Charlie Munger on Learning

This is post 3/4 in a series about Charlie Munger's wisdom.

My habit of committing far more time to learning and thinking than to doing is no accident.

More important than the will to win is the will to prepare.

Acquire Wordly Wisdom

Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Discharge your duties faithfully and well. Step by step you get ahead, but not necessarily in fast spurts. But you build discipline by preparing for fast spurts. Slug it out one inch at a time, day by day. At the end of the day – if you live long enough – most people get what they deserve.

Acquire worldly wisdom and adjust your behavior accordingly. If your new behavior gives you a little temporary unpopularity with your peer group... then to hell with them.

Read a Lot

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

If it is wisdom you’re after, you’re going to spend a lot of time on your ass reading.

We read a lot. I don’t know anyone who’s wise who doesn’t read a lot. But that’s not enough: You have a to have a temperament to grab ideas and do sensible things. Most people don’t grab the right ideas or don’t know what to do with them.

I insist on a lot of time being spent, almost every day, to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. I read and think. So I do more reading and thinking, and make less impulse decisions than most people in business. I do it because I like this kind of life.
— Warren Buffett

Learn The Easily Learned Principles

I believe in the discipline of mastering the best that other people have ever figured out. I don’t believe in just sitting down and trying to dream it all up yourself. Nobody’s that smart.

It never ceases to amaze me to see how much territory can be grasped if one merely masters and consistently uses all the obvious and easily learned principles.

Take a simple idea and take it seriously.

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.

Idea Destruction

We all are learning, modifying, or destroying ideas all the time. Rapid destruction of your ideas when the time is right is one of the most valuable qualities you can acquire. You must force yourself to consider arguments on the other side.

The ability to destroy your ideas rapidly instead of slowly when the occasion is right is one of the most valuable things. You have to work hard on it. Ask yourself what are the arguments on the other side. It’s bad to have an opinion you’re proud of if you can’t state the arguments for the other side better than your opponents. This is a great mental discipline.

Any year that passes in which you don’t destroy one of your best loved ideas is a wasted year.

When a better tool (idea or approach) comes along, what could be better than to swap it for your old, less useful tool?

Every Experience is a Chance To Learn

Life will have terrible blows in it, horrible blows, unfair blows. It doesn't matter. And some people recover and others don't. And there I think the attitude of Epictetus is the best. He thought that every missed chance in life was an opportunity to behave well. Every missed chance in life was an opportunity to learn something and that your duty was not to be submerged in self-pity. But instead to utilize the terrible blow in constructive fashion. That is a very good idea.

It is really useful to be reminded of your errors. I think Warren Buffett and I are pretty good at that. We do kind of mentally rub our own noses in our own mistakes. And that is a very good mental habit.

Focus Over a Long Timespan

Concentrating hard on something that’s important, I can’t succeed at all without doing it. I did not succeed in life by intelligence. I succeeded because I have a long attention span.

Simplicity is the end result of long, hard work, not the starting point.
— Frederick Maitland

You need to have a passionate interest in why things are happening. That cast of mind, kept over long periods, gradually improves your ability to focus on reality. If you dont have the cast of mind, you're destined for failure even if you have a high I.Q.

Learn to Fluency

The deep structure of the human mind requires that the way to full-scope competency of virtually any kind is learn it all to fluency, like it or not.

If a skill is raised to fluency, instead of merely being crammed in briefly to enable one to pass some test, then the skill (1) will be lost more slowly and (2) will come back faster when refreshed with new learning. These are not minor advantages, and a wise man engaged in learning some important skill will not stop until he is really fluent in it.