By all appearances, Charlie Munger doesn’t seem like an interesting man.
He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during WWII, went to the University of Michigan, Cal Tech, and then to Harvard Law School. He received an elite education which undoubtedly contributed to his success as Vice-Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway.
Yet, nothing about him screams special here. Munger doesn’t fit the popular narrative of the college drop-out billionaire. Neither has he attempted any moon shots which promise to radically change the world. Besides being extraordinarily wealthy, there doesn’t seem to be anything unique about him.
It is ironic that this is what makes him so different today. He doesn’t have any secret ingredient of success that you might expect.
One of the ways Charlie Munger has tried to avoid making stupid decisions is by sticking to what he calls his ‘circle of competence’. It’s the same rule that his friend, Warren Buffett, lives by.
The circle of competence is simple — each of us, through experience or study, has built up useful knowledge on certain areas of the world. Some areas are understood by most of us, while some areas require a lot more technical knowledge to evaluate. The economics of running a restaurant might be easy to understand but it takes a lot more to understand a biotech company at the same level.
This is the reason why Berkshire Hathaway has largely avoided investing in the technology sector despite the huge upside it promises. Munger and Buffett both missed the technology boom, but have also avoided the Dotcom Bubbles that subsequently crashed.
It takes a lot of courage to admit and acknowledge one’s limitations, especially when one holds such a high office. Hence the folk saying: it’s the strong swimmers who drown.
The scientist and statistician Simon Ramo believed that the game of tennis could be subdivided into two games: the professionals and the rest of us. He observed that while the rules of tennis remain the same, the way points are scored are radically different.
Professionals win points whereas amateurs lose them. Wimbledon matches are the perfect picture of the former. Each player, nearly equal in skill, plays a nearly perfect game rallying back and forth until one player hits the ball just beyond the reach of his opponent.