You may not have heard of Charlie Munger, but you’ve heard of his longtime business partner: Warren Buffett.
Charlie Munger is an investor, philanthropist, businessman, attorney, and the very definition of a polymath—his wisdom does not respect divisions between domains of knowledge. He is a proponent of developing what he calls elementary, worldly wisdom: a personal framework for decision-making consisting of mental models based on the big ideas from major disciplines.
Big ideas from different disciplines
The world is a complex place, and the boundaries between disciplines really exist only in our own minds (a lesson we learn over and over when ideas from one discipline colonize another, as in the case of psychology’s outsized impact on the field of behavioral economics).
Understanding fundamental concepts like critical mass in physics, margin of safety in engineering, and cognitive bias in psychology doesn’t just make life more interesting, it allows us to make much better decisions than we’d make if we only had the tools in our discipline’s toolbox. We simply understand the world better when we know a little about a lot of different disciplines. Here’s a big idea from my field.
A big idea from the field of music
My original field is music, and a big idea in music theory is the concept of tension and release. Music is fundamentally about tension and release at every level of analysis: from one note to the next and from one movement of a symphony to the next. Here, I’ll demonstrate.
Hum “Happy Birthday” to yourself, but omit the very last note. See if you can stand it. Pretty tough, right? You’ve created tension, and now you need release.
Human beings respond to tension and release in many contexts. You see it everywhere, from late-night informercials (“Tired of scrubbing grout with a toothbrush? Say hello to GrimeAway!”) to political stump speeches (“Here’s what you’re frustrated with, and here’s how I’m going to fix it!"). If you want to hold someone’s attention, you’ll be wise to employ tension and release.
What’s a big idea from your field?
So, reader, I’d like to ask you a question and a favor. What’s an important concept in your field that’s shaped how you view the world and might be useful to the average person?
Once you’ve thought of one, would you mind sharing it in a comment below? Thanks in advance!