Charlie Munger tells that

If you want to get smart, the question you have to keep asking is “why, why, why, why?

Being curious is one of our moral duties.

1. What we can learn from Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian Renaissance polymath: painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. He was always curious in searching for answers for things he did not understand. From ‘Creative Whack Pack

Don’t be afraid to show your ignorance!


2. What we can learn from Carl Braun

Carl Barun a very great businessman, created the CF Braun Engineering company. The company designed and built oil refineries. He had a rule in his company. It is called as the five W’s. Excerpt from Elementary Worldly Wisdom – Charlie Munger

You had to tell who was going to do what, where, when and why. And if you wrote a letter or directive in the Braun company telling somebody to do something, and you didn’t tell him why, you get fired. In fact, you would get fired if you did it twice.

Why is this important?

Excerpt from Elementary Worldly Wisdom – Charlie Munger

You might ask why is this so important? Well, again that’s a rule of Psychology. Just as you think better if you array knowledge on a bunch of models that are basically answers to the question, why, why, why, if you tell people why, they’ll understand it better, they’ll consider it more important, and they’ll be more likely to comply. Even if they don’t understand your reason, they’ll be more likely to comply.

Iron Rule to Remember

Excerpt from Elementary Worldly Wisdom – Charlie Munger

So there’s an iron rule that just as you want to start getting worldly wisdom by asking why, why, why, in communicating with other people about everything, you want to include why, why, why. Event if it’s obvious, it’s wise to stick in the why.

3. Rote Memorization

I always wondered why are the concepts that I studied in school are not useful in real life. It turns out that these concepts would have been super useful, if I had them in usable form. Since I memorized most of these concepts in school they are not available to me in usable form. From Psychology of Human Misjudgment – Charlie Munger

Well we all know people who’ve flunked, and they try and memorize and they try and spout back and they just… it doesn’t work. The brain doesn’t work that way. You’ve got to array facts on the theory structures answering the question “Why?”. If you do not do that, you just cannot handle the world.

This reminds me of Chauffeur Knowledge, speech by Charlie Munger in Academic Economics

By the way there’s a famous story about Max Planck which is apocryphal: After he won his prize, he was invited to lecture everywhere, and he had this chauffeur that drove him around to give public lectures all through Germany. And the chauffeur memorized the lecture, and so one day he said, “Gee Professor Planck, why don’t you let me try it as we switch places?” And so he got up and gave the lecture. At the end of it some physicist stood up and posed a question of extreme difficulty. But the chauffeur was up to it. “Well,” he said, “I’m surprised that a citizen of an advanced city like Munich is asking so elementary a question, so I’m going to ask my chauffeur to respond.”

4. What we can learn from Journalists

In order to research a story, Journalists relies on six questions. They are who, what, when, where, why and how.  Excerpt from Brainstorming

In this technique you would use the “big six” questions that journalists rely on to thoroughly research a story. The six are: Who?, What?, When?, Where?, Why?, and How?. Write each question word on a sheet of paper, leaving space between them. Then, write out some sentences or phrases in answer, as they fit your particular topic. You might also answer into a tape recorder if you’d rather talk out your ideas.

Now look over your batch of responses. Do you see that you have more to say about one or two of the questions? Or, are your answers for each question pretty well balanced in depth and content? Was there one question that you had absolutely no answer for? How might this awareness help you to decide how to frame your thesis claim or to organize your paper? Or, how might it reveal what you must work on further, doing library research or interviews or further note-taking?

5. What we can learn from Birthday Paradox Problem

In the excellent article on How to Read Mathematics – Shai Simonson takes the Birthday Paradox problem and solves the problem step by step. Take a print out of this and read it several times. If you are really interested in his teachings then you should read ‘Rediscovering Mathematics

Problem Statement: A professor offers to bet anyone in a class of 30 random students that there are at least two people in the class with the same birthday (month and day and not necessarily year). Would you accept the bet? What if there were fewer people in the class?

Solution: Let birthdays of n people be uniformly distributed among 365 days of the year (for simplicity assume no leap years). We prove that the probability that at least two people have the same birthday (month and day) equals

1 - ((365 * 364 * ... * (365 - n + 1))) / 365 ^ n

For n = 30, the probability of at least one matching birthday is about 71%

Finding the answer to this problem is not important. In fact most of us would  have solved the problem in school by memorizing the formula and substituting different values for n. What did we learn by doing that? Yes we could have got 100/100 but what is the use? It is the steps he takes the reader through is very important. Spend some time to go through his explanation. It is really worth it.

It shows the power of Why?

5 thoughts on “Why?

  1. Thanks for the link to Shai’s article . The question of why also reminds me of the experiment Bob conducted in a library – described in his book “Influnce”

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  3. Reminds me of the great Kipling verses from the “Just so Stories”:

    “I keep six honest serving men
    they taught me all I knew
    their names are what and why and when
    and how and where and who.”

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