Charlie Munger’s Secret

Everyone asks for help. It’s natural and it’s important to learn from others. But, I also think you can’t ignore what it requires to have true mastery of any one thing. It’s built on an attitude of doing and a belief in your own ability when there’s no one to get help from. That’s usually what separates the greats from anyone else. They found a way to get it done in their way.

Like many aspiring investors, I have read about Charlie Munger for many years. I once had an internship in Boston at a money management fund. I would play Munger’s talks in the background with a single headphone in while I did my work. I learned a lot that summer as an intern, but also as a student of Munger’s speeches.

The other day, a friend wanted to learn more about stocks in the current environment. He wanted to know how they were up so much and what he could do to make money. Obviously, it’s great to see people so interested in markets, but there is no easy answer. You could go to a financial advisor or you could open a brokerage account, but the journey is so much bigger than that.

Once, at a Berkshire Hathaway conference, a guest asked Charlie Munger what his secret was to picking stocks. How did he get so good? How did he find moats? Here’s what Munger said:

“There’s an apocryphal story about Mozart. A 14-year-old came to him and said, “I want to learn to be a great composer.” And Mozart said, “You’re too young.” The young man replied, “But I’m 14 years old and you were only 8 or 9 when you started composing.” To which Mozart replied, “Yes, but I wasn’t running around asking other people how to do it.”

The point is, at a certain moment everyone has to learn to be great at something on their own. They need to take their own chances and do their own research whether they want to be like Munger or a great chef slicing avocados. I believe that’s true for investing and just about everything else.

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