Charlie Munger’s Commencement Speech

I hit upon this article that gives the transcript of Charlie Munger’s speech given to the law students at USC as a commencement speech. He is one of the partners of Berkshire Hathaway. Here are some nuggets of wisdom given by him:

Safest way to get what you want is to deserve what you want.

Deliver to the world what you would buy if you were on the other end.

And without lifetime learning, you people are not going to do very well. You are not going to get very far in life based on what you already know. You’re going to advance in life by what you learn after you leave here.

I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up and boy does that help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.

Can I make this a habit of my life? (as if I am seeking the consent of somebody 🙂 ). I mean I note down what I have learned in a day? I need some solid PIM for this purpose.

If you generalize Cicero, as I think one should, there are all these other things that you should know in addition to history. And those other things are the big ideas in all the other disciplines. It doesn’t help just to know them enough so you can [repeat] them back on an exam and get an A. You have to learn these things in such a way that they’re in a mental latticework in your head and you automatically use them for the rest of your life. If you do that I solemnly promise you that one day you’ll be walking down the street and you’ll look to your right and left and you’ll think “my heavenly days, I’m now one of the of the few most competent people in my whole age cohort.” If you don’t do it, many of the brightest of you will live in the middle ranks or in the shallows.

In life, unless you’re more gifted than Einstein, inversion will help you solve problems.

Doing what you have faithfully engaged to do should be an automatic part of your conduct.

This business of not drifting into extreme ideology is a very, very important thing in life.

A big whirlpool is not something you want to go into, and I think the same is true about a really deep ideology. I have what I call an iron prescription that helps me keep sane when I naturally drift toward preferring one ideology over another and that is: I say that I’m not entitled to have an opinion on this subject unless I can state the arguments against my position better than the people who support it. I think only when I’ve reached that state am I qualified to speak.

Another thing that does one in, of course, is the self-serving bias to which we’re all subject. You think the true little me is entitled to do what it wants to do. And, for instance, why shouldn’t the true little me overspend my income.

Generally speaking, envy, resentment, revenge and self-pity are disastrous modes of thoughts. Self-pity gets fairly close to paranoia, and paranoia is one of the very hardest things to reverse. You do not want to drift into self-pity. It’s a ridiculous way to behave and when you avoid it, you get a great advantage over everybody else or almost everybody else because self-pity is a standard condition, and yet you can train yourself out of it.

The correct answer to situations like [the Saloman case] was given by Ben Franklin, “If you would persuade, appeal to interest not to reason.”

Getting to work under people we admire requires some talent. The way I solved that is I figured out the people I did admire and I maneuvered cleverly without criticizing anybody so I was working entirely under people I admired. You’re outcome in life will be way more satisfactory and way better if you work under people you really admire. The alternative is not a good idea.

Objectivity maintenance routines are totally required in life if you’re going to be a great thinker. There, we’re talking about Darwin’s special attention to disconfirming evidence and also about checklist routines. Checklist routines avoid a lot of errors. You should have all this elementary wisdom and then you should go through a mental checklist in order to use it. There is no other procedure in the world that will work as well.

I think the game of life, in many respects, is about getting a lot of practice into the hands of the people that have the most aptitude to learn and the most tendency to be learning machines. And if you want the very highest reaches of human civilization, that’s where you have to go.

In this world we have two kinds of knowledge. One is Planck knowledge, the people who really know. They’ve paid the dues, they have the aptitude. And then we’ve got chauffeur knowledge. They have learned the talk. They may have a big head of hair, they may have fine temper in the voice, they’ll make a hell of an impression. But in the end, all they have is chauffeur knowledge. I think I’ve just described practically every politician in the United States.

Another thing you have to do, of course, is to have a lot of assiduity. I like that word because it means: sit down on your ass until you do it.

Another thing, of course, is that life will have terrible blows in it, horrible blows, unfair blows. And some people recover and others don’t. And there I think the attitude of Epectitus is the best. He said 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 to utilize the terrible blow in constructive fashion.

The thoughts of others
Were light and fleeting,
Of lovers’ meeting
Or luck or fame.
Mine were of trouble,
And mine were steady,
So I was ready
When trouble came.

“My sword I leave to him who can wear it.”

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