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  • Published: 29 August 2023
  • ISBN: 9781529146516
  • Imprint: Ebury Edge
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 368
  • RRP: $35.00

The Diary of a CEO

The 33 Laws of Business and Life


Law 1 - Fill Your Five Buckets In The Right Order

This law explains the five buckets that determine your human potential, how to fill them and, crucially, in which order you should fill them.

My friend David was in the front garden of his home, enjoying his morning espresso, as a sweaty, confused-looking, panting man in tired gym attire jogged towards him slowly.

The jogging man paused in his stride and greeted my friend David as he struggled to catch his breath. He cracked an unintelligible joke, appeared to laugh frantically at it, then began erratically talking about the spaceship he was building, the microchips he was going to put in monkeys’ brains, and the AI-powered house robots he was going to create.

Moments later, the jogging man said goodbye to David, and continued his slow, sweaty trudge down the street.

That sweaty jogging man was Elon Musk. Billionaire founder of Tesla, SpaceX, Neuralink, OpenAI, Paypal, Zip2 and The Boring Company.

Before I revealed the identity of the sweaty jogging man, you may have understandably assumed he was an escapee of the local psychiatric facility, or suffering from some psychotic break. But once you heard his name, all those extraordinary aforementioned ambitions suddenly became believable.

So believable, in fact, that when Elon tells the world of his ambitions, people will blindly give billions of dollars of their children’s inheritance to back him, they’ll quit their jobs and relocate to work for him, and they’ll pre-order his products before he’s even created them.

This is because Elon has filled his five buckets – in fact all of the people I’ve met that possess the power to build truly great things have five brimming buckets.

The sum of these five buckets is the sum of your professional potential. The fullness of these buckets will determine how big, believable and achievable your dreams are to you, and to those that hear them.

Those that achieve great things have spent years, often decades, pouring into these five buckets.

Someone fortunate enough to have five full buckets has all the potential needed to change the world.

When you’re seeking employment, selecting the next book you want to read or deciding what dream to pursue, you must be aware of how full your buckets are.


  1. What you know (your knowledge)
  2. What you can do (your skills)
  3. Who you know (your network)
  4. What you have (your resources)
  5. What the world thinks of you (your reputation)

At the start of my career, as an 18-year-old start-up founder, I was haunted by a moral question that I couldn’t seem to shake: is focusing my time and energy on building a company (which would ultimately enrich me) a more noble pursuit than going back to where I was born in Africa and investing my time and energy in saving even one life?

This question remained at the front of my mind for several years until one chance encounter in New York granted me some much-needed clarity. I attended an event hosted by Radhanath Swami, a world-renowned guru, monk and spiritual leader, at an event he was holding in New York.

As I squeezed in among a sea of the Swami’s mesmerised followers, who were starry-eyed and hanging on to his every word in a perfectly still, appreciative silence, the guru asked if anyone in the crowd had a question for him.

I raised my hand. The guru gestured at me to deliver my question. I asked, ‘Is building a business, and enriching myself, a more noble pursuit than going back to Africa to try and save lives?’

The guru stared at me as if he could see into the depths of my soul, and after a long, blinkless pause he proclaimed: ‘You cannot pour from empty buckets.’

Almost a decade on from that moment, it’s never been clearer what the guru meant. He was telling me to focus on filling my own buckets, because someone with full buckets can positively bend the world in any way he or she desires.

Having now built several large companies, worked with the biggest organisations in the world, become a multiLaw millionaire, managed thousands of people, read hundreds of books and spent 700 hours interviewing the world’s most successful people, my buckets are sufficiently full. Because of this, I now possess the knowledge, skills, network, resources and reputation to help millions of people all over the world, which is exactly what I intend to spend the rest of my life doing, through my philanthropic work, the donations I make, the organisations I create, the media companies I build and the school I’m working to launch.

These five buckets are interconnected – filling one helps to fill another – and they are generally filled in order from left to right.

We usually start our professional life acquiring knowledge (school, university, etc.), and when this knowledge is applied, we call it a skill. When you have knowledge and skills you become professionally valuable to others and your network grows. Consequently, when you have knowledge, skills and a network, your access to resources expands, and once you have knowledge, skills, a valuable network and resources, you will undoubtedly earn a reputation.

With these five buckets and their interconnected relationship in mind, it’s clear that an investment in the first bucket (knowledge) is the highest-yielding investment you can make. Because when that knowledge is applied (skill), it inevitably cascades to fill your remaining buckets.

If you truly understand this, you’ll understand that a job that pays you slightly more cash (resources), but gives you far less knowledge and fewer skills, is a lower-paying job.

The force that clouds our ability to act upon this logic is usually ego. Our ego has an incredible ability to persuade us to skip the first two buckets – convincing us to take a job simply for more money (bucket 4) or a job title, status or reputation (bucket 5), without the knowledge (bucket 1) or skills (bucket 2) to succeed in that role.

When we succumb to this temptation, we’re building our career on weak foundations. These short-term decisions – your inability to delay your gratification, be patient and invest in your first two buckets – will ultimately catch up with you.

In 2017, a very talented 21-year-old employee called Richard walked into my office and told me he had some news to share with me. He told me that he had been offered a job as CEO of a new marketing company halfway across the world, and that he wanted to leave my company – where he had been flourishing – to take it. He told me the role offered him an enormous pay rise (almost double what we paid him), an equity package and a chance to live in New York City – a far cry from the dreary village he was raised in and an apparent step up from Manchester, England, where he worked for my company.

To be totally frank, I didn’t believe him. I couldn’t fathom that a legitimate business would offer a junior employee, with no management experience, such a prominent role.

Nonetheless, I accepted his claims and told him that we would support him in his transition out of our company.

It turns out I was wrong – Richard was telling the truth. The job offer did exist and a month later he became CEO of the company, moved to New York and started his new life as a C-suite executive in the Big Apple, leading a team of more than 20 people, in a rapidly growing marketing start-up.

Unfortunately, that is not where the story ends; as life would come to teach both me and Richard, there is no skipping the first two buckets of knowledge and skills if you’re playing for long-term, sustainable results. Any attempt to do so is equivalent to building your house on sand.

Within 18 months, the once-promising company Richard had joined had gone under, lost its key employees, run out of money and become shrouded in controversy relating to management practices. After the company closed, Richard was unemployed, far from home, and searching for a new, more junior role, in the same industry that we had employed him in.

When deciding which path to take in life, which job to accept or where to invest your spare time, remember that knowledge, when applied (skill), is power. Prioritise filling those first two buckets and your foundations will have the long-term sustainability you need to prevail, regardless of how life’s tectonic plates move and shake beneath you.

I define a professional earthquake as an unpredictable career event that adversely impacts you. This could be anything: a technological innovation that disrupts your whole industry, being fired by your employer, or if you’re a founder, your company going under.

There are only two buckets that any such professional earthquake can never empty - it can take away your network, it can take your resources, it can even impact your reputation, but it can never remove your knowledge and it can never unlearn your skills.

These first two buckets are your longevity, your foundation and the clearest predictor of your future.



Applied knowledge is skill, and the more you can expand and apply your knowledge, the more value you’ll create in the world. This value will be repaid in a growing network, abundant resources and a robust reputation. Make sure you fill your buckets in the right order.

The Diary of a CEO Steven Bartlett

Runaway No.1 Bestseller by STEVEN BARTLETT: entrepreneur, podcaster and Dragon's Den star

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