Home Products Ideas to Assets The Secret of Secrets (Day 2)…

The Secret of Secrets (Day 2)…

Image credit: @gapingvoid

“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” — Albert Einstein

Hey, it’s André…

I’m writing today’s email. Shawn will write tomorrow.

Then, on Thursday, we’ll explain how we combine our individual creativity into collaborative alchemy.

It’ll be fun.

I mean, what’s not to love about turning “lead into gold,” right?

In this email, I will unpack some of my journey from a flailing learner with no method of learning, no tools on which to leverage the flow of information hitting me like artillery fire, to someone with a durable method for continuous learning (which is available to us all).

I’m not the smartest tool in the shed. Not by a long shot.

But, I have an obsessive need to learn new things, and to understand the world and my place in it with more clarity and nuance.

We’re living through a time in history where information and self-education have never been more accessible.

Articles are everywhere on any imaginable topic just a search or a click away…

Books, indie YouTube channels, niche email newsletters, even Ivy League courses and lectures online for free, from MIT, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Penn, Princeton, and Yale.

Information is everywhere, and it’s almost all free.

There has been no other time in history where information was this plentiful and accessible to so many people.

Which is amazing!

But there is an second-order implication to this unlimited stream of information…

We need a system for dealing with all the information we’re exposed to every day.

We need a way to interact with information that allows us to parse out the signal from the noise, and then find meaning within the stuff we capture and care about understanding more deeply.

Which is not easy. Not. One. Bit.

This series isn’t about the how of creativity. (We explain the how, in detail, in Ideas to Assets.) It’s about the why because why comes first.

Get that right and everything else will fall into place.

By drawing attention to why I do this, within the context of wisdom from one of our greatest living thinkers, I hope I’ll motivate you in a direction that’ll serve you long-term.

In May 2007, Charlie Munger — the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet’s partner and right-hand man — gave a Commencement Speech at the USC Law school.

In that speech, he draw attention to some interesting insights, some of which I’ve highlighted below.

“… wisdom acquisition is a moral duty, it’s not something you do, just to advance in life. (…) which is very important, it means that you’re hooked for lifetime learning. And without lifetime learning, you people are not going to do very well. You are not going to get very far in life…”

He went on to empathize why continuous learning is essential.

“The skill that got Berkshire through one decade would not have sufficed to get it through the next decade with the achievements made. Without Warren Buffett, being a learning machine, continuous learning machine, the record would have been absolutely impossible.”

“The same is true at lower walks of life. 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 habit help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.”

The idea of continuous learning may scare the hell out of some people.

But not knowledge workers like us.

Continuous learning is our bread and butter.

It’s where we find leverage, a competitive advantage in a world of same-same, noise, and me-too copycats.

Knowledge is a multiplier when we understand how to use the alchemy of the mind to transform lead and into gold, ideas into assets.

In a February 2021 Daily Journal Annual Meeting, Charlie Munger was asked about his method of learning.

Julia Roche: “Charles H from New York quotes a speech that you gave, a commencement address you gave in 2007 at USC Law School. I’ll paraphrase here.

“You said, if a civilization can progress only when it invents the method of invention, you can only progress when you learn the method of learning. I was very lucky. I came to law school having learned the method of learning and nothing has served me better in my long life than continuous learning. Charles H would like to know what Charlie’s method of learning?”

Charlie Munger: “Well, I think I had the right temperament. When people gave me a good idea and I could see it was a good idea, I quickly mastered it and started using it for the rest of my life.

“You’d say that everybody does that in their education but I don’t think everybody does. It’s such a simple idea. And of course, without the method of learning, you’re like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest. It’s just not gonna work very well.”

“The company that needs a new machine tool, and hasn’t bought it, is already paying for it.” — an advertisement for a company called Warner & Swasey used to say.

Charlie Munger applies this to thinking: “The man who is in need of a new thinking tool, but hasn’t yet acquired it, is already paying for it.”

It wasn’t until around 2017 that I finally discovered a method of learning that made sense to me, and tools that enabled better thinking.

… where this:

… quickly turned into this within a few months:

I use tools like Roam, Obsidian, and Logseq to quickly capture ideas — from atomic ideas to entire concepts and mental models — in ways that were never easily accessible before.

When enough “nodes” are added to the network of ideas, patterns start to emerge, revealing non-obvious connections and insights that were invisible before.

This is where note-taking becomes sense-making.

“You have to learn all the big ideas in the key disciplines in a way that they’re in a mental latticework in your head and you automatically use them for the rest of your life.” — Charlie Munger

Munger does this by observing reality and running it against his mental models.

But this mental latticework doesn’t need to all “live” in your head. Our memory is far too fallible for that. So we use tools.

I do this by continuously capturing inputs, connecting them into networked thinking tools where ideas and insights emerge and sprout new ideas and insights.

From this new vantage point, a new world of asset creation opens up (to all of us).

Yesterday, on our weekly standup call, I explained to Shawn some massive blind spots I had identified.

In hindsight, these blind spots seem obvious, but the most obvious things can sometimes remain shrouded in shadow. Sometimes indefinitely.

During the (long) Brexit process that played out in the U.K., and more recently, the U.S. presidential election, I noticed an observation that spanned the heads of nation-states, politicians, and especially the public responsible for democratically electing our leaders.

The broad majority of people displayed a tenuous at best understanding of politics, economics, and how these meta theories interact around us in a way that affects us all, but not obvious beyond simply first-order thinking.

But the insight I discovered, which is embarrassing to admit, is how clueless I was watching this all unfold…

I could see the ridiculous arguments playing out, but I didn’t have the fundamental understanding to form a robust argument of my own, whether in favor or not.

Blindspot identified I’ve been working to fortify my understanding. A process that’ll take years, no doubt.

Now I get to deliberately capture ideas around political and economic theory, and people worth following and learning from.

Having a system makes this process manageable, and weirdly, fun.

This email isn’t a place to get into the weeds but rather to demonstrate that any level of knowledge acquisition is possible with a robust system to support our continuous learning.

I’m no one special, have no Ivy League education.

But, I’m willing to do the work to get the results I care about. (And you can too.)

This is accessible to all of us.

André (and Shawn)