You Don’t Have to be Smart

Warren Buffett often gets the most attention for his insightful comments and intelligent observations, but his long-time investing partner, Charlie Munger, is an abundant source of insight as well. He has reached the age of 93 and is worth an estimated $1.3 billion, so he may have picked up a lesson or two along the way.

One of my favorite Munger quotes comes from his 2007 USC Law School commencement speech: “I constantly see people rise in life who are not the smartest, sometimes not even the most diligent, but they are learning machines. They go to bed every night a little wiser than they were when they got up.”

Now, this quote should be encouraging to us all because he has leveled the playing field for achieving success—you don’t have to be smart. And more than that, he says you don’t even have to be particularly diligent either, which is typically how people compensate when they lack natural ability.

Instead, you must be willing to learn, which requires a great deal of humility, and that can often be more challenging than simply putting in some extra work. But notice that he doesn’t say “reading machines” or “studying machines,” although that will surely be part of it. He just says “learning machines,” which indicates something deeper: wisdom gained through experience and learning from mistakes.

So the key to becoming a learning machine doesn’t necessarily involve structured academics so much as it does reflection on what you could have done better each day. If the whole day was a disaster because something came up for which you were completely unprepared, don’t beat yourself up and pretend it never happened.

Instead, reflect on your actions and think about what you should have done differently to achieve a better result. That is how you become a learning machine and ultimately gain success.


Josh Norris is an Investment Advisory Representative of LeFleur Financial. Josh can be reached at