How do you get smarter?

This was inspired by a great post on Farnamstreet – one of my favorite blogs these days.

How do you get smarter? 

One answer to that is through experience:

  1.  of your own
  2. and that of others (vicarious)

Your own experiences can be accumulated by trying different things in life. But how do you accumulate vicarious experience?

By reading.

Warren Buffett reads a lot. In fact, he says 80% of the time.

Charlie Munger reads all the time, building inch-by-inch upon his famous mental models.

Todd Combs reportedly reads 500-1000 pages every day.

Now, these are all already incredibly smart men. But they are getting even better with reading.

What to read?

Now, I have been a book lover since age 5 and reading comes easy to me. Of late, however, I have become conscious about my reading habit and have started putting thought to how I spend my time on it.

You need to be choosy about

  • what you read
  • how you utilize the ideas you get out of your reading

Rather than focus on what to read, I focus more on what NOT to read. That leaves me with freedom to choose from a wide variety of genres.

I try to avoid junk entertainment books, novels,  self-help & get rich quick books. Also, the author matters a lot to me – because a book is a conversation with the author. Pick a poor author and the conversation is a failure. For this reason, I avoid authors like Robert Kiyosaki who clearly seem to be hypocrites.

I try to avoid books that talk about what look like a new sensational something (methodology, product, xyz of something, etc) – often it turns out into a fad.

I like to read biographies – experiences of people I carefully pick, from varied fields. This year, I enjoyed reading this and this.

Since one of my focus areas is to be a better investor and entrepreneur, much of my reading is focused on finance, economics, business and investing. So, I read material like Warren Buffett’s letters, annual reports of companies, understanding balance sheets, books by prominent investors, etc.

Another area is behavioural science – books like Influence, Thinking fast & slow, etc.

I sometimes dabble in spirituality (Note: not religion) too – though I don’t go too deep into it. Books like SiddharthaUpanishads, Gita, etc.

But I am also open to reading just about anything as long as it serves my purpose of expanding my horizon.

Cost, time, library?

Books cost money, reading consumes time. How much of each should one spend? Also, should you buy books or become a library member?

The answers to those are very personal. I am comfortable spending Rs 20,000-30,000 a year on books. My expenses otherwise are low and I don’t worry too much about my book expenses.

I try to read for at least 2 hours a day. Sometimes its more, sometimes less. 

As for a library, I have been a member of almost every library in Bangalore – and was happy with none. Either they don’t have what I need, or its out or its got a time limit. Plus you cannot write on the margins and carry on a conversation with the author.

Also, with the discounts on new books these days, I prefer to buy them online. And give away those that I don’t want to retain.

Now, what is your answer to getting smarter?

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