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Peter Kaufman on The Multidisciplinary Approach to Thinking

Peter Kaufman, editor of Poor Charlie’s Almanack, on why is it important to be a multidisciplinary thinker.

Because as the Japanese proverb says, ‘The frog in the well, knows nothing of the mighty ocean.’
You may know everything there is to know about your specialty, your silo, your “well”, but how are you going to make any good decisions in life …
the complex systems of life, the dynamic system of life …
if all you know, is one well?

He then, talks about a sneaky shortcut on how he did it.

So I tried to learn what Munger calls, ‘the big ideas’ from all the different disciplines.
Right up front I want to tell you what my trick was, because if you try to do it the way he did it, you don’t have enough time in your life to do it. It’s impossible. Because the fields are too big and the books are too thick. So my trick to learn the big ideas of science, biology, etc., was I found this science magazine called Discover Magazine. […]
I found that this magazine every month had a really good interview with somebody from some aspect of science. Every month. And it was six or seven pages long. It was all in layperson’s terms. The person who was trying to get their ideas across would do so using good stories, clear language, and they would never fail to get all their big ideas into the interview. […]
So I discovered that on the Internet there were 12 years of Discover Magazine articles available in the archives. So I printed out 12 years times 12 months of these interviews. I had 144 of these interviews. And I put them in these big three ring binders. Filled up three big binders.
And for the next six months I went to the coffee shop for an hour or two every morning and I read these. And I read them index fund style, which means I read them all. I didn’t pick and choose. This is the universe and I’m going to own the whole universe. I read every single one.
Now I will tell you that out of 144 articles, if I’d have been selecting my reading material, I probably would have read about 14 of them. And the other 130? I would never in a million years read six pages on nanoparticles.
Guess what I had at the end of six months? I had inside my head every single big idea from every single domain of science and biology. It only took me 6 months. And it wasn’t that hard because it was written in layperson’s terms.
And really, what did I really get? Just like an index fund, I captured all the parabolic ideas that no one else has. And why doesn’t anybody else have these ideas? Because who in the world would read an interview on nanoparticles? And yet that’s where I got my best ideas. I would read some arcane subject and, oh my god, I saw, ‘That’s exactly how this works over here in biology.’ or ‘That’s exactly how this works over here in human nature.’ You have to know all these big ideas.

And then in an extraordinary step of generous giving, he spends the rest of the talk, summing all he has learnt into the next 40 or so minutes.

You should go read the talk at Latticework Investing.

Even better, you should go listen. Kaufman is a really engaging speaker.

I hope you listen to this, every once in a while like I do.

Shane Parrish also merges Peter’s ideas with the Durants for an amazing post on the lessons of history.

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