Would Warren Buffett be a highly viable Presidential candidate?

BrainLifecycle_web

My col­league Dr. Murali Doraiswamy just wrote an excel­lent opin­ion piece for The New York Times: With Age Comes Wis­dom, and Some Con­cerns For Can­di­dates.

He ends it up say­ing that, “As Hen­ry Ford not­ed, “Any­one who stops learn­ing is old, whether at 20 or 80. Any­one who keeps learn­ing stays young.” We should shift the debate away from wor­ry­ing about the age of our can­di­dates and focus instead on their cog­ni­tive skill set and prac­ti­cal wisdom.”

I could­n’t agree more with those wise words.

warren-buffetBut, I do dis­agree with the words just pre­ced­ing them: “War­ren Buf­fett, at the age of 85, would still be a high­ly viable can­di­date, should he choose to run.”

To see why I disagree–and why it matters–let me syn­the­size some recent research on brain health, cog­ni­tion and aging.

As we grow old­er, our whole body changes. The same is true (sur­prise sur­prise) for the brain. The most com­mon struc­tural change is brain atro­phy as neu­rons, and con­nec­tions between neu­rons, tend to die over time. In terms of func­tional changes, age-relat­ed cog­ni­tive decline typ­i­cally starts at about forty, when the brain pro­cess­ing speed slows down.

Dr. Jer­ri Edwards, one of the lead­ing sci­en­tists we inter­viewed as prepa­ra­tion for the book The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness: How to Opti­mize Brain Health and Per­for­mance at Any Age, defines pro­cess­ing speed as “men­tal quick­ness”. Younger brains process infor­ma­tion faster than old­er brains. Young and old brains can accom­plish the same tasks but the old­er brains will do so more slow­ly. In our dai­ly life, the speed at which we process incom­ing infor­ma­tion can be cru­cial. This is the case, for instance, when one is dri­ving and has to assess the sit­u­a­tion and take deci­sion in a 1/45th of a second.

Along with speed of pro­cess­ing, oth­er brain func­tions tend to decline over time. The decline typ­i­cally hap­pens in areas that under­lie our capac­ity to learn and adapt to new envi­ron­ments, such as prob­lem-solv­ing in nov­el sit­u­a­tions, work­ing mem­ory, dex­ter­ity and flex­i­bil­ity. As we age, it takes more and more effort to tune out dis­trac­tions and stay focused.

Now, indi­vid­u­als do vary in how and when they expe­ri­ence these decreas­es, so it is very true that we should be con­cerned not about a can­di­date’a age, but about their own indi­vid­ual brain. And there are some pos­i­tive ele­ments to pon­der: Grow­ing old­er gen­er­ally means that one has acquired more knowl­edge and wis­dom, and some func­tions tend to improve with age, such as vocab­u­lary and word-relat­ed lan­guage skills, pat­tern recog­ni­tion, and emo­tional self-reg­u­la­tion. As a gen­eral rule, skills that depend heav­ily on pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence tend to improve — for exam­ple, as judges tack­le more cas­es, and more com­plex cas­es, they devel­op a refined intu­ition for solu­tions that solve prob­lems effi­ciently and build on empa­thy and insight.

In summary…as long as our envi­ron­ment does not change too rapid­ly, we tend to accu­mu­late very use­ful wis­dom through­out our lives–yet our capac­ity to process and deal with change declines.

So, would War­ren Buf­fett be a high­ly viable Pres­i­den­tial candidate?

I don’t think so. Not even close.

War­ren Buf­fet can remain a suc­cess­ful val­ue investor for years and hope­ful­ly decades to come (dis­clo­sure: I have a healthy amount invest­ed in Berk­shire Hath­away, so I’m putting my wal­let where my mouth is), but it would be extreme­ly hard for him to mas­ter, at age 85,  the cog­ni­tive skill set required to adapt to a whole new envi­ron­ment, such as becom­ing a growth investor, or day trad­er, or pres­i­den­tial can­di­date or, even­tu­al­ly, Pres­i­dent of the USA.

Hav­ing said that, I’ll acknowl­edge it’s all rel­a­tive. Who else is run­ning? Brain sci­ence has some answers…but cer­tain­ly not all.

To learn more:

English About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.

English About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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