At one point or another, every student asks, “when am I ever going to use this?” The answer specifically is “probably never,” but figuratively “all of the time.” Think about it like this: imagine a well-stocked toolbox. While it’s probably rare to reach for one specific tool (how often do we need a 3/8 inch socket wrench), it’s not uncommon at all to reach into the toolbox for some general tool (sometimes a hammer, other times a screwdriver, etc.).
Building knowledge works the same way. Learning is just the act of acquiring and storing tools. To the students, this can be a boring exercise. Where it eventually gets exciting is when we start figuring out how to access those tools to solve real-world problems. Herein lies the difference between being a student and a professional. The professional knows how to use tools to solve problems in the outside world. Think of character Bryan Mills in Taken saying, “(I) have are a very particular set of skills…” That’s what we’re all aspiring towards.
There’s a third party here too we haven’t mentioned yet – the people who want to hire professionals, and in turn, pay them to exist. These people, called clients and customers, require education, communication, and someone who can actually do the necessary work. Students become professionals when they attract and retain clients. Professionals become exceptional when they maintain the perpetual learning machine attitude of the best students.
Charlie Munger is the Bryan Mills of business. He applies his “mental models” to companies and delivers his own timeless one-liners. When people are excited about a fast-growing company, he might combine history and biology to search for the natural limits of potential growth with an observation like “trees don’t grow to the sky.” When a company is mixing in new good ideas with old bad ideas in an effort to signal progress, he might combine psychology and culinary arts to point out that “when you mix raisins and turds, you’ve still got turds.” Munger is a classic example of an exceptional professional and a perpetual learning machine.
While we’re never going to be as wise (or as wealthy) as Charlie Munger, we can strive to have a deep understanding of our own toolboxes and how we communicate the value of it to our clients. There’s a whole world out there of people saying, “when am I ever going to use this.” We can make healthy careers of making ourselves available to those people when they’re in need and asking, “who on earth knows how to do this – I need help,” to which we respond with, “I have a very particular set of skills…”