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With a successful career and a family comes Financial Complexity, an evil villain lurking in the shadows. Financial Complexity loves it when you mistake Google knowledge for Planck knowledge.
Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s right-hand man, gave a commencement speech to the USC class of 2007. One of the pearls he dropped was the story of Max Planck and his chauffer.
“I frequently tell the apocryphal story about how Max Planck, after he won the Nobel Prize, went around Germany giving the same standard lecture on the new quantum mechanics.
Over time, his chauffeur memorized the lecture and said, “Would you mind, Professor Planck, because it’s so boring to stay in our routine. [What if] I gave the lecture in Munich and you just sat in front wearing my chauffeur’s hat?” Planck said, “Why not?”
And the chauffeur got up and gave this long lecture on quantum mechanics. After which a physics professor stood up and asked a perfectly ghastly question. The speaker said, “Well I’m surprised that in an advanced city like Munich I get such an elementary question. I’m going to ask my chauffeur to reply.”
In this world we have two kinds of knowledge. One is Planck knowledge, the people who really know. They’ve paid the dues, they have the aptitude.
And then we’ve got chauffeur knowledge. They’ve learned the talk. They may have a big head of hair, they may have fine temper in the voice, they’ll make a hell of an impression. But in the end, all they have is chauffeur knowledge.
I think I’ve just described practically every politician in the United States.”
Anything we learn on Google is chauffeur knowledge. Maybe I fixed the leaky pipe, but I’m not a professional plumber. Maybe I fixed my swing, but I’m not ready for the PGA tour. Maybe I learned a few chords, but I’m not touring with the Rolling Stones.
Chauffer/Google knowledge can be useful. But it can also be dangerous.
It becomes dangerous when it’s mistaken for Planck knowledge and applied to something important like our money or our health.
Our money and our health are too important for chauffeur knowledge. If Google is your doctor or financial planner, reconsider.