Wednesday, May 11, 2016




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Stock Selection Framework

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Illustrative Stock Selection Framework from @manualofideas #investing #valueinvesting #stocks #assets #earnings

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Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham - Audiobook


Charles H Brandes - Ben Graham Centre Value Investing 2015

 Dec 7, 2015
Brandes is Chairman of the firm’s five-member Executive Committee,
where he shares responsibility for driving strategic decisions and
monitoring implementation of the firm’s vision and objectives at Brandes
Investment Partners, L.P. He is also a member of the all-cap investment
committee and the Investment Oversight Committee, which monitors the
processes and activities of the firm’s investment committees. Before
founding Brandes in 1974, Mr. Brandes became an acquaintance of Benjamin
Graham, widely considered the father of the value-investing approach.
He has also authored a book on value investing. Mr. Brandes is a board
member of several organizations involved in scientific, eleemosynary and
cultural work. He earned his BA in economics from Bucknell University
and has 46 years of investment experience.

For more on Brandes Investment Partners LP, see

Friday, April 29, 2016

Prem Watsa, Fairfax Financial - Ben Graham Centre Value Investing 2011

Published on Dec 7, 2015
addition to acting as a guest speaker on February 16, Mr. Prem Watsa,
Chairman and CEO, Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. has invited Dr.
Athanassakos and a group of his Value Investing MBA and HBA students to
attend the Fairfax annual meeting of shareholders on Wednesday, April
20, 2011 at 9:30 a.m. in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. After the annual
meeting, students will have an opportunity to meet Mr. Watsa and his

Mr. Watsa is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of
Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., a financial services holding company,
which he took over in 1985. The company, through its subsidiaries, is
engaged in property and casualty insurance and reinsurance, as well as
investment management. Mr. Watsa is a Chartered Financial Analyst, a
graduate of the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology with a degree
in Chemical Engineering and a holder of an MBA from the Ivey Business
School at Western University. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of
the Hospital for Sick Children, a member of the Advisory Board for the
Ivey Business School and a member of the Board of Directors of the Royal
Ontario Museum Foundation, as well as Chairman of the Investment
Committee of St. Paul’s Anglican Church.

Fairfax has been one of
the few companies to escape the ravages of the great recession of 2008
as Mr. Watsa and his team had anticipated the credit crisis and had
taken the necessary steps to protect Fairfax . Mr. Watsa, also known as
the Buffett of the North, had discussed his fears about the markets in a
key note speech he gave to The Ben Graham Center of Value Investing
First Annual Symposium on Value Investing on May 25, 2007. His key note
speech can be viewed here.

For more on Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd., see

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger

 Poor Charlie's Almanack


Poor Charlie's Almanack

The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger

Expanded Third Edition
Forward by Warren E. Buffett
Edited by Peter D. Kaufman

From 1733 to 1758, Ben Franklin dispensed useful and timeless advice through Poor Richard's Almanack. Among the virtues extolled were thrift, duty, hard work, and simplicity. Subsequently, two centuries went by during which Ben's thoughts on these subjects were regarded as the last word. Then Charlie Munger stepped forth.

– Warren Buffett
From the Foreword to Poor Charlie's Almanack
For the first time ever, the wit and wisdom of Charlie Munger is available in a single volume: all his talks, lectures and public commentary. And, it has been written and compiled with both Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett's encouragement and cooperation. So pull up your favorite reading chair and enjoy the unique humor, wit and insight that Charlie Munger brings to the world of business, investing and life itself.

Charles Helman Lea once said, "It will generally be admitted that the true test of all books is the influence they have upon the lives and conduct of their readers." We hope this book passes that test, exerting a lasting influence on you.

Net proceeds from sales of Poor Charlie's Almanack go to benefit The Munger Research Center of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.

Important Notice

Warren Buffett, in his February 2010 Annual Report letter to Berkshire shareholders, again expressed his support for Poor Charlie's Almanack.



In addition, at the May 2007 Annual Meeting in Omaha, they introduced Seeking Wisdom: From Darwin to Munger by Peter Bevelin.

 Seeking Wisdom

Seeking Wisdom

From Darwin to Munger

Third Edition
By Peter Bevelin

Peter Bevelin begins his fascinating book with Confucius' great wisdom: "A man who has committed a mistake and doesn't correct it, is committing another mistake." Seeking Wisdom is the result of Bevelin's learning about attaining wisdom. His quest for wisdom originated partly from making mistakes himself and observing those of others but also from the philosophy of super-investor and Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman Charles Munger. A man whose simplicity and clarity of thought was unequal to anything Bevelin had seen.

In addition to naturalist Charles Darwin and Munger, Bevelin cites an encyclopedic range of thinkers: from first-century BCE Roman poet Publius Terentius to Mark Twain—from Albert Einstein to Richard Feynman—from 16th Century French essayist Michel de Montaigne to Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett. In the book, he describes ideas and research findings from many different fields.

This book is for those who love the constant search for knowledge. It is in the spirit of Charles Munger, who says, "All I want to know is where I'm going to die so I'll never go there." There are roads that lead to unhappiness. An understanding of how and why we can "die" should help us avoid them. We can't eliminate mistakes, but we can prevent those that can really hurt us.

Using exemplars of clear thinking and attained wisdom, Bevelin focuses on how our thoughts are influenced, why we make misjudgments and tools to improve our thinking. Bevelin tackles such eternal questions as: Why do we behave like we do? What do we want out of life? What interferes with our goals?
Read and study this wonderful multidisciplinary exploration of wisdom. It may change the way you think and act in business and in life.
Net proceeds from sales of Seeking Wisdom go to benefit The Munger Research Center of the Huntington Library in San Marino, California.

Of course, we are still shipping copies of the revised and expanded Second Edition of Poor Charlie's Almanack




Buffett Munger Wisdom:
"Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Rober Cialdini"

"Poor Charlie's Almanack Expanded Third Edition"

Audio of the often referred to speech by Charlie Munger on the psychology
of human misjudgement given to an audience at Harvard University circa Jun 1995.

Mr. Munger speaks about the framework for decision making and the
factors contributing to misjudgements. c. Jun 1, 1995



Speech at Harvard University

Estimated date: June, 1995

Transcription, comments [in brackets] and minor editing by Whitney Tilson (

...and they discovered extreme, obvious irrationality in many areas of the economy that
they looked at. And they were a little bit troubled because nothing that they had learned in
graduate school explained these patterns.

Now I would hope that Mr. Munger spends a little bit more time around graduate schools today, because we’ve gotten now where he was 30 years ago, and we are trying to explain those patterns, and some of the people who are doing that will be speaking with you today.

So I think he thinks of his specialty as the Psychology of Human Misjudgment, and part of
this human misjudgment, of course, comes from worrying about the types of fads and
social pressures that Henry Kaufman talked  to us about. I think it’s significant that
Berkshire Hathaway is not headquartered in New York, or even in Los Angeles or San
Francisco, but rather in the heart of the country in Nebraska.

When he referred to this problem of human misjudgment, he identified two significant
problems, and I’m sure that there are many more, but when he said, “By not relying on
this, and not understanding this, it was costing me a lot of money,” and I presume
that some of you are here in the theory that maybe it’s costing you even a somewhat lesser
amount of money.

And the second point that Mr. Munger made was it was reducing...not
understanding human misjudgment was reducing my ability to help everything I loved.
Well I hope he loves you, and I’m sure he’ll help you. Thank you. [Applause]

Although I am very interested in the subject of human misjudgment -- and lord knows I’ve
created a good bit of it -- I don’t think I’ve created my full statistical share, and I think that
one of the reasons was I tried to do something about this terrible ignorance I left the
Harvard Law School with.

When I saw this patterned irrationality, which was so extreme, and I had no theory or
anything to deal with it, but I could see that it was extreme, and I could see that it was
patterned, I just started to create my own system of psychology, partly by casual reading,
but largely from personal experience, and I used that pattern to help me get through life.

Fairly late in life I stumbled into this book, "Influence" by a psychologist named Bob
Cialdini, who became a super-tenured hotshot on a 2,000-person faculty at a very young
age. And he wrote this book, which has now sold 300-odd thousand copies, which is
remarkable for somebody. Well, it’s an academic book aimed at a popular audience that
filled in a lot of holes in my crude system. In those holes it filled in, I thought I had a
system that was a good-working tool, and I’d like to share that one with you.

And I came here because behavioral economics.  How could economics not be behavioral?
If it isn’t behavioral, what the hell is it? And I think it’s fairly clear that all reality has to
respect all other reality. If you come to inconsistencies, they have to be resolved, and so if

there’s anything valid in psychology, economics has to recognize it, and vice versa. So I think the
people that are working on this fringe between economics and psychology are absolutely right to be
there, and I think there’s been plenty wrong over the years.

Well let me romp through as much of this list as I have time to get through:

24 Standard Causes of Human Misjudgment

1. First: Under-recognition of the power of what psychologists call ‘reinforcement’
and economists call ‘incentives.’

Well you can say, “Everybody knows that.” Well I think I’ve been in the top 5% of my
age cohort all my life in understanding the power of incentives, and all my life I’ve
underestimated it. And never a year passes but I get some surprise that pushes my limit a
little farther.

One of my favorite cases about the power of incentives is the Federal Express case. The
heart and soul of the integrity of the system is that all the packages have to be shifted
rapidly in one central location each night. And the system has no integrity if the whole
shift can’t be done fast. And Federal Express had one hell of a time getting the thing to
work. And they tried moral suasion, they tried everything in the world, and finally
somebody got the happy thought that they were paying the night shift by the hour, and that
maybe if they paid them by the shift, the system would work better. And lo and behold,
that solution worked.

Early in the history of Xerox, Joe Wilson, who was then in the government, had to go back
to Xerox because he couldn’t understand how their better, new machine was selling so
poorly in relation to their older and inferior machine. Of course when he got there he
found out that the commission arrangement with the salesmen gave a tremendous incentive
to the inferior machine.

And here at Harvard, in the shadow of B.F. Skinner -- there was a man who really was into
reinforcement as a powerful thought, and, you know, Skinner’s lost his reputation in a lot
of places, but if you were to analyze the entire history of experimental science at Harvard,
he’d be in the top handful. His experiments were very ingenious, the results were counter-
intuitive, and they were important. It is not given to experimental science to do better.

What gummed up Skinner’s reputation is that he developed a case of what I always call
man-with-a-hammer syndrome: to the man with a hammer, every problem tends to look
pretty much like a nail. And Skinner had one of the more extreme cases in the history of
Academia, and this syndrome doesn’t exempt bright people. It’s just a man with a
hammer...and Skinner is an extreme example of that. And later, as I go down my list, let’s
go back and try and figure out why people, like Skinner, get man-with-a-hammer

Incidentally, when I was at the Harvard Law School there was a professor, naturally at
Yale, who was derisively discussed at Harvard, and they used to say, “Poor old Blanchard.
He thinks declaratory judgments will cure cancer.” And that’s the way Skinner got. And
not only that, he was literary, and he scorned opponents who had any different way of
thinking or thought anything else was important. This is not a way to make a lasting
reputation if the other people turn out to also be doing something important.

2. My second factor is simple psychological denial.

This first really hit me between the eyes when a friend of our family had a super-athlete,
super-student son who flew off a carrier in the north Atlantic and never came back, and his
mother, who was a very sane woman, just never believed that he was dead. And, of
course, if you turn on the television, you’ll find the mothers of the most obvious criminals
that man could ever diagnose, and they all think their sons are innocent. That’s simple
psychological denial. The reality is too painful to bear, so you just distort it until it’s
bearable. We all do that to some extent, and it’s a common psychological misjudgment
that causes terrible problems.

3. Third: incentive-cause bias, both in one’s own mind and that of ones trusted
advisor, where it creates what economists call ‘agency costs.’

Here, my early experience was a doctor who sent bushel baskets full of normal gall
bladders down to the pathology lab in the leading hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska. And with
that quality control for which community hospitals are famous, about five years after he
should’ve been removed from the staff, he was. And one of the old doctors who
participated in the removal was also a family friend, and I asked him: I said, “Tell me, did
he think, ‘Here’s a way for me to exercise my talents’” -- this guy was very skilled
technically-- “’and make a high living by doing a few maimings and murders every year,
along with some frauds?’” And he said, “Hell no, Charlie. He thought that the gall
bladder was the source of all medical evil, and if you really love your patients, you
couldn’t get that organ out rapidly enough.”

Now that’s an extreme case, but in lesser strength, it’s present in every profession and in
every human being. And it causes perfectly terrible behavior. If you take sales
presentations and brokers of commercial real estate and businesses... I’m 70 years old,
I’ve never seen one I thought was even within hailing distance of objective truth. If you
want to talk about the power of incentives and the power of rationalized, terrible behavior:
after the Defense Department had had enough experience with cost-plus percentage of cost
contracts, the reaction of our republic was to make it a crime for the federal government to
write one, and not only a crime, but a felony.
And by the way, the government’s right, but a lot of the way the world is run, including
most law firms and a lot of other places, they’ve still got a cost-plus percentage of cost
system. And human nature, with its version of what I call ‘incentive-caused bias,’ causes
this terrible abuse. And many of the people who are doing it you would be glad to have
married into your family compared to what you’re otherwise going to get. [Laughter]
Now there are huge implications from the fact that the human mind is put together this
way, and that is that people who create things like cash registers, which make most
[dishonest] behavior hard, are some of the effective saints of our civilization. And the cash
register was a great moral instrument when it was created. And Patterson knew that, by
the way. He had a little store, and the people were stealing him blind and never made any
money, and people sold him a couple of cash registers and it went to profit immediately.
And, of course, he closed the store and went into the cash register business...

And so this is a huge, important thing. If you read the psychology texts, you will find that if they’re
1,000 pages long, there’s one sentence. Somehow incentive-caused bias has escaped the standard
survey course in psychology.

4. Fourth, and this is a superpower in error-causing psychological tendency: bias
from consistency and commitment tendency, including the tendency to avoid or
promptly resolve cognitive dissonance
Includes the self-confirmation tendency of all conclusions, particularly expressed conclusions, and with a special persistence for conclusions that are hard-won
Well what I’m saying here is that the human mind is a lot like the human egg, and the
human egg has a shut-off device. When one sperm gets in, it shuts down so the next one
can’t get in. The human mind has a big tendency of the same sort. And here again, it
doesn’t just catch ordinary mortals; it catches the deans of physics. According to Max
Planck, the really innovative, important new physics was never really accepted by the old
guard. Instead a new guard came along that was less brain-blocked by its previous
conclusions. And if Max Planck’s crowd had this consistency and commitment tendency
that kept their old inclusions intact in spite of disconfirming evidence, you can imagine
what the crowd that you and I are part of behaves like.

And of course, if you make a public disclosure of your conclusion, you’re pounding it into
your own head. Many of these students that are screaming at us, you know, they aren’t
convincing us, but they’re forming mental change for themselves, because what they’re
shouting out [is] what they’re pounding in. And I think educational institutions that create
a climate where too much of that goes on a fundamental sense, they’re
irresponsible institutions. It’s very important to not put your brain in chains too young by
what you shout out.

And all these things like painful qualifying and initiation rituals pound in your
commitments and your ideas. The Chinese brainwashing system, which was for war
prisoners, was way better than anybody else’s. They maneuvered people into making tiny
little commitments and declarations, and then they’d slowly build. That worked way better
than torture.

5. Fifth: bias from Pavlovian association, misconstruing past correlation as a reliable
basis for decision-making
I never took a course in psychology, or economics either for that matter, but I did learn
about Pavlov in high school biology. And the way they taught it, you know, so the dog
salivated when the bell rang. So what? Nobody made the least effort to tie that to the wide
world. Well the truth of the matter is that Pavlovian association is an enormously powerful
psychological force in the daily life of all of us. And, indeed, in economics we wouldn’t
have money without the role of so-called secondary reinforcement, which is a pure
psychological phenomenon demonstrated in the laboratory.

Practically...I’d say 3/4 of advertising works on pure Pavlov. Think how association, pure
association, works. Take Coca-Cola company (we’re the biggest share-holder). They
want to be associated with every wonderful  image: heroics in the Olympics, wonderful
music, you name it. They don’t want to be associated with presidents’ funerals and so-
forth. When have you seen a Coca-Cola ad...and the association really works.

And all these psychological tendencies work largely or entirely on a subconscious level, which
makes them very insidious. Now you’ve got Persian messenger syndrome. The Persians
really did kill the messenger who brought the bad news. You think that is dead? I mean
you should’ve seen Bill Paley in his last 20 years. [Paley was the former owner, chairman
and CEO of CBS; his bio is at] He didn’t hear
one damn thing he didn’t want to hear. People knew that it was bad for the messenger to
bring Bill Paley things he didn’t want to hear. Well that means that the leader gets in a
cocoon of unreality, and this is a great big enterprise, and boy, did he make some dumb
decisions in the last 20 years.

And now the Persian messenger syndrome is alive and well. I saw, some years ago, Arco
and Exxon arguing over a few hundred millions of ambiguity in their North Slope treaties
before a superior court judge in Texas, with armies of lawyers and experts on each side.
Now this is a Mad Hatter’s tea party: two engineering-style companies can’t resolve some
ambiguity without spending tens of millions of dollars in some Texas superior court? In
my opinion what happens is that nobody wants to bring the bad news to the executives up
the line. But here’s a few hundred million dollars you thought you had that you don’t.
And it’s much safer to act like the Persian messenger who goes away to hide rather than
bring home the news of the battle lost.

Talking about economics, you get a very interesting phenomenon that I’ve seen over and
over again in a long life. You’ve got two products; suppose they’re complex, technical
products. Now you’d think, under the laws of economics, that if product A costs X, if
product Y costs X minus something, it will sell better than if it sells at X plus something,
but that’s not so. In many cases when you raise the price of the alternative products, it’ll
get a larger market share than it would when you make it lower than your competitor’s
product. That’s because the bell, a Pavlovian bell -- I mean ordinarily there’s a correlation
between price and value -- then you have an information inefficiency. And so when you
raise the price, the sales go up relative to your competitor. That happens again and again
and again. It’s a pure Pavlovian phenomenon. You can say, “Well, the economists have
figured this sort of thing out when they started talking about information inefficiencies,”
but that was fairly late in economics that they found such an obvious thing. And, of
course, most of them don’t ask what causes the information inefficiencies.
Well one of the things that causes it is pure old Pavlov and his dog. Now you’ve got bios
from Skinnerian association: operant conditioning, you know, where you give the dog a
reward and pound in the behavior that preceded the dog’s getting the award. And, of
course, Skinner was able to create superstitious pigeons by having the rewards come by
accident with certain occurrences, and, of course, we all know people who are the human
equivalents of superstitious pigeons. That’s a very powerful phenomenon. And, of course,
operant conditioning really works. I mean the people in the center who think that operant
conditioning is important are very much right, it’s just that Skinner overdid it a little.
Where you see in business just perfectly horrible results from psychologically-rooted
tendencies is in accounting. If you take Westinghouse, which blew, what, two or three
billion dollars pre-tax at least loaning developers to build hotels, and virtually 100% loans?
Now you say any idiot knows that if there’s one thing you don’t like it’s a developer, and
another you don’t like it’s a hotel. And to make a 100% loan to a developer who’s going
to build a hotel... [Laughter] But this guy, he probably was an engineer or something, and he didn’t
take psychology any more than I did, and he got out there in the hands of these salesmen operating
under their version of incentive-caused bias, where any damned way of getting
Westinghouse to do it was considered normal business, and they just blew it.

That would never have been possible if the accounting system hadn’t been such but for the initial phase of every transaction it showed wonderful financial results. So people who have loose accounting standards are just inviting perfectly horrible behavior in other people. And it’s a sin, it’s an absolute sin.

If you carry bushel baskets full of money through the ghetto, and made it easy to steal, that would be a considerable human sin, because you’d be causing a lot of bad behavior, and the bad behavior would spread.

Similarly an institution that gets sloppy accounting commits a real human sin, and it’s also
a dumb way to do business, as Westinghouse has so wonderfully proved.

Oddly enough nobody mentions, at least nobody I’ve seen, what happened with Joe Jett
and Kidder Peabody. The truth of the matter is the accounting system was such that by
punching a few buttons, the Joe Jetts of the world could show profits, and profits that
showed up in things that resulted in rewards and esteem and every other thing... Well the
Joe Jetts are always with us, and they’re not really to blame, in my judgment at least. But
that bastard who created that foolish accounting system who, so far as I know, has not been
flayed alive, ought to be.

6. Sixth: bias from reciprocation tendency, including the tendency of one on a roll to
act as other persons expect.

Well here, again, Cialdini does a magnificent job at this, and you’re all going to be given a
copy of Cialdini’s book. And if you have half as much sense as I think you do, you will
immediately order copies for all of your children and several of your friends. You will
never make a better investment.

It is so easy to be a patsy for what he calls the compliance practitioners of this life. At any
rate, reciprocation tendency is a very, very powerful phenomenon, and Cialdini
demonstrated this by running around a campus, and he asked people to take juvenile
delinquents to the zoo. And it was a campus, and so one in six actually agreed to do it.

And after he’d accumulated a statistical output he went around on the same campus and he
asked other people, he said, “Gee, would you devote two afternoons a week to taking
juvenile delinquents somewhere and suffering greatly yourself to help them,” and there he
got 100% of the people to say no. But after he’d made the first request, he backed up a
little, and he said, “Would you at least take them to the zoo one afternoon?” He raised the
compliance rate from a third to a half. He got three times the success by just going through
the little ask-for-a-lot-and-back-off.

Now if the human mind, on a subconscious level, can be manipulated that way and you
don’t know it, I always use the phrase, “You’re like a one-legged man in an ass-kicking
contest.” I mean you are really giving a lot of quarter to the external world that you can’t
afford to give. And on this so-called role theory, where you tend to act in the way that
other people expect, and that’s reciprocation if you think about the way society is

A guy named Zimbardo had people at Stanford divide into two pieces: one were the guards and the
other were the prisoners, and they started acting out roles as people expected. He had to stop the
experiment after about five days. He was getting into human misery and breakdown and
pathological behavior. I mean it was awesome. However, Zimbardo is greatly
misinterpreted. It’s not just reciprocation tendency and role theory that caused that, it’s
consistency and commitment tendency. Each person, as he acted as a guard or a prisoner,
the action itself was pounding in the idea. [For more on this famous experiment, see]

Wherever you turn, this consistency and commitment tendency is affecting you. In other
words, what you think may change what you do, but perhaps even more important, what
you do will change what you think. And you can say, “Everybody knows that.” I want to
tell you I didn’t know it well enough early enough.

7. Seventh, now this is a lollapalooza, and Henry Kaufman wisely talked about this:
bias from over-influence by social proof -- that is, the conclusions of others,
particularly under conditions of natural uncertainty and stress.

And here, one of the cases the psychologists use is Kitty Genovese, where all these people
-- I don’t know, 50, 60, 70 of them -- just sort of sat and did nothing while she was slowly
murdered. Now one of the explanations is that everybody looked at everybody else and
nobody else was doing anything, and so there’s automatic social proof that the right thing
to do is nothing. That’s not a good enough explanation for Kitty Genovese, in my
judgment. That’s only part of it. There are microeconomic ideas and gain/loss ratios and
so forth that also come into play. I think time and time again, in reality, psychological
notions and economic notions interplay, and the man who doesn’t understand both is a
damned fool.

Big-shot businessmen get into these waves of social proof. Do you remember some years
ago when one oil company bought a fertilizer company, and every other major oil
company practically ran out and bought a fertilizer company? And there was no more
damned reason for all these oil companies to buy fertilizer companies, but they didn’t
know exactly what to do, and if Exxon was doing it, it was good enough for Mobil, and
vice versa. I think they’re all gone now, but it was a total disaster.

Now let’s talk about efficient market theory, a wonderful economic doctrine that had a
long vogue in spite of the experience of Be
rkshire Hathaway. In fact one of the
economists who won -- he shared a Nobel Prize -- and as he looked at Berkshire Hathaway
year after year, which people would throw in his face as saying maybe the market isn’t
quite as efficient as you think, he said, “Well, it’s a two-sigma event.” And then he said
we were a three-sigma event. And then he said we were a four-sigma event. And he
finally got up to six sigmas -- better to add a sigma than change a theory, just because the
evidence comes in differently. [Laughter] And, of course, when this share of a Nobel
Prize went into money management himself, he sank like a stone.
If you think about the doctrines I’ve talked about, namely, one, the power of reinforcement
-- after all you do something and the market goes up and you get paid and rewarded and
applauded and what have you, meaning a lot of reinforcement, if you make a bet on a
market and the market goes with you. Also, there’s social proof. I mean the prices on the
market are the ultimate form of social proof, reflecting what other people think, and so the
combination is very powerful. Why would you expect general market levels to always be totally
efficient, say even in 1973-74 at the pit, or in 1972 or whatever it was when the Nifty 50 were in
their heyday? If these psychological notions are correct, you would expect some waves of
irrationality, which carry general levels, so they’re inconsistent with reason.

8. Nine [he means eight]: what made these economists love the efficient market
theory is the math was so elegant.

And after all, math was what they’d learned to do. To the man with a hammer, every
problem tends to look pretty much like a nail. The alternative truth was a little messy, and
they’d forgotten the great economists Keynes, whom I think said, “Better to be roughly
right than precisely wrong.”

9. Nine: bias from contrast-caused distortions of sensation, perception and cognition.

Here, the great experiment that Cialdini does in his class is he takes three buckets of water:
one’s hot, one’s cold and one’s room temperature, and he has the student stick his left hand
in the hot water and his right hand in the cold water. Then he has them remove the hands
and put them both in the room temperature bucket, and of course with both hands in the
same bucket of water, one seems hot, the other seems cold because the sensation apparatus
of man is over-influenced by contrast. It has no absolute scale; it’s got a contrast scale in
it. And it’s a scale with quantum effects in it too. It takes a certain percentage change
before it’s noticed.

Maybe you’ve had a magician remove your watch -- I certainly have -- without your
noticing it. It’s the same thing. He’s taking advantage of contrast-type troubles in your
sensory apparatus. But here the great truth is that cognition mimics sensation, and the
cognition manipulators mimic the watch-removing magician. In other words, people are
manipulating you all day long on this contrast phenomenon.

Cialdini cites the case of the real estate broker. And you’ve got the rube that’s been
transferred into your town, and the first thing you do is you take the rube out to two of the
most awful, overpriced houses you’ve ever seen, and then you take the rube to some
moderately overpriced house, and then you stick him. And it works pretty well, which is
why the real estate salesmen do it. And it’s always going to work.

And the accidents of life can do this to you, and it can ruin your life. In my generation,
when women lived at home until they got married, I saw some perfectly terrible marriages
made by highly desirable women because they lived in terrible homes. And I’ve seen
some terrible second marriages which were made because they were slight improvements
over an even worse first marriage. You think you’re immune from these things, and you
laugh, and I want to tell you, you aren’t.

My favorite analogy I can’t vouch for the accuracy of. I have this worthless friend I like to
play bridge with, and he’s a total intellectual amateur that lives on inherited money, but he
told me once something I really enjoyed hearing. He said, “Charlie,” he say, “If you throw
a frog into very hot water, the frog will jump out, but if you put the frog in room
temperature water and just slowly heat the water up, the frog will die there.” Now I don’t
know whether that’s true about a frog, but it’s sure as hell true about many of the
businessmen I know [laughter], and there, again, it is the contrast phenomenon.
But these are hot-shot, high-powered people. I mean these are not fools. If it comes to you in small pieces, you’re likely to miss, so if you’re going to be a person of good judgment, you have to do something about this warp in your head where it’s so misled by mere contrast.

10. Bias from over-influence by authority.
Well here, the Milgrim experiment, as it's called -- I think there have been 1,600
psychological papers written about Milgrim. And he had a person posing as an authority
figure trick ordinary people into giving what they had every reason to expect was heavy
torture by electric shock to perfectly innocent fellow citizens. And he was trying to show
why Hitler succeeded and a few other things, and so this really caught the fancy of the
world. Partly it’s so politically correct, and over-influence by authority...
You’ll like this one: You get a pilot and a co-pilot.

The pilot is the authority figure. They don’t do this in airplanes, but they’ve done it in simulators. They have the pilot do something where the co-pilot, who's been trained in simulators a long time -- he knows
he’s not to allow the plane to crash -- they have the pilot to do something where an idiot
co-pilot would know the plane was going to crash, but the pilot’s doing it, and the co-pilot
is sitting there, and the pilot is the authority figure. 25% of the time the plane crashes. I
mean this is a very powerful psychological tendency. It’s not quite as powerful as some
people think, and I’ll get to that later.

11. Eleven: bias from deprival super-reaction syndrome, including bias caused by
present or threatened scarcity, including threatened removal of something almost
possessed, but never possessed.

Here I took the Munger dog, a lovely, harmless dog. The only way to get that dog to bite
you is to try and take something out of its mouth after it was already there. And you know,
if you’ve tried to do takeaways in labor negotiations, you’ll know that the human version
of that dog is there in all of us. And I have a neighbor, a predecessor who had a little
island around the house, and his next door neighbor put a little pine tree on it that was
about three feet high, and it turned his 180 degree view of the harbor into 179 3/4.

Well they had a blood feud like the Hatfields and McCoys, and it went on and on and on...
I mean people are really crazy about minor decrements down. And then, if you act on
them, then you get into reciprocation tendency, because you don’t just reciprocate
affection, you reciprocate animosity, and the whole thing can escalate. And so huge
insanities can come from just subconsciously over-weighing the importance of what you’re
losing or almost getting and not getting.

And the extreme business case here was New Coke. Coca-Cola has the most valuable
trademark in the world. We’re the major shareholder -- I think we understand that
trademark. Coke has armies of brilliant engineers, lawyers, psychologists, advertising
executives and so forth, and they had a trademark on a flavor, and they’d spent the better
part of 100 years getting people to believe that trademark had all these intangible values
too. And people associate it with a flavor. And so they were going to tell people not that it
was improved, because you can’t improve a flavor. A flavor is a matter of taste. I mean
you may improve a detergent or something, but don’t think you’re going to make a major
change in a flavor. So they got this huge deprival super-reaction syndrome.

Pepsi was within weeks of coming out with old Coke in a Pepsi bottle, which would’ve been the
biggest fiasco in modern times. Perfect insanity. And by the way, both Goizuetta [Coke's CEO at
the time] and Keough [an influential former president and director of the company] are just
wonderful about it. I mean they just joke. Keough always says, “I must’ve been away on
vacation.” He participated in every single decision -- he’s a wonderful guy. And by the
way, Goizuetta is a wonderful, smart guy -- an engineer. Smart people make these terrible
boners. How can you not understand deprival super-reaction syndrome? But people do
not react symmetrically to loss and gain. Well maybe a great bridge player like
Zeckhauser does, but that’s a trained response.

Ordinary people, subconsciously affected by their inborn tendencies...

12. Bias from envy/jealousy.
Well envy/jealousy made, what, two out of the ten commandments? Those of you who
have raised siblings you know about envy, or tried to run a law firm or investment bank or
even a faculty? I’ve heard Warren say a half a dozen times, “It’s not greed that drives the
world, but envy.”

Here again, you go through the psychology survey courses, and you go to the index:
envy/jealousy, 1,000-page book, it’s blank. There’s some blind spots in academia, but it’s
an enormously powerful thing, and it operates, to a considerable extent, on the
subconscious level. Anybody who doesn’t understand it is taking on defects he shouldn’t
13. Bias from chemical dependency.
Well, we don’t have to talk about that. We’ve all seen so much of it, but it’s interesting
how it’ll always cause this moral breakdown if there’s any need, and it always involves
massive denial. See it just aggravates what we talked about earlier in the aviator case, the
tendency to distort reality so that it’s endurable.

14. Bias from mis-gambling compulsion.
Well here, Skinner made the only explanation you’ll find in the standard psychology
survey course. He, of course, created a variable reinforcement rate for his pigeons and his
mice, and he found that that would pound in the behavior better than any other
enforcement pattern. And he says, “Ah ha! I’ve explained why gambling is such a
powerful, addictive force in this civilization.” I think that is, to a very considerable extent,
true, but being Skinner, he seemed to think that was the only explanation, but the truth of
the matter is that the devisors of these modern machines and techniques know a lot of
things that Skinner didn’t know.

For instance, a lottery. You have a lottery where you get your number by lot, and then
somebody draws a number by lot, it gets lousy play. You have a lottery where people get
to pick their number, you get big play. Again, it’s this consistency and commitment thing.
People think if they have committed to it, it has to be good. The minute they’ve picked it
themselves it gets an extra validity. After all, they thought it and they acted on it.

Then if you take the slot machines, you get bar, bar, walnut. And it happens again and
again and again. You get all these near misses. Well that’s deprival super-reaction
syndrome, and boy do the people who create the machines understand human psychology. And for
the high IQ-crowd they’ve got poker machines where you make choices. So you can play blackjack,
so to speak, with the machine. It’s wonderful what we’ve done with our computers to ruin
the civilization.

But at any rate, mis-gambling compulsion is a very, very powerful and important thing.
Look at what’s happening to our country: every Indian has a reservation, every river town,
and look at the people who are ruined by it with the aid of their stock brokers and others.

And again, if you look in the standard textbook of psychology you’ll find practically
nothing on it except maybe one sentence talking about Skinner’s rats. That is not an
adequate coverage of the subject.

15. Bias from liking distortion, including the tendency to especially like oneself, one’s
own kind and one’s own idea structures, and the tendency to be especially susceptible to being misled by someone liked. Disliking distortion, bias from that, the reciprocal of liking distortion and the tendency not to learn appropriately from someone disliked.

Well here, again, we’ve got hugely powerful tendencies, and if you look at the wars in part
of the Harvard Law School, as we sit here, you can see that very brilliant people get into
this almost pathological behavior. And these are very, very powerful, basic, subconscious
psychological tendencies, or at least party subconscious.

Now let’s get back to B.F. Skinner, man-with-a-hammer syndrome revisited. Why is man-
with-a-hammer syndrome always present? Well if you stop to think about it, it’s incentive-
caused bias. His professional reputation is all tied up with what he knows. He likes
himself and he likes his own ideas, and he’s expressed them to other people -- consistency
and commitment tendency. I mean you’ve got four or five of these elementary
psychological tendencies combining to create this man-with-a-hammer syndrome.

Once you realize that you can’t really buy your thinking -- partly you can, but largely you
can’t in this world -- you have learned a lesson that’s very useful in life. George Bernard
Shaw had a character say in The Doctor’s Dilemma, “In the last analysis, every profession
is a conspiracy against the laity.” But he didn’t have it quite right, because it isn’t so much
a conspiracy as it is a subconscious, psychological tendency.

The guy tells you what is good for him. He doesn’t recognize that he’s doing anything
wrong any more than that doctor did when he was pulling out all those normal gall
bladders. And he believes his own idea structures will cure cancer, and he believes that the
demons that he’s the guardian against are the biggest demons and the most important ones,
and in fact they may be very small demons compared to the demons that you face. So
you’re getting your advice in this world from your paid advisor with this huge load of
ghastly bias. And woe to you.

There are only two ways to handle it: you can hire your advisor and then just apply a
windage factor, like I used to do when I was a rifle shooter. I’d just adjust for so many
miles an hour wind. Or you can learn the basic elements of your advisor's trade. You
don’t have to learn very much, by the way, because if you learn just a little then you can
make him explain why he’s right. And those two tendencies will take part of the warp out
of the thinking you’ve tried to hire done. By and large it works terribly. I have never seen
a management consultant’s report in my long life that didn’t end with the following paragraph:
"What this situation really needs is more management consulting." Never once. I always turn to the
last page. Of course Berkshire doesn’t hire them, so I only do this on sort of a voyeuristic
basis. Sometimes I’m at a non-profit where some idiot hires one. [Laughter]

16. Seventeen [he means 16]: bias from the non-mathematical nature of the human
brain in its natural state as it deal with probabilities employing crude heuristics,
and is often misled by mere contrast, a tendency to overweigh conveniently
available information and other psychologically misrouted thinking tendencies on
this list.

When the brain should be using the simple probability mathematics of Fermat and Pascal
applied to all reasonably obtainable and correctly weighted items of information that are of
value in predicting outcomes, the right way to think is the way Zeckhauser plays bridge.

It’s just that simple. And your brain doesn’t naturally know how to think the way
Zeckhauser knows how to play bridge. Now, you notice I put in that availability thing, and
there I’m mimicking some very eminent psychologists [Daniel] Kahneman, Eikhout[?] (I
hope I pronounced that right) and [Amos] Tversky, who raised the idea of availability to a
whole heuristic of misjudgment. And they are very substantially right.

I mean ask the Coca-Cola Company, which has raised availability to a secular religion. If
availability changes behavior, you will drink a helluva lot more Coke if it’s always
available. I mean availability does change behavior and cognition. Nonetheless, even
though I recognize that and applaud Tversky and Kahneman, I don’t like it for my personal
system except as part of a greater sub-system, which is you’ve got to think the way
Zeckhauser plays bridge. And it isn’t just the lack of availability that distorts your
judgment. All the things on this list distort judgment. And I want to train myself to kind
of mentally run down the list instead of just jumping on availability. So that’s why I state
it the way I do.

In a sense these psychological tendencies make things unavailable, because if you quickly
jump to one thing, and then because you jumped to it the consistency and commitment
tendency makes you lock in, boom, that’s error number one. Or if something is very vivid,
which I’m going to come to next, that will really pound in. And the reason that the thing
that really matters is now unavailable and what’s extra-vivid wins is, I mean, the extra-
vividness creates the unavailability. So I think it’s much better to have a whole list of
things that would cause you to be less like Zeckhauser than it is just to jump on one factor.
Here I think we should discuss John Gutfreund. This is a very interesting human example,
which will be taught in every decent professional school for at least a full generation.

Gutfreund has a trusted employee and it comes to light not through confession but by
accident that the trusted employee has lied like hell to the government and manipulated the
accounting system, and it was really equivalent to forgery. And the man immediately says,
“I’ve never done it before, I’ll never do it again. It was an isolated example.” And of
course it was obvious that he was trying to help the government as well as himself, because
he thought the government had been dumb enough to pass a rule that he’d spoken against,
and after all if the government’s not going to pay attention to a bond trader at Salomon,
what kind of a government can it be?

At any rate, this guy has been part of a little clique that has made, well, way over a billion dollars for
Salomon in the very recent past, and it’s a little handful of people. And so there are a lot of
psychological forces at work, and then you know the guy’s wife, and he’s right in front of
you, and there’s human sympathy, and he’s sort of asking for your help, which encourages
reciprocation, and there’s all these psychological tendencies are working, plus the fact he’s
part of a group that had made a lot of money for you. At any rate, Gutfreund does not
cashier the man, and of course he had done it before and he did do it again. Well now you
look as though you almost wanted him to do it again. Or God knows what you look like,
but it isn’t good. And that simple decision destroyed Jim Gutfreund, and it’s so easy to do.

Now let’s think it through like the bridge player, like Zeckhauser. You find an isolated
example of a little old lady in the See’s Candy Company, one of our subsidiaries, getting
into the till. And what does she say? “I never did it before, I’ll never do it again. This is
going to ruin my life. Please help me.” And you know her children and her friends, and
she’d been around 30 years and standing behind the candy counter with swollen ankles.

When you’re an old lady it isn’t that glorious a life. And you’re rich and powerful and
there she is: “I never did it before, I’ll never do it again.” Well how likely is it that she
never did it before? If you’re going to catch 10 embezzlements a year, what are the
chances that any one of them -- applying what Tversky and Kahneman called baseline
information -- will be somebody who only did it this once? And the people who have done
it before and are going to do it again, what are they all going to say? Well in the history of
the See’s Candy Company they always say, “I never did it before, and I’m never going to
do it again.” And we cashier them. It would be evil not to, because terrible behavior

Remember...what was it? Serpico? I mean you let that’ve got social proof,
you’ve got incentive-caused bias, you’ve got a whole lot of psychological factors that will
cause the evil behavior to spread, and pretty soon the whole damn...your place is rotten,
the civilization is rotten. It’s not the right way to behave. And I will admit that I
have...when I knew the wife and children, I have paid severance pay when I fire somebody
for taking a mistress on an extended foreign trip. It’s not the adultery I mind, it’s the
embezzlement. But there, I wouldn’t do it like Gutfreund did it, where they’d been
cheating somebody else on my behalf. There I think you have to cashier. But if they’re
just stealing from you and you get rid of them, I don’t think you need the last ounce of
vengeance. In fact I don’t think you need any vengeance. I don’t think vengeance is much

17. Now we come to bias from over-influence by extra-vivid evidence.

Here’s one that...I’m at least $30 million poorer as I sit here giving this little talk because I
once bought 300 shares of a stock and the guy called me back and said, “I’ve got 1,500
more,” and I said, “Will you hold it for 15 minutes while I think about it?” And the CEO
of this company -- I have seen a lot of vivid peculiarities in a long life, but this guy set a
world record; I’m talking about the CEO -- and I just mis-weighed it. The truth of the
matter was the situation was foolproof. He was soon going to be dead, and I turned down
the extra 1,500 shares, and it’s now cost me $30 million. And that’s life in the big city.

And it wasn’t something where stock was generally available. So it’s very easy to mis-
weigh the vivid evidence, and Gutfreund did that when he looked into the man’s eyes and
forgave a colleague.

18. Twenty-two [he means 18]: Mental confusion caused by information not
arrayed in the mind and theory structures, creating sound generalizations
developed in response to the question “Why?” Also, mis-influence from
information that apparently but not really answers the question “Why?” Also,
failure to obtain deserved influence caused by not properly explaining why.

Well we all know people who’ve flunked, and they try and memorize and they try and
spout back and they 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 don’t do that,
you just cannot handle the world.

And now we get to Feuerstein, who was the general counsel with Salomon when
Gutfreund made his big error, and Feuerstein knew better. He told Gutfreund, “You have
to report this as a matter of morality and prudent business judgment.” He said, “It’s
probably not illegal, there’s probably no legal duty to do it, but you have to do it as a
matter of prudent conduct and proper dealing with your main customer.” He said that to
Gutfreund on at least two or three occasions. And he stopped. And, of course, the
persuasion failed, and when Gutfreund went down, Feuerstein went with him. It ruined a
considerable part of Feuerstein’s life.

Well Feuerstein, [who] was a member of the Harvard Law Review, made an elementary
psychological mistake. You want to persuade somebody, you really tell them why. And
what did we learn in lesson one? Incentives really matter? Vivid evidence really works?
He should’ve told Gutfreund, “You’re likely to ruin your life and disgrace your family and
lose your money.” And is Mozer worth this? I know both men. That would’ve worked.

So Feuerstein flunked elementary psychology, this very sophisticated, brilliant lawyer.
But don’t you do that. It’s not very hard to do, you know, just to remember that “Why?” is
very important.

19. Other normal limitations of sensation, memory, cognition and knowledge.
Well, I don’t have time for that.

20. Stress-induced mental changes, small and large, temporary and permanent.

Here, my favorite example is the great Pavlov. He had all these dogs in cages, which had
all been conditioned into changed behaviors, and the great Leningrad flood came and it just
went right up and the dog’s in a cage. And the dog had as much stress as you can imagine
a dog ever having. And the water receded in time to save some of the dogs, and Pavlov
noted that they’d had a total reversal of their conditioned personality. And being the great
scientist he was, he spent the rest of his life giving nervous breakdowns to dogs, and he
learned a helluva lot that I regard as very interesting.

I have never known any Freudian analyst who knew anything about the last work of
Pavlov, and I’ve never met a lawyer who understood that what Pavlov found out with
those dogs had anything to do with programming and de-programming and cults and so
forth. I mean the amount of elementary psychological ignorance that is out there in high
levels is very significant[?].

21. Then we’ve got other common mental illnesses and declines, temporary and
permanent, including the tendency to lose ability through disuse.

22. And then I’ve got development and organizational confusion from say-something

And here my favorite thing is the bee, a honeybee. And a honeybee goes out and finds the
nectar and he comes back, he does a dance that communicates to the other bees where the
nectar is, and they go out and get it. Well some scientist who is clever, like B.F. Skinner,
decided to do an experiment. He put the nectar straight up. Way up. Well, in a natural
setting, there is no nectar where they’re all straight up, and the poor honeybee doesn’t have
a genetic program that is adequate to handle what he now has to communicate. And you’d
think the honeybee would come back to the hive and slink into a corner, but he doesn’t.

He comes into the hive and does this incoherent dance, and all my life I’ve been dealing
with the human equivalent of that honeybee.

[Laughter] And it’s a very important part of human organization so the noise and the reciprocation and so forth of all these people who have what I call say-something syndrome don’t really affect the decisions.
Now the time has come to ask two or three questions. This is the most important question
in this whole talk:

1. What happens when these standard psychological tendencies combine? What
happens when the situation, or the artful manipulation of man, causes several of these
tendencies to operate on a person toward the same end at the same time?

The clear answer is the combination greatly increases power to change behavior, compared
to the power of merely one tendency acting alone. Examples are:

Tupperware parties. Tupperware’s now made billions of dollars out of a few
manipulative psychological tricks. It was so schlocky that directors of Justin Dart’s
company resigned when he crammed it down his board’s throat. And he was
totally right, by the way, judged by economic outcomes.

Moonie [as in Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church] conversion methods:
boy do they work. He just combines four or five of these things together.

The system of Alcoholics Anonymous: a 50% no-drinking rate outcome when
everything else fails? It’s a very clever sy
stem that uses four or five psychological
systems at once toward, I might say, a very good end.

The Milgrim experiment. It’s been widely interpreted as mere obedience, but the
truth of the matter is that the experimenter who got the students to give the heavy
shocks in Milgrim, he explained why. It was a false explanation. “We need this to
look for scientific truth,” and so on. That greatly changed the behavior of the
people. And number two, he worked them up: tiny shock, a little larger, a little
larger. So commitment and consistency tendency and the contrast principle were
both working in favor of this behavior.

So again, it’s four different psychological tendencies.

When you get these lollapalooza effects you will almost always find four or five of these things
working together.

When I was young there was a whodunit hero who always said, “Cherche la femme.” [In
French, "Look for the woman."] What you should search for in life is the combination,
because the combination is likely to do you in. Or, if you’re the inventor of Tupperware
parties, it’s likely to make you enormously rich if you can stand shaving when you do it.

One of my favorite cases is the McDonald-Douglas airliner evacuation disaster. The
government requires that airliners pass a bunch of tests, one of them is evacuation: get
everybody out, I think it’s 90 seconds or something like that. It’s some short period of
time. The government has rules, make it very realistic, so on and so on. You can’t select
nothing but 20-year-old athletes to evacuate your airline. So McDonald-Douglas
schedules one of these things in a hangar, and they make the hangar dark and the concrete
floor is 25 feet down, and they’ve got these little rubber chutes, and they’ve got all these
old people, and they ring the bell and they all rush out, and in the morning, when the first
test is done, they create, I don’t know, 20 terrible injuries when people go off to hospitals,
and of course they scheduled another one for the afternoon.

By the way they didn’t read[?] the time schedule either, in addition to causing all the
injuries. what do they do? They do it again in the afternoon. Now they create
20 more injuries and one case of a severed spinal column with permanent, unfixable
paralysis. These are engineers, these are brilliant people, this is thought over through in a
big bureaucracy. Again, it’s a combination of [psychological tendencies]: authorities told
you to do it. He told you to make it realistic. You’ve decided to do it. You’d decided to
do it twice. Incentive-caused bias. If you pass you save a lot of money. You’ve got to
jump this hurdle before you can sell your new airliner. Again, three, four, five of these
things work together and it turns human brains into mush. And maybe you think this
doesn’t happen in picking investments? If so, you’re living in a different world than I am.

Finally, the open-outcry auction. Well the open-outcry auction is just made to turn the
brain into mush: you’ve got social proof, the other guy is bidding, you get reciprocation
tendency, you get deprival super-reaction syndrome, the thing is going away... I mean it
just absolutely is designed to manipulate people into idiotic behavior.

Finally the institution of the board of directors of the major American company. Well, the
top guy is sitting there, he’s an authority figure. He’s doing asinine things, you look
around the board, nobody else is objecting, social proof, it’s okay? Reciprocation
tendency, he’s raising the directors fees every year, he’s flying you around in the corporate
airplane to look at interesting plants, or whatever in hell they do, and you go and you really
get extreme dysfunction as a corrective decision-making body in the typical American
board of directors. They only act, again the power of incentives, they only act when it gets
so bad it starts making them look foolish, or threatening legal liability to them.

That’s Munger’s rule. I mean there are occasional things that don’t follow Munger’s rule, but by
and large the board of directors is a very ineffective corrector if the top guy is a little nuts,
which, of course, frequently happens.

2. The second question: Isn’t this list of standard psychological tendencies improperly
tautological compared with the system of Euclid? That is, aren’t there overlaps?
And can’t some items on the list be derived from combinations of other items?

The answer to that is, plainly, yes.

3. Three: What good, in the practical world, is the thought system indicated by the
list? Isn’t practical benefit prevented because these psychological tendencies are
programmed into the human mind by broad evolution so we can’t get rid of them?

[By] broad evolution, I mean the combination of genetic and cultural evolution, but
mostly genetic.

Well the answer is the tendencies are partly good and, indeed, probably much more good
than bad, otherwise they wouldn’t be there. By and large these rules of thumb, they work
pretty well for man given his limited mental capacity. And that’s why they were
programmed in by broad evolution. At any rate, they can’t be simply washed out
automatically and they shouldn’t be. Nonetheless, the psychological thought system
described is very useful in spreading wisdom and good conduct when one understands it
and uses it constructively.

Here are some examples:

One: Karl Braun’s communication practices
. He designed oil refineries with
spectacular skill and integrity. He had a very simple rule. Remember I said, “Why
is it important?” You got fired in the Braun company. You had to have five Ws.
You had to tell Who, What you wanted to do, Where and When, and you had to tell
him Why. And if you wrote a communication and left out the Why you got fired,
because Braun knew it’s complicated building an oil refinery. It can blow up...all
kinds of things happen. And he knew that his communication system worked
better if you always told him why. That’s a simple discipline, and boy does it

Two: the use of simulators in pilot training. Here, again, abilities attenuate with
disuse. Well the simulator is God’s gift because you can keep them fresh.

Three: The system of Alcoholics Anonymous, that’s certainly a constructive use of
somebody understanding psychological tendencies. I think they just wandered into
it, as a matter of fact, so you can regard it as kind of an evolutionary outcome. But
just because they’ve wandered into it doesn’t mean you can’t invent its equivalent
when you need it for a good purpose.

Four: Clinical training in medical schools: here’s a profoundly correct way of
understanding psychology. The standard practice is watch one, do one, teach one.
Boy does that pound in what you want pounded in. Again, the consistency and
commitment tendency. And that is a profoundly correct way to teach clinical

Five: The rules of the U.S. Constitutional Convention: totally secret, no vote until
the whole vote, then just one vote on the whole Constitution. Very clever
psychological rules, and if they had a different procedure, everybody would’ve
been pushed into a corner by his own pronouncements and his own oratory and his
own... And no recorded votes until the last one. And they got it through by a
whisker with those wise rules. We wouldn’t have had the Constitution if our
forefathers hadn’t been so psychologically acute. And look at the crowd we got

Six: the use of granny’s rule. I love this. One of the psychologists who works
for the Center gets paid a fortune running around America, and he teaches
executives to manipulate themselves. Now granny’s rule is you don’t get the ice
cream unless you eat your carrots. Well granny was a very wise woman. That is a
very good system. And so this guy, a very eminent psychologist, he runs around
the country telling executives to organize their day so they force themselves to do
what’s unpleasant and important by doing that first, and then rewarding themselves
with something they really like doing. He is profoundly correct.

Seven: the Harvard Business School’s emphasis on decision trees. When I was
young and foolish I used to laugh at the Harvard Business School. I said, “They’re
teaching 28-year-old people that high school algebra works in real life?” We’re
talking about elementary probability. But later I wised up and I realized that it was
very important that they do that, and better late than never.

Eight: the use of post-mortems at Johnson & Johnson. At most corporations if you
make an acquisition and it turns out to be a disaster, all the paperwork and
presentations that caused the dumb acquisition to be made are quickly forgotten.
You’ve got denial, you’ve got everything in the world. You’ve got Pavlovian
association tendency. Nobody even wants to even be associated with the damned
thing or even mention it. At Johnson & Johnson, they make everybody revisit their
old acquisitions and wade through the presentations. That is a very smart thing to
do. And by the way, I do the same thing routinely.

Nine: the great example of Charles Darwin is he avoided confirmation bias.
Darwin probably changed my life because I’m a biography nut, and when I found
out the way he always paid extra attention to the disconfirming evidence and all
these little psychological tricks. I also found out that he wasn’t very smart by the
ordinary standards of human acuity, yet there he is buried in Westminster Abbey.

That’s not where I’m going, I’ll tell you. And I said, “My God, here’s a guy that,
by all objective evidence, is not nearly as smart as I am and he’s in Westminster
Abbey? He must have tricks I should learn.” And I started wearing little hair shirts
like Darwin to try and train myself out of these subconscious psychological
tendencies that cause so many errors. It didn’t work perfectly, as you can tell from
listening to this talk, but it would’ve been even worse if I hadn’t done what I did.

And you can know these psychological tendencies and avoid being the patsy of all
the people that are trying to manipulate you to your disadvantage, like Sam Walton.

Sam Walton won’t let a purchasing agent take a handkerchief from a salesman. He
knows how powerful the subconscious reciprocation tendency is. That is a
profoundly correct way for Sam Walton to behave.

Ten: Then there is the Warren Buffett rule for open-outcry auctions: don’t go. We
don’t go to the closed-bid auctions too because they...that’s a counter-productive
way to do things ordinarily for a different reason, which Zeckhauser would

4. Four: What special knowledge problems lie buried in the thought system indicated
by the list?

Well one is paradox. Now we’re talking about a type of human wisdom that the more
people learn about it, the more attenuated the wisdom gets. That’s an intrinsically
paradoxical kind of wisdom. But we have paradox in mathematics and we don’t give up
mathematics. I say damn the paradox. This stuff is wonderfully useful. And by the way,
the granny’s rule, when you apply it to yourself, is sort of a paradox in a paradox.
The manipulation still works even though you know you’re doing it. And I’ve seen that
done by one person to another.

I drew this beautiful woman as my dinner partner a few years ago, and I’d never seen her
before. Well, she’s married to prominent Angelino, and she sat down next to me and she
turned her beautiful face up and she said, “Charlie,” she said, “What one word accounts for
your remarkable success in life?” And I knew I was being manipulated and that she’d
done this before, and I just loved it. I mean I never see this woman without a little lift in
my spirits. And by the way I told her I was rational. You’ll have to judge yourself
whether that’s true. I may be demonstrating some psychological tendency I hadn’t planned
on demonstrating.

How should the best parts of psychology and economics interrelate in an enlightened
economist's mind? Two views: that’s the thermodynamics model. You know, you can’t
derive thermodynamics from plutonium, gravity and laws of mechanics, even though it’s a
lot of little particles interacting. And here is this wonderful truth that you can sort of
develop on your own, which is thermodynamics. And some economists -- and I think
Milton Friedman is in this group, but I may be wrong on that -- sort of like the
thermodynamics model. I think Milton Friedman, who has a Nobel prize, is probably a
little wrong on that. I think the thermodynamics analogy is over-strained. I think
knowledge from these different soft sciences have to be reconciled to eliminate conflict.
After all, there’s nothing in thermodynamics that’s inconsistent with Newtonian mechanics
and gravity, and I think that some of these economic theories are not totally consistent with
other knowledge, and they have to be bent. And I think that these behavioral
economics...or economists are probably the ones that are bending them in the correct
Now my prediction is when the economists take a little psychology into account that the
reconciliation will be quite endurable. And here my model is the procession of the
equinoxes. The world would be simpler for a long-term climatologist if the angle of the
axis of the Earth’s rotation, compared to the plane of the Euclyptic, were absolutely fixed.

But it isn’t fixed. Over every 40,000 years or so there’s this little wobble, and that has
pronounced long-term effects. Well in many cases what psychology is going to add is just
a little wobble, and it will be endurable. Here I quote another hero of mine, which of
course is Einstein, where he said, “The Lord is subtle, but not malicious.” And I don’t
think it’s going to be that hard to bend economics a little to accommodate what’s right in

5. Fifth: The final question is: If the thought system indicated by this list of
psychological tendencies has great value not recognized and employed, what should
the educational system do about it?

I am not going to answer that one now. I like leaving a little mystery.
Have I used up all the time so there’s no time for questions?

I think that what we’re going to do is we’re going to borrow a little bit of time from the
end of the day questions, and we’re going to move it and allocate it to Charles Munger, if
that's acceptable to everybody.

By the way, the dean of the Stanford Law School is here today, Paul Brest, and he is
trying to create a course at the Stanford Law School that tries to work stuff similar to this into
worldly wisdom for lawyers, which I regard as a profoundly good idea, and he wrote an
article about it, and you’ll be given a copy along with Cialdini’s book. [The article Mr.
Munger is referring to is called "On Teaching Professional Judgment" by Paul Brest and
Linda Krieger. It was published in the July 1994 edition of the Washington Law
Review.] Questions?

Member #1: Will we be able to get a copy of that list of 24 [standard causes of human misjudgment]?

Yes. I presumed there would be one curious man [laughter], and I have it and I’ll put it
over there on the table, but don’t take more than one, because I didn’t anticipate such a big
crowd. And if we run short, I’m sure the Center is up to making other copies.

Member #2: If I had listened to this talk I might have thought that Charles Munger was a psychology
professor operating in a business school. Every once in a while a micro-issue -- you told us how you would’ve deal with one of these issues, for example with the unfortunate lady
 See’s -- but you didn’t tell us how these tendencies affected you and what’s probably the
most important, or one of the most important elements of your success, which was
deciding where to invest your money. And I’m wondering if you might relate some of
these principles to some of your past decisions that way.

Well of course an investment decision in the common stock of a company frequently
involves a whole lot of factors interacting.

Usually, of course, there’s one big, simple model, and a lot of those models are microeconomic.

And I have a little list of -- it wouldn’t be nearly 24, of those -- but I don’t have time for that one.

And I don’t have too much interest in teaching other people how to get rich.

And that isn’t because I fear the competition or anything like that -- Warren has always been very
open about what he’s learned, and I share that ethos.

My personal behavior model is Lord Keynes: 

I wanted to get rich so I could be independent, and so I could do other things like give talks on the
intersection of psychology and economics. I didn’t want to turn it into a total obsession.

Member #3: Out of those 24, could you tell us the one rule that’s most important?

I would say the one thing that causes the most trouble is when you combine a bunch of
these together, you get this lollapalooza effect. And again, if you read the psychology
textbooks, they don’t discuss how these things combine, at least not very much. Do they
multiply? Do they add? How does it work? You’d think it’d be just an automatic subject
for research, but it doesn’t seem to turn the psychology establishment on. I think this is a
man from Mars approach to psychology.

I just reached in and took what I thought I had to have. That is a different set of incentives
from rising in an economic establishment where the rewards system, again, the
reinforcement, comes from being a truffle hound.

That’s what Jacob Viner, the great economist called it: the truffle hound -- an animal so bred and trained for one narrow purpose that he wasn’t much good at anything else, and that is the reward system in a lot of academic departments.

It is not necessarily for the good. It may be fine if you want new drugs or something. You want people stunted in a lot of different directions so they can grow in onenarrow direction, but I don’t think it’s good teaching psychology to the masses.

In fact, I think it’s terrible.