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#90 Charlie Munger (Poor Charlie's Almanack)
September 22nd, 2019 | E90

What I learned from reading Poor Charlie's Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger.


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Cicero, learned man that he was, believed in self-improvement so long as breath lasts.

In business we often find that the winning system goes almost ridiculously far in maximizing and/or minimizing one or a few variables-like the discount warehouses of Costco.

"Invert, always invert." It is in the nature of things, as Jacobi knew, that many hard problems are best solved only when they are addressed backward.

It's quite interesting to think about Wal-Mart starting from a single store in Arkansas-against Sears with its name, reputation and all of its billions. How does a guy in Bentonville, Arkansas, with no money, blow right by Sears? And he does it in his own lifetime-in fact, during his own late lifetime because he was already pretty old by the time he started out with one little store. He played the chain store game harder and better than else. Walton anyone invented practically nothing. But he copied everything anybody else ever did that was smart. So he blew right by them all.

Charlie's redundancy in expressions and examples is purposeful: for the kind of deep "fluency" he advocates, he knows that repetition is the heart of instruction.

He enjoyed challenging the conventional wisdom of teachers and fellow students with his ever-increasing knowledge gained through voracious reading, particularly biographies.

He never forgot the sound principles taught by his grandfather: to concentrate on the task immediately in front of him and to control spending.

I would say everything about Charlie is unusual. I've been looking for the usual now for forty years, and I have yet to find it. Charlie marches to his own music, and it's music like virtually no one else is listening to. So, I would say that to try and typecast Charlie in terms of any other human that I can think of, no one would fit. He's got his own mold.

Charlie Munger has spent a professional lifetime studying lives that have worked well and others that have glitches or have experienced failures.

Despite his healthy self-image, Charlie would prefer to be anonymous.

I am a biography nut myself. And I think when you're trying to teach the great concepts that work, it helps to tie them into the lives and personalities of the people who developed them. I think you learn economics better if you make Adam Smith your friend. That sounds funny, making friends among 'the eminent dead,' but if you go through life making friends with the eminent dead who had the right ideas, I think it will work better for you in life and work better in education. It's way better than just giving the basic concepts.

His underlying philosophical view was one of deep and realistic cynicism about human nature, including a distaste for pure mob rule and demagogues.

Find out what you're best at and keep pounding away at it. This has always been Charlie's basic approach to life.

Take a simple idea and take it seriously.

Charlie likes the analogy of looking at one's ideas and approaches as "tools." “When a better tool (idea or approach) comes along, what could be better than to swap it for your old, less useful tool?Warren and I routinely do this, but most people, cling to their old, less useful tools."

Henry Singleton has the best operating and capital deployment record in American business...if one took the 100 top business school graduates and made a composite of their triumphs, their record would not be as good as Singleton's.

You have to figure out what your own aptitudes are. If you play games where other people have the aptitudes and you don't, you're going to lose. And that's as close to certain as any prediction that you can make. You have to figure out where you've got an edge. And you've got to play within your own circle of competence.

The other aspect of avoiding vicarious wisdom is the rule for not learning from the best work done before yours. . .There once was a man who assiduously mastered the work of his best predecessors, despite a poor start and very tough time. Eventually, his own work attracted wide attention, and he said of his work: “If I have seen a little farther than other men, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants."

In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn't read all the time-none, zero. You'd be amazed at how much Warren reads-and at how much I read.

There is no better teacher than history in determining the future. There are answers worth billions of dollars in a $30 history book.


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