Understanding Is Knowing What To Do

“To understand is to know what to do.” ~ Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittenstein.

This sounds too simple to have value. Yet, thinking about it, it’s a genius line—maybe one level above genius—in its simplicity. How many mistakes do you make when you understand something? Probably very few, because mistakes usually come from blind spots, a lack of understanding.

I subscribe to a site called Farnam Street. Every Sunday, I get the Farnam Street newsletter which has a critical thinking, multidisciplinary outlook in its topics. The site is named Farnam Street after the street in Omaha, Nebraska where 97-year-old Charlie Munger has lived all his life. It’s right next door to Warren Buffett’s home. After all, the two are life-long business partners, and it’s Charlie Munger who taught Warren Buffett how to invest.

Last Sunday, Farnam Street had a transcript and audio recording of a talk Peter Kaufman gave to the California Polytechnic State University Pomona Economics Club. He opened with the line, “To understand is to know what to do.”

Peter Kaufman is one of America’s most successful businessmen. He’s also the author/editor of Poor Charlie’s Almanac which contains some of the best essays and speeches written by his friend and mentor, Charlie Munger. The “Big Ideas” as Munger puts it.

Kaufman identifies two parabolic Big Ideas that people often overlook in their quest for success, whether it be financial returns or on a writing journey. One is Mirrored Reciprocation (go positive and go first). The other is Compound Interest (being constant). Combining these two into one basic approach (go positive and go first and be constant in doing it) may be the best formula ever set for a writing journey as well as in general life.

Peter Kaufman expands on his Mirrored Reciprocation/Compound Interest topic in a 45-minute speech. He outlines five ascending levels of cognitive prowess. Kaufman didn’t concoct these levels. Albert Einstein did, and they are:

  1. Smart
  2. Intelligent
  3. Brilliant
  4. Genius
  5. Simplicity

There’s a simple takeaway, if you listen to this.

Priceless for writers.

9 thoughts on “Understanding Is Knowing What To Do

  1. Thanks for posting this, Garry. I love listening to fertile minds giving fresh takes in positive terms (the exact opposite of Twitter…). My takeaways:

    Dogged incremental constant progress over a very long time frame.

    This was my standard when I began trying to learn how to write (after being told you can’t learn how to write). Daily writing and study of the craft…seven years to my first published novel.

    All you have to do, if you want everything in life from everybody else, is first pay attention; listen to them; show them respect; give them meaning, satisfaction, and fulfillment. Convey to them that they matter to you.

    That’s how we should treat our readers!

    How do you want to spend your one lifetime? Do you want to spend your one lifetime like most people do, fighting with everybody around them? No. I just told you how to avoid that. And in exchange have what? A celebratory life.

    Social media right now is fighting with everybody. It’s the opposite of a celebratory life.

    The essence of life is to surround yourself, as continuously as you can, with good company.

    Like here at TKZ!

  2. This is so you, Garry. Love it! Yes, yes, yes, to a celebratory life and surrounding ourselves with positive people, positive thinking. Hence why I’ve drastically cut back on Facebook over the last two years. I adore the peeps on my personal timeline (who love murder memes as much as I do), but scrolling through the feed is too emotionally draining. I have better ways to spend my time, thank you. 🙂

    That said, you did give me a kick in the pants to get back to a regular schedule on my blog. It’s long overdue. Thank you!

  3. Very interesting, Garry. I love the terms Mirrored Reciprocation (I’ll be noodling on that one for a while) and Compound Interest.

    Unfortunately, in my multi-disciplinary life, I don’t have time to listen to the talk right now since I have to leave to attend a writers group that my husband and I lead. I’ll check in later today to hear Kaufman’s talk. In the meantime, I’ll be thinking about the takeaways JSB provided in his comment. (I especially like the term “dogged incremental progress.” I can identify with that one.)

  4. Good points. Great advice, Garry. I’ve been reading Farnam Street for a month or two, since you mentioned it in an earlier post.

    Thanks for the link to Peter Kaufman’s speech.

  5. Garry, so nice to see a positive attitude adjustment to counter negativity. Thanks!

    “Dogged incremental progress” is a perfect description for the writing life.

  6. Great article and excellent advice. Thank you for the reminder that we should always keep a positive attitude when faced with challenges.

  7. Thanks for this post, Garry! I love this. Go positive, go first, and be constant. That’s been echoed in the recent episodes of the 6Figure Authors podcast, especially the one on how to launch (and continue) a successful series, and today’s on network. Pick a genre lane, be consistent, and stay in the game by publishing regularly.

  8. Thanks for an insightful post! In deciding what I would read and pass on from Facebook, I determined the post, first of all, must be true, but then it had to meet another measure–does it lift up or encourage someone?
    If not, I hit those little dots at the top of a post and select hide post. Pretty soon I wasn’t getting a lot of the angry, hateful posts–I don’t have the time or energy for them. Thanks for posting this!

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