Charlie Munger has been called “one of the great minds of the 20th century.”He is Warren Buffet’s partner and co-chairman of Berkshire Hathaway.  

Charlie describes himself as a “multidisciplinary thinker.”  The Farnam Street blog notes that Charlie draws “heavily from the study of psychology, economics, physics, biology, and history, among other disciplines, in developing his system of ‘multiple mental models’ to cut through difficult problems in complex social systems. It is a system like no other.”

“Why is it important to be a multidisciplinary thinker?” asks Peter Kaufman, the editor of Poor Charlie’s Almanack, the Wit and Wisdom of Charlie Munger.

“The answer comes from the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who said, ‘To understand is to know what to do,'” says Peter.  “Could there be anything that sounds simpler than that? And yet it’s a genius line—”to understand is to know what to do.” 

Consider the mistakes we make in life.  

“How many mistakes do you make when you understand something?” Peter asks.  

“You don’t make any mistakes,” answers Peter.  “Where do mistakes come from? They come from blind spots, a lack of understanding.”

Why should we become multidisciplinary in our thinking? 

“Because as the Japanese proverb says, the frog in the well knows nothing of the mighty ocean.’ 

“You may know everything there is to know about your specialty, your silo, your well,'” Peter observes.  “But how are you going to make any good decisions in life—the complex systems of life, the dynamic system of life—if all you know is one well?”

How do we become multidisciplinary in our thinking?

Peter’s answer?

“I discovered that on the Internet there were twelve years of Discover magazine articles available in the archives*.  I read every single one,” Peter reflects.  “It only took me six months. And it wasn’t that hard because it was written in layperson’s terms.”

The benefit?

“I had inside my head every single big idea from every single domain of science and biology,” Peter shares.  “This is how I use ideas that no one else in the world uses, and yet I can be comfortable that they’re right.

“If you skillfully follow the multidisciplinary path,” says Charlie Munger, “you will never wish to come back. It would be like cutting off your hands.”


Reflection:  Consider a recent decision I made that turned out poorly.  What were the factors that led to the decision?

Action:  Read one of the articles from Discovery magazine that Peter references.

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