Warren Buffett once told a class of Columbia University MBA students that if they wanted to become successful investors, they should read and read and read – a lot – each day:
“Read 500 pages like this every day,” said Buffett, or words to that effect. “That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will do it.”
I love me a table quiz. I haven’t been able to get to one for a long time, but there were a few years years there where some of us used to go quizzing most weeks. It was mostly just an excuse for social activity, but we walked away with prizes more often than not.
I find my own mind to be a bit of a contradiction sometimes – maybe yours is like this too. I struggle to immediately recall what I did a few days ago. I also struggle to tell you what I’m supposed to be doing in a couple of days time. But want me to name all 50 US states in under three minutes*? No problem.
I’m not a psychologist, neurologist or sociologist, so I don’t understand how it works – but I carry a lot of inane knowledge around. Many people are like this. My dad explained it very well a while ago, saying that when I was younger, I had clear phases: I would take a deep, immersive interest in something like dinosaurs or astronomy for a year or two, devour knowledge, and then move on to another interest.
(He might also add that unfortunately, one of these was film making, which just happened to coincide with university applications.)
I wonder if a lot of people’s childhoods look like this?
But then, somewhere, there’s a line. We cross the line, and, to a certain extent, put away our childish things. Perhaps some of us hold on to this immersion in knowledge for knowledge’s sake, whilst the more practical folk are probably more inclined to think of it as diversionary and distracting.
What’s my point?
In the Quora discussion referenced at the top, Warren Buffet is quoted ruminating on what made successful investors – in his opinion, hard hours spent consuming information.
2016 has been a year when ‘post-truthism‘ has come to the fore. As a species, we seem extremely inclined to ‘borrow’ truth – it must be true because that person said this thing via this medium: not because I have seen evidence for myself.
Yet I think people I admire are often connected via a common trait that stands against this – probably what is thought of as being ‘well read’.
I wonder if people who are ‘well read’ are really just people who carry over that childish desire to consume, learn and discover into adulthood. People who don’t put away the need to find out more for themselves – not through a proxy on screen, but through evidence read for themselves.
I’ve been studying a design degree for a few years now, and I think one of the skills central to its teaching is really something that has to be re-learnt: a playful sense of discovery and exploration.
Perhaps if we hadn’t put this away in adulthood, we wouldn’t be so quick to accept.
It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.