1 Big Idea to Think About

  • Learning the best of what other people already know is a shortcut to leveraging knowledge. When we leverage the best of what other people already know, we can multiply our effort because we aren’t starting from square one. We are beginning our journey on the shoulders of those who have come before us.

1 Way You Can Apply This

  • Search a list of classical literature and select a book to read from the list. As you read, think about what you are learning and how you can leverage those ideas in your life.

1 Question to Ask

  • What do I read most? News sites? Social media? Brain candy fiction? How would my thinking change if I replaced that reading with the classics?

Key Moments From the Show 

  • Constantly think about how to produce leverage (2:35)
  • The latticework of theory (5:17)
  • Learn the best of what other people know (7:35)
  • Examining what you read. (12:21)
  • An invitation to learn the best of what other people know.(15:48)

Links and Resources You’ll Love from the Episode

Greg McKeown:

Welcome back, everyone. I’m your host, Greg McKeown. I’m the author of Essentialism and also of Effortless, and I’m here with you on a journey to learn and then to also share the insights that can help us to design a life that is important and disproportionately leads to a contribution. 

Have you ever wanted to make a higher contribution in your life to be able to get better results, even 10X results, but at the same time, you already feel like you’re running out of space, that you’re stretched too thin, a little exhausted, or more than a little exhausted? Well, that’s what this series is. This is part two in a series about how to use leverage to achieve 10X results without burning out. In the last solo episode last week, I introduced this theme, and I asked you to be able to pay attention to all the forms of leverage that you see physical and metaphorical across all of your life.

By the end of today’s episode, we’ll dig deeply into one form of leverage so that you can use this lever to be able to take modest input but produce residual results, that is, results that come back to you again and again. Let’s get to it. 

This podcast has now reached the top 200 podcasts in America. That’s thanks to you. That’s because you are listening to the podcast and you are sharing with other people, and I just ask you at the beginning of this episode to do this with intention. I’m trying to start a conversation that becomes a movement, and so I want you to invite those people that you know to be part of this with you, family, friends, and the people you work with. Let’s start a conversation that’s much bigger than you or I by inviting people to listen and especially to subscribe to The Greg McKeown Podcast.

After last week’s episode, somebody tweeted a response about leverage to me. It’s a quote from Ray Dalio, who is an American billionaire, an investor, and a hedge fund manager. He served as co-chief investment officer for the world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, since 1985. And the quote is simply this, “Constantly think about how to produce leverage.” 

Now, most of us are familiar with the idea of a lever and how you can take modest effort and produce disproportionate results using a lever, a literal lever, of course, like a crowbar like scissors. There are many forms of leverage in every bike. Of course, hundreds of forms of leverage in every car and every plane. Leverage is really the thing that allows human progress. But what this quote captures and what this series that I’m developing here for you is all about is not just knowing that it exists but bringing it front and center so that we are constantly thinking about how to produce leverage because that’s really the difference.

If you think of somebody who is 10X or 100X or 1000X more successful at something that you’ve wanted to achieve, they didn’t work a thousand times harder. They just found way more ways to leverage – leverage knowledge, leverage technology, leverage relationships, leverage their time, leveraging money, leveraging their own money or other people’s money. The big differentiator between the successful and the very successful is leverage, and that’s true in personal relationships and family relationships as well.

So today, I want to emphasize one area of leverage, and that is to leverage the best of what others know. As the vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, 99-year-old Charlie Munger is Warren Buffett’s right-hand man, but he’s also an investing legend in his own right. In the 1960s and 1970s, Munger ran a firm that achieved returns of over 24% per year. That’s just an unbelievable achievement. If you’d invested a hundred dollars in Berkshire stock the day Munger came on board, you’d have over $1.8 million today.

Now, most professional investors become experts in financial markets. They study the economic forces that drive booms and busts. They learn all there is to know about bond yields, macroeconomics, and small-cap stocks. But Charlie Munger takes a different approach to learning, Munger’s approach to investing and life is the pursuit of what he calls worldly wisdom. He believes that by combining learnings from a range of disciplines, psychology, history, mathematics, physics, philosophy, biology, and more, we produce something that is greater than the sum of its parts. Munger sees isolated facts as useless unless they hang together on a latticework of theory. 

I don’t want you to lose that visual latticework is a frame or structure made of crossed wood or metal strips. I mean, that’s what it is, literally. But in this case, the idea is that instead of becoming knowledgeable about only a single piece of the world and then trying to understand it, even though the model in our head is necessarily narrow, he’s suggesting that by understanding multiple models, mental models, you are much better able to understand how the world really works. Because all of us have this problem. We all have in our minds something like a postage stamp version of the world, a low-density description of what’s out there. And, of course, that means that we’re inherently going to have a problem every time we go into the world because our mental model is not as sophisticated and complex as what’s out there. So every time we come into contact with the real world where that is different than the model in our minds, we’re going to have expectation failure, and in that moment, we have a choice. We can double down on the miniature version in our own heads so that we don’t have to change anything, we don’t have to learn or grow, or we can take that opportunity to expand our minds. 

Okay. So that’s the trial-and-error version of life. But a far smarter, faster way to learn is to learn the best of what other people know and to use that to accelerate the creation of this lattice-work way of seeing the world so that the postage stamp version of the world that’s in our mind expands and becomes richer and more detailed and more complex, and so that we can see and anticipate what’s going to happen and so that we can make decisions and have a higher probability of getting the result that we really want from the world that we live in. 

So, bringing this back to the theme of leverage, each individual idea, each individual mental model might be something like linear knowledge. I don’t know if you’ve ever met somebody who, maybe in college, picked up one idea, one mental model, and maybe they never developed further beyond it. I myself, and I’m being a judge of the situation, but I can think of political leaders in England, for example, who, when I hear them speak, even when they’re speaking with passion, seem to be speaking from a single mental model like they got it in university and never upgraded it further. They’re trying to explain everything and everyone from that single dimension. That single-dimensional way of thinking is so limiting and limited. But if you can take each mental model, they can become residual knowledge when interconnected. 

The Munger acolyte Tren Griffin gives the following example, “A business raises the price of its product, yet sells more of that product. That does not make sense if you consider only the discipline of economics and its rule of supply and demand. But if you also consider the discipline of psychology, you understand that buyers think that a higher price means higher quality and, therefore, buy more. It’s also often true that the most useful knowledge comes from fields other than our own. As researchers from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management found in analyzing almost 18 million scientific papers, the best new ideas usually come from combining existing knowledge in one field with an intrusion of unusual combinations from other disciplines.” 

So, this is why Munger is wise to believe in the discipline of mastering the best that other people have figured out. That’s the quote. As he continues, he says, “I don’t believe in just sitting down and trying to dream it all up yourself. Nobody’s that smart. So the exchange of ideas across disciplines breeds novelty, and turning the conventional into something novel is often the key to effortless creativity.”

So, how do we go about this? I think the best thing we can do is to examine what we read. If, for example, we’re using our time reading just in social media, let’s say, or in what at least pretends to be the news, then often we are getting, especially in today’s politicized, shallow news and media season, a repetition and reinforcement of a single perspective, a single mental model of how the world works and who’s good and who’s bad. A very binary black-and-white type of thinking. It doesn’t serve us well. It certainly isn’t serving the community or society at large well. But what if we could make a trade-off and cut out that trivial noise, growing resentment inside of us, limiting our mental models, filling us with noise so that we can’t even interact, can’t even have a conversation with somebody who sees these issues differently to us instead of that to read and not just read in our own particular field, but to deliberately read outside of it. I spent many years reading broadly within the field of leadership, personal development, certainly within the nonfiction category, but over the last few years, I have made a new and deliberate and continual pursuit of reading the classics.

There are lots of lists that you can see online, but books that I’ve read recently to expand this latticework of thinking to leverage the best of what other people know have included things like Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin, Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Animal Farm, 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird. Right now, I’m reading The Count of Monte Cristo, and in all these books I have mentioned, and many more besides, I am amazed at how it expands and extends my own understanding of the world because a book, of course, is not the paper and ink, a book is a conduit, the right book, anyway, a portal across time and space into a different world, a different perspective. And if you can read the best of what other people have written, if you can read the best of what other people think is the best to read and think of the kind of upgrade in operating system that represents for your own mind in Effortless, I wrote that reading a book is among the most high leverage activities on earth, and that is a sentiment that I believe even more now than when I wrote it. 

So just think that for an investment of more or less equivalent to the length of a single workday and a few dollars, you can gain access to what the smartest people have already figured out reading that is reading to really understand delivers residual results by any estimate.

So here’s the invitation. Evaluate how much time you spend reading, and do you want to increase that? Do you want to decrease the amount of time that you are watching things and shift to reading instead? And then consider what you are spending your time reading. If it’s not books, then by definition, you are reading things that have not yet gone through the filtering process necessary to be able to discern the difference between the wheat and the tares, the essential to the non-essential, the signal in the sound. By shifting to read the classics, the best of what others know. You can shift materially the results that you get every day for the rest of your life and beyond. And imagine if you were reading that with other people, the great literature. What about if you were reading that as a family or on your team? Put aside the latest fads and read something deeply together. To me, right there with The Counter Monte Cristo, I can observe on almost every page his use of leverage, which brings us full circle back to Ray Dalio, Constantly think about how to produce leverage. 

Thank you. Really, thank you for listening. Again, what is one thing that stood out to you? What’s one thing that you can do immediately to put this into action? And who can you share this episode and this podcast series with? Remember, the first five people who write a review of this episode on Apple Podcasts will receive a full-year access for free to the Essentialism Academy. Thank you, and I’ll see you next time.