To a Man with a Hammer - Charles T. Munger's Mental Models on Success

Editor’s Note: Original blog was Published on: Jul 27, 2017

Those who have been around long enough would clearly understand the sparsity of ethical models in leadership. There are too many conflicts on - where is the line drawn between a good model and a misguided conviction?

The infamous Charlie Munger of Berkshire Hathaway answers it all. 

What are the models? Well, the first rule is that you've got to have multiple models because if you have one or two that you're using, the nature of human psychology is such that you'll torture reality so that it fits your models, or at least you'll think it does.

It's like the old saying, "To the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail." And of course, that's the way the chiropractor goes about practicing medicine. But that's an utterly disastrous way to think and an ideally harmful way to operate in the world. So you've got to have multiple models.

The models have to come from multiple disciplines because all the wisdom of the world cannot be found in one little academic department. That's why poetry professors, by and large, are so unwise in a worldly sense. They don't have enough models in their heads. So you've got to have models across a fair array of disciplines - says Munger.

(A bit about Munger -  Aside from being an invest thinker and change leader; he is someone with perceptions over psychology, philosophy, history, science, mathematics, and behavioral economics. You may not know it, and he claimed to have 100 Mental Models that he has collected over his lifetime.)

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail!

In this context, I find myself connecting with Arthur Schopenhauer.

When we read, another person thinks for us: we merely repeat his mental process. In learning to write, the pupil goes over with his pen what the teacher has outlined in pencil: so in reading; the more significant part of the work of thought is already done for us. This is why it relieves us to take up a book after being occupied with ours. And in reading, the mind is, in fact, only the playground of another's thoughts. So it comes about that if anyone spends almost the whole day in reading, and by way of relaxation devotes the intervals to some thoughtless pastime, he gradually loses the capacity for thinking; just as the man who always rides, at last, forgets how to walk. This is the case with many learned persons: they have read themselves stupid - says Schopenhauer in the book Essays and Aphorisms.


Our world may not be the 'Dystopian society with a monotonous hum.' However, we're yet to free ourselves from all the metaphorical wisdom. There's no negative notion here. Like you, I too have a perception of how I see the present, especially with this topic, Man-with-a-hammer syndrome.

Remember the adrenaline rush when you discover something new. You felt the heart pumping excitement. You happily danced around, thinking you have set foot on the alien domain and the entire world revolves around it. That hard-founded idea becomes The Big Idea. Blinded by the pure excitement you resist to see more or explore more. You start to apply the same on everything and make the idea work somehow.

Hammer syndrome is a subconscious process. And we do it every-single-day without any hesitation.

But what happens when we take a step back? In my experience, I find the flaws ( which were not there yesterday), even to a point, when my once extensive knowledge becomes a questionable content for my consciousness. 

Thus people like Charlie Munger encourage others to add more models in the toolkit; to expand the territory of knowledge, organize them, and use them for the problem-solving process. Munger calls this

- The Latticework of Mental Models.


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