How To Think Like Charlie Munger: The Inversion Strategy

"Knowing what you don't know is more useful than being brilliant."
"It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.”
"There must be some wisdom in the folk saying: it's the strong swimmers who drown."
-Charlie Munger

Don't try to be smart.

You don't know what you don't know, and trying to pretend you know things usually means you end up acting dumber than you are.

Instead, use the inversion strategy that billionaires Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett have used to become rich: focus on not being dumb.

Avoid making big dumb decisions, or just bad choices in general. This will save you a lot of pain.

Think about problems forward and backward.

"Many problems can't be solved forward," said Munger.

So think backward.

Thinking backward helps remove assumptions and what-ifs. We can get back down to the basics. We can think from things we know already rather than from hypotheticals.

When you focus on what's next or what's new, you become blind to the data you already have. You get caught up in creative thinking and excited ideas. As a result, you ignore cracks in your foundation.

By ignoring your foundation, you end up stacking more weight on an already shaky bottom.

A better way is to get down on your hands and knees with a magnifying glass and analyze every inch of the foundation you are standing on.

Then when you identify the cracks, you know where to apply mortar.

This is where insights are best found: by looking inward, backward, or right under your feet.

This is the power of the inversion strategy for thinking clearly and making better decisions.

Here's an example: weight loss.

Most people think of losing weight by thinking of getting a new gym membership and/or starting a new diet.

This is a terrible approach for most people for multiple reasons, one of which is the idea that you're going to change ingrained habits and adopt a new gym routine like that. It doesn't happen all that often.

The better way is the subtraction model.

Look at what you do now. What foods do you eat often? How much do you exercise and move? Ask questions to get a broad overview of your current habits and routine.

Now you want to identify those habits and routines that are a liability to your weight loss goals—like the tub of Breyers ice cream you keep in your fridge and crack open after each meal.

Before you add anything to your life, you should focus on eliminating or mitigating the current things you are doing. If you don't focus on removing your current bad habits before adding new ones, well, you'll fail for sure

You avoid this failure by starting with your current habits first. Then after you figure out a plan for those, you can look into adding something new to your routine.

This addition strategy, and a lack of inverting, is why the vast majority of people fail with your weight loss goals (any goal, really).

Use inversion to avoid stupidity. Most of the time, it's not genus insights that get results in life: it's merely not being dumb for long enough to stumble upon results.

Think about the amount of really dumb mistakes that can ruin one's life.

Choosing the wrong spouse, taking on the wrong business partner, investing in the "too good to be true" opportunity of a lifetime that wipes out your savings or the hasty decision that results in your injury or death. The examples of being stupid are countless. It sucks to say, but millions of people throughout history have died from stupidity.

When it comes to investing, Munger and Buffett focus their entire strategy on very very very few investment decisions, mostly based on what company to buy at what time. Then the rest of the time, they focus on saying NO to 99% of the opportunities that come across their desk.

This is how they built a billion-dollar business based on owning quality businesses. Sure, they've passed up opportunities along the way, but that is the cost you pay for not being stupid in investing; you have to be willing to give up value sometimes in the name of being right most of the time.