2 minute read / Dec 15, 2023 /
Synthesis as Brilliance : Worldly Wisdom from Charlie Munger
I had pre-ordered Poor Charlie’s Almanack before Charlie Munger died & read it when it arrived.
In the ten speeches that constitute the book, Mr. Munger reveals his frameworks for life.
Mr. Munger was known for his worldly wisdom, a collection of mental models that helped him think about the world. Compound interest, confirmation bias, & something he calls the Lollapalooza effect - human psychology that shapes human behavior. Tulips, cryptocurrency, & cola all fit into this effect.
Mr. Munger, like Atul Gawande in the Checklist Manifesto, lauds the checklist for eliminating bias through comprehensiveness. The book contains his for investing.
In one of the speeches, he chides investors for spending too much time on the macro and not enough on human pyschology & incentives of individuals.
He argues psychology is a broken field because we cannot run true A/B experiments with humans. It would be an ethics minefield. But it’s one of the most important & least well-studied forces in economics.
Captain Cook deployed reversed psychology to convince his sailors to eat sauerkraut to avoid scurvy, by reserving it as a food first served to offices to change his mariners’ perception of it.
Describing a hypothetical business case to build a $2t market cap company in the non-alcoholic beverage business, Mr. Munger steps through four basic ideas: trademark the brand, reverse engineer economics at scale, use human psychology to convince large numbers of people to drink the beverage (he discusses rewarding users, brand marketing, & establishing product ubiquity), & develop a unique flavor - knowing that in time it will be replicated or surpassed.
And then he hits the reader with this zinger deploring the state of higher education :
This would indicate that our civilization now keeps in place a great many educators who can’t satisfactorily explain Coca-Cola even in retrospect and even after watching it closely all their lives. This is not a satisfactory state of affairs.
Mr. Munger is keen on synthesis. His definition of intelligence is being able to combine insights and mental models across different disciplines into a simple explanation.
The Almanack is an embodiment of that idea. It marries brilliance with bromides to convince the reader to use checklists, mental models, & psychology to make sense of a very complex system : the business world.