre has a broad philosophy and then goes great lengths to understand the companies he and his partners invest in. They have a famous “three-legged stool” approach that seeks to understand the business itself (how they make money), the people (their personal principles, sense of stewardship), and their reinvestment opportunities (if the right people have the right business, does it have the opportunity to scale and grow too? Not every company can or should do this).
Akre has found decades of success by staying insatiably curious about each leg of that stool. His openness has led him to opportunities in businesses as diverse as early cell phone towers and auto parts suppliers. Brilliance + creativity, together.
Professionally, it’s on us to do the same. We don’t have to be as smart as Akre, but anyone really can be just as curious. It takes effort and focus to keep asking why, but if we’re willing to do the work we’ll regularly find ourselves in new and exciting places.