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Worldly Wisdom

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I haven’t written here in a VERY long time, but I wanted to come back to writing after I finished reading “Charlie Munger Almanack” a beefy 600+ page book about worldly wisdom. (Charlie was Warren Buffets silent partner where their ideas took Berkshire Hathaway a small million dollar investment fund to now being worth well over $150 billion dollars)

The basic very high level overview of the book is: Multidisciplinary learning and synthesizing all of that knowledge is essential for life and being successful. Charlie developed 100 mental models from all different intellectual disciplines in which he used to view the world and make decisions.

I was trying to convince my sister, who just started her first year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, why taking classes from different disciplines is very important so I want to use this post for myself to lay out my reasoning and the broad categories of mental models that are important to know.


What is multidisciplinary learning

First lets define what multidisciplinary learning is. Multidisciplinary learning is the act of learning the fundamentals and details from completely different disciplines. For example if you learned topics in physics, math, psychology, and business the synthesis of all that learning would be multidisciplinary.

Synthesis is another word we should define before we get started. Synthesis is about internalizing the concepts you learn, not just remembering facts and spitting them back out. We’ll get this more below.

How we are taught in school today

In todays education system we are taught new concepts in an isolated fashion and through fact based tests.

For example in Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the college I went to, when you signed up for a major you had to take classes basically only within that major. So if you a computer science student you could only take computer science classes. If you deviated at all from this narrow focus the “educational advisors” would yell at you and put you on warning unless you kept the progression.

Secondly our education system is very much based on remembering and spitting back facts. This was most prominently observed during my high school education. My junior and senior year I worked 35+ hours a week at Trader Joes and basically used class to catch-up on my sleep cycle. To pass my tests all I needed to do was remember all the facts the teacher told us during the quarter (I got my friends to let me borrow there notes :)) and fill those out on a punch card. There was no incentive for real learning.

Learning is all about taking the concepts and examples and being able to apply them to real life or in new situations.

The biggest problem with specialized learning

This is one of Charlie’s favorite quotes: If you have a hammer everything will start to look like a nail.

Translated to english: If you learn only one specific discipline very deep, every problem will look like it can be solved by the one discipline you know. e.g. If you only study mathematics classes in college, everything will look like a math problem to you.

If you want to make a big impact on the world you need to be able to look at problems from all disciplines and have all of the mental models (the learnings from a discipline) in your head. 



Now you know what multidisciplinary learning is and why it’s important. Now lets broadly lay out the topics you need to learn:

Mathematics
Normal Distributions, Power Laws, Regression to the Mean, Combinations, Permutations, Time Value of Money, Compound Interest, Decision Trees, Limits, Probability

Accounting
Balance Sheet, Income Statement,  Cash Flow Statement, P&L, All the basic concepts of accounting

Engineering
Redundancy, Backup Systems, Breakpoints

Physics
Motion, Inertia, Thermodynamics, Equilibrium, Conservation of Energy, Entropy, Electromagnetism,  Critical Mass, Feedback Loops (+ and -), Chaos Theory

Computer Science
Abstractions, Recursions, If-Statements, For Loops, While Loops, Boolean Logic, Algorithms

Economics
Tradeoffs, Opportunity Costs,  Margins, Incentives, Trade, Supply and Demand, Markets, Substitution, Scarcity, Elasticity, Economy of Scale, Game Theory, Pareto Principal, Competitive Destruction

Psychology
Classic Conditioning, Operant Conditioning, Instrumental Conditioning, Bias from Contrast, Liking/Loving, Reward and Punishment, Envy, Denial, Social Proof, Denial, Consistency, Inconsistency, Loss Aversion, Scarcity, Cognitive Dissonance

Chemistry
Autocatalysis

Biology
Natural Selection, Sexual Selection, Survival of the Fittest

Miscellaneous 
Always invert, The Five W’s,


In the next post I’ll go over what I have learned so far in each of these topics. The best way to start is to get just a general high level overview of each of these topics off wikipedia then do a deep dive of the topics that interest you the most using Khan Academy, watching documentaries about the history and people behind the topic, and open course videos from Stanford or MIT.

*This will seem like a huge list but general curiosity and doing a little bit everyday will greatly alleviate the time needed to learn these concepts.

**Personally I was never formally trained in any of these topics so theres a big chance they could be mis-categorized

***If you want to suggest additional mental models leave a comment below.




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Written by Chris McCann

September 26, 2011 at 7:18 am

2 Responses

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  1. […] a post entitled Worldly Wisdom, Chris McCann reviews a book called Poor Charlie’s Almanack.  The book was written by […]

  2. […] Worldly Wisdom […]


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