Thursday, June 1, 2017

Silence. Go within. Go forward.

A simple reminder I use whenever I start to feel the natural human ego arise from within: Silence. Go within. Go forward. 

There are two examples that I currently use to best illustrate what I mean by silence, and when it may be best to practice it. The first is from the 2007 commencement address given by Charlie Munger when—after talking about the importance of continuous learning and practicing his multi-disciplinary approach—he goes on to say (via Poor Charlie's Almanack): 
My mental routine, properly practiced, really helps. Now, there are dangers in it, because it works so well. If you use it you will frequently find when you're with some expert from another discipline—maybe even an expert who is your employer with a vast ability to harm you—that you know more than he does about fitting his specialty to the problem at hand. You'll sometimes see the correct answer when he's missed it. That is a very dangerous position to be in. You can cause enormous offense by being right in a way that causes somebody else to lose face in his own discipline or hierarchy. I never found the perfect way to avoid harm from this serious problem. 
Even though I was a good poker player when I was young, I wasn't good enough at pretending when I thought I knew more than my supervisors did. And I didn't try as hard at pretending as would have been prudent. So I gave a lot of offense. Now, I'm generally tolerated as a harmless eccentric who will soon be gone. But coming up, I had a difficult period to go through. My advice to you is to be better than I was at keeping insights hidden. [Or as he said when giving the talk in person, "My advice to you is to learn sometimes to keep your light under a bushel."]
The second example comes from a podcast with Patrick O’Shaughnessy and Brent Beshore. Beshore mentions some advice he took away from a group meeting he attended with Charlie Munger:
One of the biggest pieces of advice that I took out of it was that he said, "Don't feel like you need to be impressive to people." He said that for the longest time, [it was] the single biggest thing that affected his life negatively.... He said that his need to show people that he was right, and that he was smarter than them, and that they were doing something stupid...he said he would have been much more successful than he was if he had just been able to, I think he said "disguise your judgment."
The reminder to 'go within' has to do with focusing on self-improvement and on keeping an inner scorecard, as opposed to worrying about what other people are doing or what other people think of you. There's a good quote from Warren Buffett that illustrates this (via All I Want To Know Is Where I'm Going To Die So I'll Never Go There): 
You always want to consider your inner scorecard – how you feel about your own performance and success. You should worry more about how well you perform rather than how well the rest of the world perceives your performance. 
And in the same section of the book I took that quote from, Peter Bevelin writes (through the character of the Librarian):
Don't live a life based on the approval from others. Be authentic – be and act in accordance with who you are, what you like and are good at, or one day your mask may fall off. As Seneca said, "No one can persevere long in a fictitious character; for nature will soon reassert itself."
And the reminder to 'go forward' has to do with not worrying too much about the past. As Warren Buffett said in his appearance with Bill Gates on Charlie Rose earlier this year: 
Don't fear failure.... Don't let it eat at you. Don't look back. Just keep going. You're going to have some things, but forget them. Go forward.