2 min read

#2106: To be useful over usual

When I get a good newsletter, I scan it and bookmark what looks intriguing. Later, I read only one, maybe two, of the articles. My Instapaper backlog grows like a weed, faster than I can prune it.

I hate that.

I like the newsletters that I subscribe to, but I suspect many are unfiltered. I wonder how much thought is going into their creation. Many seem like a convenient collection of shiny objects, barely read.

My aim with this newsletter is to make it useful, not usual. To that end, rather than collect links and throw them at you, I'll choose fewer and offer some interpretation. I hope that will save you time and give you a valuable filter for what to explore further.

Here's an example.

Charlie Munger's Five Helpful Notions

Whenever I hear another reference to Charlie Munger's "worldly wisdom" or "mental models," I get a bit of a lip curl. Munger is a wealth of wisdom, but I recoil at critical-mass popularity in general, and Munger's ideas have reached that status. And he strikes me as rude, arrogant, and self-righteous.

Perhaps the combination of wisdom and arrogance is what makes him so great to listen to. You have to admire a guy who can be so loved by the people he's criticizing (which seems to be everyone but himself.)

In 1996, Munger gave a talk called Practical Thought About Practical Thought. In it, he outlined five "helpful notions" in solving problems.

Decide big “no-brainer” questions first.

Simplify problems by answering the obvious questions first. This sounds like The 80:20 Rule applied to problem solving.

Develop numerical fluency.

It's impressive how much math can explain many natural phenomena.

Scientific reality is often revealed only by math [and] it also works well in messy, practical life. Without numerical fluency, you are like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.

Always invert.

The best value investors focus on how to avoid loss rather than on how to make gains. And by doing so, they often accomplish both.

It is not enough to think problems through forward. You must also think in reverse, much like the rustic who wanted to know where he was going to die so that he’d never go there.

Think in a multidisciplinary manner.

Abstracting a concept from one domain and applying it to another is often very useful.

You must think in a multidisciplinary manner [by using] all the easy-to-learn concepts from the freshman course in every basic subject. If, in your thinking, you rely entirely on others ... whenever outside a small territory of your own, you will suffer much calamity.

Avoid single-cause explanations.

It's common to look for a single reason to explain an outcome. But the explanation is often multi-factored and starts with "It depends."

Really big effects, lollapalooza effects, will often come only from large combinations of factors.