Reflecting on a life well lived
Two weeks on from the sad passing of Charlie Munger, the investor, philanthropist, and business partner of Warren Buffett, we are celebrating the very profound effect that the 99-year-old continues to have on us all at ICC.
Not only was Charlie a pillar of wisdom and rationality in the finance space, he was the finest example of the power of lifelong learning and the impact of a sharp, multi-disciplinary mind. ‘Poor Charlie’s Almanack’ has been a staple in the ICC offices for many years, helping to keep us on track by drawing on the mental models that underpinned his rational and rigorous approach to learning and decision-making. It’s almost a handbook for life. Here’s some guidance that we operate by:
The Perpetual Student – Get Curious
Charlie was committed to lifelong learning, believing that the best investment was in oneself. He had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Our work and home lives are dynamic and ever evolving: Charlie promoted the importance of being able to learn and adapt, to seek knowledge beyond our immediate landscape, in order to remain ‘life ready’. We regularly ask ‘the extra question’, the one that lights up the coaching session or the skills workshop by taking the discussion deeper or wider, igniting creativity. We then ‘listen hard’, paying attention to narratives or what is not being said.
The Power of Worldly Wisdom – Hold Your Opinions Loosely
Charlie advocated that true wisdom comes from a ‘multi-disciplinary approach’, drawing insights from a diverse and wide range of sources rather than simple but plausible narratives, and directly opposing the old saying, “To the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”. He championed Darwin’s belief that contrary facts are more useful than confirming ones. So, while we feel it’s crucial to take a view, it’s probably best to hold it loosely, creating space for new or more varied insights and facts.
The Importance of Setbacks – Failure is Learning
Difficulties are inevitable, challenges are a fact of life. Charlie knew this, and he believed that it was one’s response to adversity that truly mattered. He viewed problems and issues as opportunities for growth, and remained stoic and calm as he navigated tricky waters. At ICC we believe that micro-failures are so valuable when developing a performance culture. Micro-failures occur regularly, giving teams the opportunity to get comfortable with marking and learning from them. The learnings serve to optimise ongoing performance, while sending a message that it’s safe to voice failures: we are not expecting constant perfection, we are after constant progress.
Binary Decision-Making – the Value of Patience
Charlie’s investment approach was described as ‘Extreme Patience combined with Extreme Decisiveness’. There was no hyper-activity, no acting impulsively, he resisted the urge to chase the new shiny thing on the block. He didn’t invest in possibilities or take small positions on uncertainty, he would wait for the right opportunity then commit aggressively, and substantially. He either invested or he didn’t, binary decision-making in its cleanest form. We often witness cultures that make decisions based on hierarchy, groupthink, or herd mentality; or as a result of stakeholder pressure, favouring hasty decisions over routine due diligence. We believe that the ability to take a breath and ‘sleep on it’ is under-rated in the decision-making space. Decisions led by certainty are generally more effective than those led by hope!
Charlie Munger’s life and career was a masterclass in critical thinking, rational decision-making and ethical leadership. He was the embodiment of preparation, patience, discipline and objectivity. And his commitment to continuous learning was quite humbling. He often quipped: “Go to bed smarter than when you woke up”. Thanks Charlie, it’s been an honour!