I came across this article by Marc Andreessen a few weeks ago titled The Psychology of Entrepreneurial Misjudgment. (Yes, I really like Andreessen’s articles). The article, which explains how psychological biases affect business decisions, is based on a speech given by Warren Buffet’s partner, Charlie Munger. Interested, I purchased Poor Charlie’s Almanac, a collection of Munger’s speeches and thoughts, which contains the speech Andreessen alluded to.
I’m not very far through it, but it has me thinking a lot about the importance seeing relationships in seemingly unrelated things and more specifically, how to do it. He graduated Harvard Law in ’48, which is likely a symptom of his intelligence, not the cause of it. So he’s very well educated, but not just in the formal sense. He reads everything he can get his hands on, from daily newspapers to scientific articles to random ingredient labels. Why? He makes use of this broad range of knowledge to make these connections, which enables him to make better life and investing decisions.
Our ability to see these relationships will be determined a lot on our genes, but it’s not the only factor. Our breadth of knowledge is what we draw the connections from. Some people know a lot of information – dates, names, facts, etc – but don’t know how any of it is relevant to their daily lives. Others don’t know much at all, but are brilliant because they can make better connections with the limited things they do know. Regardless, the more knowledgeable you are, the more connections you will be able to make. It’s somewhat similar to fishing. No matter how good a fisherman you are, if you’re fishing in an empty pond, you won’t catch anything. On the other hand, you might be the worst fisherman in the world, but if your pond is overflowing with fish, you’ll catch plenty.
I wish they had made this clearer to us in school. If you really want to be successful, it is not enough to just be good at computer science or politics or biology. What makes you really valuable is your ability to see how computer science and politics and biology are related. Unfortunately, if you’re a computer science guru but never paid attention in biology class, you won’t have the tools necessary to make those connections. You won’t know what you don’t know.
Next time you’re stuck wondering “How the hell am I ever going to use this?” just think of the fish.