“Don’t Race Trains” – Leverage the Basics for Big Time Results

At the 2004 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting, Charlie Munger responded to a young shareholder who asked how to succeed in life. He quipped, “Don’t do cocaine. Don’t race trains”.

Often the best path to success is to avoid beating yourself. Taking the time to consider the pitfalls and planning to avoid them is a sound strategy. It allows you to focus on the basics; the first principles of success.


Inversion is a mental model that can be used to examine a problem and make decisions. It involves thinking forward and backward when deciding a course of action. One way to do this is to consider the opposite of what you want to happen. Using a pre-mortem and anti-goal strategy can help you do this.


A pre-mortem is the practice of working backward from the event. Once you have developed your plan for the upcoming contest, fast forward to the end of the game and imagine you lost. From there, identify the reasons you failed.

Here is an example. We all want to perform our best when it matters most. However, sometimes we stumble when the pressure is high. One possible reason is the inability to control emotions. The compounding results of poor emotional control can lead to lack of discipline which manifests in bad penalties, playing outside of your system, and overreacting to momentum swings, among many others.

By taking the time to exercise the pre-mortem you can identify the basics for success, and in the case of the example, make a plan to control emotions.


An anti-goal uses inversion to create a basic action plan. Rather than think about what you want to accomplish, consider what you don’t want to happen. What would be a disaster?

Coming into the Fall 2020 semester we knew weren’t going to play games before Christmas so our primary focus was on individual development. One of my goals was to have a team wide understanding of how foundational skills are blended to execute recurring game situations and how those concepts fit inside our style of play. That is a lofty goal, and it is easy to get lost while chasing it.

In order to stay on track with the basics that matter most, I set an anti-goal. My anti-goal was to not have the whole team shut down due to positive Covid19 tests.

Following the protocols put in place by our sports medicine team, we decided to group players on the ice and in six locker rooms. Should there be a positive test, only a few players would be forced to quarantine.

Also, our team needed to have transparent conversations about the risks of Covid19 transmission and how to be successful in our personal and social lives. Out of this dialogue, the players came up with standards of behavior for their time away from the rink:

-wear your mask

-don’t go to parties, don’t throw parties

-no bars

Leverage the Basics

Leveraging the basics can lead to asymmetric payoffs where the upside potential is greater than the downside loss. The payoff to keeping our whole team practicing was that we got better and built team chemistry. The downside loss was that we had to adhere to the protocol which limited how we could practice. It was a small sacrifice to have a chance to play the game we love.

In the end, we had zero positive Covid19 tests. The players made hard choices. They value our team more than partying. They love our seniors more than going to the bar. They care about our program and because of their positive actions we have chance at a season. Let’s hope they get rewarded.

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