Charlie Munger on The Two Types of Knowledge

Charlie Munger, the billionaire business partner of Warren Buffett, frequently tells the Max Plank Story to demonstate that there are two kinds of knowledge.

“Max Planck” after he won the Nobel Prize, Munger said at the 2007 Commencement to the USC Law School, “went around Germany giving the same standard lecture on the new quantum mechanics.”

Over time, his chauffeur memorized the lecture and said, “Would you mind, Professor Planck, because it’s so boring to stay in our routine, if I gave the lecture in Munich and you just sat in front wearing my chauffeur’s hat?” Planck said, “Why not?” And the chauffeur got up and gave this long lecture on quantum mechanics. After which a physics professor stood up and asked a perfectly ghastly question. The speaker said, “Well I’m surprised that in an advanced city like Munich I get such an elementary question. I’m going to ask my chauffeur to reply.”

There are two types of “knowledge” 1) real knowledge and 2) surface knowledge. This isn’t a new idea, Richard Feynman discovered the same thing, only he liked to distinguish between knowing the name of something and knowing something.

There are no shortcuts. Real knowledge comes when people do the work. Real knowledge comes from doing, from “experiencing.”

One of the great super-powers in life is figuring out the difference between people who know and people who pretend to know. In the latter case it may be that they are fooling you and it may be that they are fooling themselves.

One way to tease out the difference is to keep asking them why.


If you liked this, you’ll love these other Farnam Street articles:

Circle of Competence — Knowing your Circle of Competence helps intelligent people like Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett stay out of trouble.

Learn Anything Faster with the Feynman Technique — The Feynman Technique helps you learn anything faster by quickly identifying gaps in your understanding. It’s also a versatile thinking tool.