Warren Buffetts’ circle of competence: Unlocking the wisdom

Learn the secret behind Warren Buffett's immense investment success. Knowing your limitations can solve most of your problems.

Warren Buffetts’ circle of competence: Unlocking the wisdom

Sunday November 26, 2023,

4 min Read

Warren Buffett is one of the most successful investors of all time. He has attributed much of his success to a concept called the "Circle of Competence." According to him, the idea not only guided him in making investment decisions but also provided him with valuable insights into various aspects of life. 

In today’s article, we'll try to unravel the secret of the concept of “Circle of Competence”, so you know how Warren Buffett applies it to avoid problems, and how you can do the same and enhance your decision-making abilities.

Defining the Circle of Competence

The Circle of Competence is a concept that emphasises the importance of being self-aware and knowing one's own strengths and weaknesses. To put it simply, it requires the proper representation of the expertise areas, knowledge, and skills that are possessed by one. It needn’t be a long list, as Buffett famously said, "The size of the circle is not very important; knowing its boundaries, however, is vital."

According to Buffett, what staying within the Circle of Competence means is to stick with only what he has a thorough understanding of. This motif here isn’t limiting yourself but rather being honest about your knowledge and capabilities. Buffett uses this method of acknowledging the boundaries of his knowledge to avoid stepping into areas out of his expertise and where the probabilities of making mistakes or facing challenges are high.

How Warren Buffett applies the Circle of Competence

Focused investment strategy

Buffett is famous for his disciplined and focused investment strategy. He never believed in investing in businesses outside of his expertise. According to him, it’s always best to invest in something that he understands well and can predict the future cash flows of that business. 

This belief allowed him to avoid investments in industries or companies outside his Circle of Competence, minimising the risk of making poor investment decisions because of incomplete understanding.

Continuous learning

According to Buffett, other than staying within one's Circle of Competence, it is very important to keep working towards expanding the area of that circle over time. He encourages continuous learning and gaining new knowledge, which doesn't mean jumping into unknown territory hastily but gradually expanding the circle by acquiring knowledge and expertise. 

Hence, associating Buffett's success only with the knowledge and expertise he possessed would be wrong. It is in fact his commitment to lifelong learning, that made him so successful. 

Humility and self-awareness

Humility and self-awareness are the core of the circle of competence. Buffett is never afraid of admitting his limitations and mistakes. This level of honesty with self is very important to avoid overconfidence and approach decision-making with caution. 

Avoiding complex financial instruments

Adding on to the previous point, Buffett knew his limitations in understanding the intricacies of complex financial instruments and derivatives. Hence, by steering clear of what he doesn't comprehend fully, he shielded himself from potential pitfalls and financial disasters.

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How you can apply the Circle of Competence


You can start by reflecting on your strengths, skills, and areas of expertise. Identify your area of understanding with a proven record of success to ensure a strong foundation for your Circle of Competence.

Honest assessment

One thing that you can never do in this process, is to lie yourself. By being truthful about your limitations, you can easily sidestep the pitfalls caused due to overconfidence.

Continuous learning

As mentioned earlier, knowing your limitations clearly doesn't translate into limiting yourself from new knowledge and skills. Be patient and gradually expand your Circle of Competence. Which includes reading, taking up a new course, or seeking guidance from experts in the field of interest.

Seek advice

Collaborating and consulting the right people from the industry can be valuable tools for making well-informed decisions. Hence, it is very important that one does not hesitate when asking for advice from experts in fields outside your circle of competence. 


Warren Buffett's thorough understanding of his Circle of Competence has significantly contributed to his success. He avoided multiple problems that could have arisen from overconfidence and ignorance, by applying the Circle of Competence in life. By doing the same you can gain the ability to make informed and successful decisions, ultimately leading you toward your goals.

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