Mr. Munger graduated law in Harvard and is in the Forbes 400 billionaire list. He is also the partner and longtime friend of Warren Buffett. He is second largest shareholder of Berkshire Hathaway.
These are his answers to the brain twisters last week:
1. This question was answered by Munger’s physicist son. “It canâ€™t be anything requiring a lot of hand-eye coordination. Nobody 85 years of age is going to win a national billiards tournament, much less a national tennis tournament. It just canâ€™t be. Then he figured it couldnâ€™t be chess, which this physicist plays very well, because itâ€™s too hard. The complexity of the system, the stamina required are too great. But that led into checkers. And he thought, â€œAh ha! Thereâ€™s a game where vast experience might guide you to be the best even though youâ€™re 85 years of age.â€
2. This was his answer: “Is this a low-priced store or a high-priced store? Itâ€™s not going to have a runaway success in a strange city as a high-priced store. That would take time. Number two, if itâ€™s moving $500 million worth of furniture through it, itâ€™s one hell of a big store,furniture being as bulky as it is. And what does a big store do? It provides a big selection. So what could this possibly be except a low-priced store with a big selection? But, you may wonder, why wasnâ€™t it done before, preventing its being done first now? Again, the answer just pops into your head: it costs a fortune to open a store this big. So, nobodyâ€™s done it before. So, you quickly know the answer. With a few basic concepts, these microeconomic problems that seem hard can be solved much as you put a hot knife through butter. I like such easy ways of thought that are very remunerative. And I suggest that you people should also learn to do microeconomics better.”
3. “Whatâ€™s different about that machine is people have used modern electronics to give a higher ratio of near misses. That machine is going bar, bar, lemon. Bar, bar, grapefruit, way more often than normal machines, and that will cause heavier play. How do you get an answer like that? Easy. Obviously, thereâ€™s a psychological cause: That machine is doing something to trigger some basic psychological response. If you know the psychological factors, if youâ€™ve got them on a checklist in your head, you just run down the factors, and, boom!, you get to one that must explain this occurrence. There isnâ€™t any other way to do it effectively. These answers are not going to come to people who donâ€™t learn these mental tricks. If you want to go through life like a one legged man in an ass-kicking contest, why be my guest. But if you want to succeed, like a strong man with two legs, you have to pick up these tricks, including doing economics while knowing psychology.”-C.M.
4. This was the answer given by Mr. Munger:
“Is there some wave that Schwab could have caught? The minute you ask the question, the answer pops in. The Japanese had a zero position in tires and they got big. So this guy must have ridden that wave some in the early times. Then the slow following success has to have some other causes. And what probably happened here, obviously, is this guy did one hell of a lot of things right. And among the things that he must have done right is he must have harnessed what Mankiw calls the superpower of incentives. He must have a very clever incentive structure driving his people. And a clever personnel selection system, etc. And he must be pretty good at advertising. Which he is. Heâ€™s an artist. So, he had to get a wave in Japanese tire invasion, the Japanese being as successful as they were. And then a talented fanatic had to get a hell of a lot of things right, and keep them right with clever systems. Again, not that hard of an answer. But what else would be a likely cause of the peculiar success?…
“Extreme success is likely to be caused by some combination of the following factors:
- Extreme maximization or minimization of one or two variables. Example, Costco or our furniture and appliance store.
- Adding success factors so that a bigger combination drives success, often in non-linear fashion, as one is reminded by the concept of breakpoint and the concept of critical mass in physics. Often results are not linear. You get a little bit more mass, and you get a lollapalooza result. And of course Iâ€™ve been searching for lollapalooza results all my life, so Iâ€™m very interested in models that explain their occurrence.
- An extreme of good performance over many factors. Example, Toyota or Les Schwab.
- Catching and riding some sort of big wave. Example, Oracle.
Generally I recommend and use in problem solving cut-to-the quick algorithms, and I find you have to use them both forward and backward.” —C. Munger
5. Someone thought that they were paying the night shift by the hour, and that
maybe if they paid them by the shift, the system would work better. It worked!
6. When Mr.Wilson got there, he found out that the commission arrangement with the salesmen gave a tremendous incentive to the inferior machine. (power of incentives)
About the contributor:
The writer is a financial planner, investor, speaker and a self confessed cheapaholic. (Cheapaholic- a term he invented to mean someone who is addicted to being very cheap). Send in your questions. He will try to answer any questions you might have, preferably on finance and money matters. Although he does not object to questions on love and relationships, he never had one and due to his extreme cheapness, will probably never have one (In case youâ€™ll send it mistakenly, he promised to forward it to HeaRty).
Disclaimer: Advice posted in this portion is merely opinions and views of the writer. It does not constitute formal advice. The writer will not be responsible for any of your gains or losses. If symptoms persist, contact your trusted financial planner.