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Some Analysis of Charlie Munger Quotes

Monday April 9, 2018

A client shared with me his opinion that Charlie Munger is an INTJ. This sounded interesting, so I dug in and did a bit of Charlie Munger research. Here are some attributes and quotes of Charlie’s that seem both representative of the INTJ personality type and representative of Charlie’s thinking in general.

By the way, you can check out Charlie Munger books and listen to Munger for free at the Internet Archive, in addition to Youtube and other sources.

1. Argument from Personal Temperament (Be Like Me)

This one really gives away Charlie’s temperament. Here are the four temperaments, for reference:

- Guardian / Stabilizer (SJ)
- Idealist / Catalyst (NF)
- Artisan / Improviser (SP)
- Rational / Theorist (NT)

“In the late 1980s, [Munger] recalled in a magazine interview, a guest at a dinner party asked him, ‘Tell me, what one quality accounts for your enormous success?’
Mr. Munger’s reply: ‘I’m rational. That’s the answer. I’m rational.’”
Charlie Munger: Lessons from an Investing Giant

Rational living is great for an INTJ! But really—rational! If we were all rational, every one of us, we’d be in sore shape. Even people who are Rational by temperament are understood to fluctuate between rational and irrational many times during the period of a single activity. Munger himself discusses experiences in which he did not behave rationally. He explains and kind of justifies these experiences by wrapping them up in a rationally understood meta-context.

2. Criticism of Ti, or Introverted Thinking

Te-preferring types like INTJs prefer to sort through others’ ideas, to pick “the best” as determined by evidence or measurements as a way of gaining leverage.

Ti-preferring types, on the other hand use a calculating creativity to build a mental model from the bottom up, preferring to create, rather than reference, ideas.

“People calculate too much and think too little.”
—Charles T. Munger

Here Munger uses the fundamental Te vs. Ti argument (Which in INTJs can be summarized as the “don’t reinvent the wheel” sentiment):

“I believe in the discipline of mastering the best that other people have ever figured out. I don’t believe in just sitting down and trying to dream it all up yourself. Nobody’s that smart.”
—Charles T. Munger, Charlie Munger: The Complete Investor

(The real risk here is that you find ways to avoid doing your own analysis, and miss key points of leverage which others have not yet actually discovered)

3. Referential thought (Te) preference

“Develop into a lifelong self-learner through voracious reading.”
—Charles T. Munger

“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time—none, zero. You’d be amazed how much Warren reads, and at how much I read. My children laugh at me. They think I’m a book with a couple of legs sticking out.”
—Charles T. Munger

Here is more justification for digging deep to find all the facts and information, as preferred by Te:

“The great algorithm to remember in dealing with this tendency is simple: an idea or a fact is not worth more merely because it’s easily available to you.”
—Charles T. Munger

“We both [Warren and I] insist on a lot of time being available almost every day to just sit and think. That is very uncommon in American business. We read and think. So Warren and I do more reading and thinking and less doing than most people in business.”
—Charles T. Munger

4. Valuing (Fi) preference

Munger continually demonstrates a preference for sorting through individual-moral questions.

“Remember that reputation and integrity are your most valuable assets—and can be lost in a heartbeat.”
—Charles T. Munger

Taking the reverse, Munger is a steady critic of group thinking and inherent organizational biases / flaws (Fe, or extraverted feeling, issues)

5. Low risk tolerance (anti-boundary-expansion / pro boundary-retention)

The typical INTJ has a very low tolerance for risk (though turbulent INTJs much less so). INTJs prefer to approach risk through careful study and analysis, looking for external conditions that line up to fit the “success principles” they’ve learned. The topic of taking risk, to an INTJ, is typically a discussion about contingency planning. (Which is funny if you think about it)

“It’s not possible for investors to consistently outperform the market. Therefore you’re best served investing in a diversified portfolio of low-cost index funds [or exchange-traded funds].”
—Charles T. Munger

In Socionics Model A (another personality type model), INTJs are said to have an overall negative bias toward the expansion of boundaries, which is the exploration of the interaction of what might be called “fields of energy” (literally, if you look at the subatomic level). We INTJs prefer to protect boundaries by contingency, so that we can make careful boundary-internal investigations via intuitive methods. Munger fits right in here.

“We recognized early on that very smart people do very dumb things, and we wanted to know why and who, so we could avoid them.”
—Charles T. Munger

6. Occasional moments where Ti creeps in

Munger does give credit to post-mortems. A good post-mortem analysis is where Ti begins.

“Forgetting your mistakes is a terrible error if you’re trying to improve your cognition. Reality doesn’t remind you. Why not celebrate stupidities in both categories?”
—Charles T. Munger

Conclusion, and How to get the Best out of Munger as an INTJ

From what I’ve read so far, I’m comfortable with the idea that Munger is an INTJ. There are additional areas where Munger shows typical INTJ tendencies, like direct avoidance of novel concepts and principles (his thinking on Bitcoin may be right on in some ways, but for the purposes of analysis, it is effectively black & white), which indicate a negative overall bias in his extraverted intuitive process (Ne).

I have enjoyed reading and listening to Munger. If you want to get the best out of Munger’s shared experience, I recommend the following principles:

  • Look beyond the historical stories and trivia that Munger shares. While interesting and engaging, they mask his behavior and he says so himself. These stories mostly get at the “why” and not the “how”.
  • Explore and detect the actual work and trades Munger performed.
  • Attempt to identify Munger’s original creative works. (systems, etc.)

Munger does not draw on history and psychology as much as you might think, to hear him talk. Instead, he mostly draws on and applies others’ ideas. Which still makes him a wise, effective person!

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