Quote of the week:

“It’s not that you read. It’s what you read.” —Epictetus

Concentration as edge: the “30 second mind”

In today’s hyper-connected environment, true focus is a prized commodity. And the ability to resist distraction is increasingly becoming an edge. “Those of us who recognize this toxic situation will accumulate an almost unfair advantage over our peers if we retain the ability to focus for long periods of time,” writes Ravi Nagarajan of The Rational Walk in a recent essay.

In the piece, Nagarajan explores the idea of what Warren Buffett once called Charlie Munger’s “30 second mind,” which enabled Charlie to have an almost preternatural ability to distill information quickly to its core essence. This ability, Nagarajan writes, was only enabled by Munger’s deep, undistracted focus and his approach to continuous learning.  

“Warren Buffett has been an investor for over eighty years and has accumulated a tremendous understanding of a wide range of topics, but he has always been more intensely focused on business and investing. In contrast, Charlie Munger’s interests had a far wider range. This multi-disciplinary mindset is what gave him the ‘thirty second mind’ that Mr. Buffett could turn to on nearly any topic under the sun. How can we develop Charlie Munger’s thirty second mind? The prescription is straight forward but it is not simple or easy. We must actively pursue a liberal multi-disciplinary education throughout life and only layer specialization on top of a sound foundation.”


Bullish on batteries, bots, and other transformative tech

The writer and investor Noah Smith offers a refreshingly optimistic view on the future of AI, robots, batteries, and other technologies that “really can solve a lot of our problems after all.” Of course, some of these technologies may be years away from mainstream adoption. But in certain areas, particularly in AI, the progress over the last few years has been profound. 

“Why are all these breakthroughs coming in the same decade? I think some of it has to do with the productivity slowdown of 2005. When the burst of productivity from computerization and the early internet petered out, some private capital and government grants focused on incremental refinements, but some went in search of long-term breakthroughs that would reignite rapid progress. Now I suspect many of those efforts are bearing fruit. I think another factor is that the economy has running hot for most of the last decade, which gives companies both the spare cash and the incentive (high labor costs) to spend on innovation.”

A few more links I enjoyed: 

“Buying great businesses at average prices is as much value investing as buying average businesses at great prices. The idea that every business trading at a low P/E, P/B, P/anything ratio is a ‘value stock’ is just plain stupid. Some businesses are truly inferior and deserve to sell at low multiples. GARP is a segment of value investing. Munger says always invert. What would GAUP (Growth at Unreasonable Price) be? It would be a price-insensitive style of investing, much like momentum investing. It would be the opposite of value.”
“That got me thinking: What would be the most interesting and useful information anyone could get their hands on? Years ago I asked that question to Yale economist Robert Shiller. ‘The exact role of luck in successful outcomes,’ he answered. I loved that answer, because nobody will ever have that information. But if you did, your entire worldview would change. Who you admire would change. The traits you think are needed for success would change. You would find millions of lucky egomaniacs and millions of unlucky geniuses. The fact that it’s impossible to possess this information doesn’t make it useless – just thinking about how powerful it would be to have it forces you to ponder a topic that’s important but easy to ignore.”

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