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The Missing Piece Meets the Big O: Shel Silverstein’s Lesson on Self Reliance & Mentorship

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For her first Christmas, my parents got my niece Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends (apparently expectations are high for the six-month mark). I grew up reading its collection of poems, over and over. I even - to the horror of some of my readers, I am sure - used colored pencils (because I didn’t yet appreciate the waxy beauty of crayons) to color in some of Silverstein’s famous illustrations.

The gift sent me down memory lane. Re-reading a selection of those poems from all those years ago, I was struck by just how much more there is to much of Silverstein’s writing than his characteristic style and funny words.

Take the namesake of that book - Where the Sidewalk Ends - for example. As a child, reading the poem brought to me images of running out into a grassy field somewhere. And that is what Silverstein is writing about.

Charlie Munger: December 2020 CalTech Interview & Transcript

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What happened was there were things I didn’t like about law practice, but I had an army of children to support and no family money or anything to start with. So I had to make my way in life for this army of children.

It was going to be a little difficult and there were things about law practice I saw that were quite limiting. And what happened was, my pitifully, small earnings as a young man, I kept underspending them. I kept investing fairly boldly and fairly smartly.

At the end of my first 13 years of practice, I had more liquid investments made than I’d made in all those years of law practice, pre-tax. I had done that in my spare time with these little, tiny sums. So it was natural for me, partly prompted by Warren Buffett’s success, to think I should just start working for myself instead of for other people. If I could do that in my spare time, I thought, well, what will happen if I do it full time?

David Foster Wallace: This is Water

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Greetings parents and congratulations to Kenyon’s graduating class of 2005.

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

This is a standard requirement of US commencement speeches - the deployment of didactic little parable-ish stories. The story thing turns out to be one of the better, less bullshitty conventions of the genre, but if you’re worried that I plan to present myself here as the wise, older fish explaining what water is to you younger fish, please don’t be. I am not the wise old fish. The point of the fish story is merely that the most obvious, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about. Stated as an English sentence, of course, this is just a banal platitude, but the fact is that in the day to day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have a life or death importance, or so I wish to suggest to you on this dry and lovely morning.

Richard Feynman & The Feynman Technique: How to Learn Anything Well

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It is 1941 and you have a problem. While you haven’t yet gotten around to defining quantum electrodynamics or even started your work helping design the atomic bomb, you are nearing the end of your second year of graduate school. This means you have an exam soon.

That’s OK though. You know what to do. After all, you have made it this far already. You just do what you always do - you pull out a notebook. And not just any notebook, but one especially well-prepared for the task at hand. Namely, a blank one.

A fitting title is needed for the first page. You think for a moment, smiling to yourself as you creatively run through all the options you could pick. But, alas, none of them seem right. You opt for the tried-and-true but never worn out choice. You write it down.

You are Richard P. Feynman, arguably the brightest young physics mind in the United States at the time, and you have just written “Notebook Of Things I Don’t Know About” on the title page.

Stand Up Straight with Your Shoulders Back

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That same brutal principle of unequal distribution applies outside the financial domain—indeed, anywhere that creative production is required. The majority of scientific papers are published by a very small group of scientists. A tiny proportion of musicians produces almost all the recorded commercial music. Just a handful of authors sell all the books. A million and a half separately titled books (!) sell each year in the US. However, only five hundred of these sell more than a hundred thousand copies. Similarly, just four classical composers (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky) wrote almost all the music played by modern orchestras. Bach, for his part, composed so prolifically that it would take decades of work merely to hand-copy his scores, yet only a small fraction of this prodigious output is commonly performed...

It also applies to the population of cities (a very small number have almost all the people), the mass of heavenly bodies (a very small number hoard all the matter), and the frequency of words in a language (90 percent of communication occurs using just 500 words), among many other things. Sometimes it is known as the Matthew Principle (Matthew 25:29), derived from what might be the harshest statement ever attributed to Christ: “to those who have everything, more will be given; from those who have nothing, everything will be taken.”

Charlie Munger: Practical Thought About Practical Thought

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In a long career, I have assimilated various ultra-simple general notions that I find helpful in solving problems. Five of these helpful notions I will now describe. After that, I will present to you a problem of extreme scale. Indeed, the problem will involve turning start-up capital of $2 million into $2 trillion, a sum large enough to represent a practical achievement. Then I will try to solve the problem, assisted by my helpful general notions.  Following that, I will suggest that there are important educational implications in my demonstration. I will so finish because my objective is educational, my game today being a search for better methods of thought. 

Charlie Munger: The Psychology of Human Misjudgment

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Fairly late in life, I stumbled into this book, Influence, by a psychologist named Bob Cialdini, who became a super tenured hotshot on a 2,000 person faculty at a very young age. And he wrote this book, which has now sold 300 odd thousand copies, which is remarkable for somebody. Well, it’s an academic book aimed at a popular audience that filled in a lot of holes in my crude system. When those holes had filled in, I thought I had a system that was a good working tool, and I’d like to share that one with you.

And I came here because of behavioral economics. How could economics not be behavioral? If it isn’t behavioral, what the hell is it? And I think it’s fairly clear that all reality has to respect all other reality. If you come to inconsistencies, they have to be resolved, and so if there’s anything valid in psychology, economics has to recognize it, and vice versa. So I think the people that are working on this fringe between economics and psychology are absolutely right to be there, and I think there’s been plenty wrong over the years.

A Stoic Philosopher in a Hanoi Prison

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The flight in September 1965 was part of his third combat tour of North Vietnam, serving as Wing Commander of the aircraft carrier Oriskany. Despite his misgivings about the purpose of him being in Vietnam, he was a competent and skilled career fighter pilot. Nothing suggested he shouldn’t expect to make it back home that day - let alone that decade.

But sometimes life deals you a lousy hand, and it dealt Stockdale quite an unfair one.

While trying to aid trapped American soldiers on the ground, he was suddenly falling out of the sky and hurtling towards a small Vietnamese village. His plane was on fire, the control system shot out by North Vietnamese who had used the grounded soldiers as bait, and he didn’t have much choice beyond punching out of the plane.

Charlie Munger: A Lesson on Elementary Worldly Wisdom As It Relates To Investment Management & Business

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I’m going to play a minor trick on you today because the subject of my talk is the art of stock picking as a subdivision of the art of worldly wisdom. That enables me to start talking about worldly wisdom—a much broader topic that interests me because I think all too little of it is delivered by modern educational systems, at least in an effective way.

And therefore, the talk is sort of along the lines that some behaviorist psychologists call Grandma’s rule after the wisdom of Grandma when she said that you have to eat the carrots before you get the dessert.

The carrot part of this talk is about the general subject of worldly wisdom which is a pretty good way to start. After all, the theory of modern education is that you need a general education before you specialize. And I think, to some extent, before you’re going to be a great stock picker, you need some general education.

Don’t Feel Like a Victim | Facing Adversity with Charlie Munger

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In 1953, Charlie was 29 years old when he and his wife divorced. He had been married since he was 21. Charlie lost everything in the divorce, his wife keeping the family home in South Pasadena. Munger moved into “dreadful” conditions at the University Club…

Shortly after the divorce, Charlie learned that his son, Teddy, had leukemia. In those days, there was no health insurance, you just paid everything out of pocket and the death rate was near 100% since there was nothing doctors could do. Rick Guerin, Charlie’s friend, said Munger would go into the hospital, hold his young son, and then walk the streets of Pasadena crying.

One year after the diagnosis, in 1955, Teddy Munger died. Charlie was 31 years old, divorced, broke, and burying his 9 year old son.