What I learned from Charlie Munger

Matt Corthell |

“I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up and boy does that help, particularly when you have a long run ahead of you.” – Charlie Munger


Charlie Munger passed earlier this week at the age of 99.

Charlie was an immortal figure in the world of finance and best known for being Warren Buffett’s long term business partner. For years I have studied Buffett, but Charlie’s brash tone turned me off. Unfortunately, these were many years wasted. He is now on my Mount Rushmore for personal influence, and I hope you benefit from his words too:

Munger was a modern-day polymath and known for many things across a broad spectrum of disciplines:

  • Investing: His partnership in the 1960s to 1970s earned 13.7% per year while the Dow earned 5.0%. – Per Poor Charlie's Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger.

  • Psychology: He introduced a list called The Psychology of Human Misjudgment. 25 psychological tendencies that cause us to make suboptimal decisions.

  • Architecture: He designed and built a dorm for 4,500 students that featured no windows, limited bedroom sizes and oversized common areas to incentivize community activities by the residents.

  • Law: Despite working in law for 3 years, he remains a named partner at Munger Tolles & Olson.

  • Military Service: Served in the Army during WWII.

Much of Munger’s wisdom can be captured in this sampling of my favorite quotes:

  • “It is remarkable how much long-term advantage we have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.”

  • “I never allow myself to hold an opinion on anything that I don’t know the other side’s argument better than they do.”

  • “To get what you want, you have to deserve what you want. The world is not yet a crazy enough place to reward a whole bunch of undeserving people.”

  • “Show me the incentive and I will show you the outcome.”

  • “There are 60,000 economists in the US, trying to forecast recessions & interest rates & if they could do it successfully, they'd all be millionaires by now. As far as I know, most are still gainfully employed, which ought to tell us something.”

  • “You just remember isolated facts and try to bang ‘em back. If the facts don’t hang together on a latticework of theory, you don’t have them in a usable form. You’ve got to have mental models in your head. And you’ve got to array your experience, both vicarious and direct, on this latticework of models.”

  • “The first rule of a happy life is low expectations. If you have unrealistic expectations, you’re going to be miserable your whole life. You want to have reasonable expectations and take life’s results good and bad as they happen with a certain amount of stoicism.”

If you would like to study some of Charlie’s most influential work, consider looking into these notable moments of his life:

  • The Psychology of Human Misjudgment – Harvard 1995

  • How to live a Life of Misery – Harvard 1986

  • Charlie Munger Commencement Address – USC 2017

  • Poor Charlie's Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger


For me Charlie has taught me the importance of consistent learning, independent thought and building systems to remain rational. I could not be more thankful to have discovered his teachings nearly a decade ago. He will be missed!