Book:  Principles

Author:  Ray Dalio

Purchase:  PrinteBookAudiobook

Citation:  Dalio, R. (2017). Principles. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Three Big Takeaways:

  • Principles are fundamental truths that serve as the foundations for behavior that gets you what you want out of life. They can be applied again and again in similar situations to help you achieve your goals. Every day, each of us is faced with a blizzard of situations we must respond to. Without principles we would be forced to react to all the things life throws at us individually, as if we were experiencing each of them for the first time. If instead we classify these situations into types and have good principles for dealing with them, we will make better decisions more quickly and have better lives as a result. Having a good set of principles is like having a good collection of recipes for success. All successful people operate by principles that help them be successful, though what they choose to be successful at varies enormously, so their principles vary. To be principled means to consistently operate with principles that can be clearly explained. Unfortunately, most people can't do that. And it's very rare for people to write their principles down and share them. (pg. ix)

  • There is no avoiding pain, especially if you're going after ambitious goals. Believe it or not, you are lucky to feel that kind of pain if you approach it correctly, because it is a signal that you need to find solutions so you can progress. If you can develop a reflexive reaction to psychic pain that causes you to reflect on it rather than avoid it, it will lead to your rapid learning/evolving. After seeing how much more effective it is to face the painful realities that are caused by your problems, mistakes, and weaknesses, I believe you won't want to operate any other way. It's just a matter of getting the habit of doing it. Most people have a tough time reflecting when they are in pain and they pay attention to other things when the pain passes, so they miss out on the reflections that provide the lessons. If you can reflect well while you're in pain, great. But if you can remember to reflect after it passes, that's valuable too. The challenges you face will test and strengthen you. If you're not failing, you're not pushing your limits, and if you're not pushing your limits, you're not maximizing your potential. Though this process of pushing your limits, of sometimes failing and sometimes breaking through is not for everyone. If you choose to push through this often painful process of personal evolution, you will naturally ascend to higher and higher levels. (pg. 152)

  • You should be able to delegate the details. If you keep getting bogged down in details, you either have a problem with managing, or you have the wrong people doing the job. The real sign of a master manager is that he doesn't have to do practically anything. Managers should view the need to get involved in the nitty-gritty as a bad sign. At the same time, there's danger in thinking you're delegating details when you're actually being too distant from what's important and essentially not managing. Great managers know the difference. They strive to hire, train, and oversee in a way in which others can superbly handle as much as possible on their own. (pg. 456)

Other Key Ideas:

  • Operate by principles that are so clearly laid out that their logic can easily be assessed and you and others can see if you walk the talk. Experience taught me how invaluable it is to reflect on and write down my decision-making criteria whenever I made a decision, so I got in the habit of doing that. With time, my collection of principles became like a collection of recipes for decision making. By sharing them with the people at my company, and inviting them to help me test my principles in action, I continually refined and evolved them. The most important thing is that you develop your own principles and ideally write them down, especially if you are working with others. (pg. xv)

  • I had been much more explicit in writing down and sharing my work principles in the same way I had written down my investment principles. At first, this took the form of shared philosophy statements and emails to the entire company. Then, whenever something new came along that required me to make a decision, I would reflect on my criteria for making that decision and write it down as a principle so people could make connections between the situation, my principle for handling these situations, and my actions. More and more, we saw everything as "another one of those" that had principles for handling them. By having them explicitly written out, I could have us reflect and refine those principles - and then adhere to them. I prepared a rough draft of work principles and distributed them to our managers so they could begin to evaluate them and make sense of them for themselves. This began an ongoing evolutionary process of encountering many situations, forming principles about how to deal with them, and getting in sync with other leaders and managers about them. That collection of principles became a kind of decision-making library. (pg. 72)

  • Some people are good at knowing what to do on their own; they have good mental maps. Whatever the case, they have more answers inside themselves than others do. Similarly, some people are more humble and open-minded than others. Humility can be even more valuable than having good mental maps if it leads you to seek out better answers than you could come up with on your own. Having both open-mindedness and good mental maps is most powerful of all. Once you understand what you're missing and gain open-mindedness that will allow you to get help from others, you'll see that there's virtually nothing you can't accomplish. (pg. 180)

  • Radical open-mindedness is motivated by the genuine worry that you might not be seeing your choices optimally. It is the ability to effectively explore different points of view and different possibilities without letting your ego or your blind spots get in the way. It requires you to replace your attachment to always being right with the joy of learning what's true. Radically open-minded people know that coming up with the right questions and asking other smart people what they think is as important as having all the answers. People typically try to prove that they have the answers even when they don't. Why do they behave in this unproductive way? It's because they believe that great people have all the answers and don't have any weaknesses. Not only does this view not square with reality, it stands in the way of their progress. People interested in making the best possible decisions are rarely confident that they have the best answers. They recognize that they have weaknesses and blind spots, and they always seek to learn more so that they can get around them. (pg. 187)

  • When you are close-minded and form an opinion in an area where you have a blind spot, it can be deadly. So take some time to record the circumstances in which you've consistently made bad decisions because you failed to see what others saw. Write a list, tack it up on the wall, and stare at it. If ever you find yourself about to make a decision (especially a big decision) in one of these areas without consulting others, understand that you're taking a big risk and that it would be illogical to expect that you'll get the results you think you will. (pg. 199)

  • The manager (person in charge) is the conductor who doesn't "do" (e.g., doesn't play an instrument, though he or she knows a lot about instruments) as much as visualize the outcome and sees to it that each member of the orchestra helps achieve it. The conductor makes sure each member of the orchestra knows what their responsibilities are. One of the conductor's hardest and most thankless jobs is getting rid of people who consistently don't play well individually or with others (pg. 232); Great managers orchestrate rather than do. Like the conductor of an orchestra, they do not play an instrument, but direct their people so that they play beautifully together (pg. 455)

  • In all aspects of life, what's happening today seems like a much bigger deal than it will appear in retrospect. That's why it helps to step back to gain perspective and sometimes defer a decision until some time passes. (pg. 238)

  • It is important that decision making be evidence-based and logical when groups of people are working together. If it's not, the process will inevitably be dominated by the most powerful rather than the most insightful participants, which is not only unfair but suboptimal. Successful organizations have cultures in which evidence-based decision making is the norm rather than the exception. (pg. 251)

  • It pays for organizations to spell out their principles and values clearly and explicitly and to operate by them consistently. Those principles and values aren't vague slogans, like "the customer always comes first" or "we should strive to be the best in our industry," but a set of concrete directives anyone can understand, get aligned on, and carry out. (pg. 297)

  • Great partnerships come from sharing common values and interests, having similar approaches to pursuing them, and being reasonable with, and having consideration for, each other. At the same time, partners must be willing to hold each other to high standards and work through their disagreements. The main test of a great partnership is not whether the partners ever disagree - people in all healthy relationships disagree - but whether they can bring their disagreements to the surface and get through them well. Having clear processes for resolving disagreements efficiently and clearly is essential for business partnerships. (pg. 304)

  • Radical transparency means giving most everyone the ability to see most everything. To give people anything less than total transparency would make them vulnerable to others' spin and deny them the ability to figure things out for themselves. Radical transparency reduces harmful politics and the risks of bad behavior because bad behavior is more likely to take place behind closed doors than out in the open. (pg. 308)

  • In most organizations, strategic decision making is typically kept under wraps until it is a done deal because bosses think it's bad to create uncertainty among employees. We believe the opposite: the only responsible way to operate is truthfully and transparently so that people really know what's going on. Since we operate openly even while we don't have things figured out, our team is confident in our truthfulness. Not telling people what's really going on so as to protect them from the worries of life is not a good idea. While concealing the truth might make people happier in the short run, it won't make them smarter or more trusting in the long run. For that reason, it's almost always better to shoot people straight, even when you don't have all the answers or when there's bad news to convey. (pg. 325)

  • I have regularly seen people kept in jobs that they don't deserve because of their personal relationship to the boss, and this leads to managers trading on personal loyalties to build fiefdoms for themselves. Judging one person by a different set of rules than another is an insidious form of corruption that undermines an organization. (pg. 328)

  • When everyone can follow the discussion leading up to a decision - either in real time or in email threads - justice is more likely to prevail. Everyone is held accountable for their thinking and anyone can weigh in on who should do what according to shared principles. Absent such a transparent process, decisions would be settled behind closed doors by those who have the power to do whatever they want. With transparency, everyone is held to the same high standards. (pg. 332)

  • Provide transparency to people who handle it well and either deny it to people who don't handle it well or remove those people from the organization. It is the right and responsibility of management, and not the right of all employees, to determine when exceptions to transparency should be made. (pg. 335)

  • Meaningful relationships are invaluable for building and sustaining a culture of excellence, because they create the trust and support that people need to push each other to do great things. A meaningful relationship is one in which people care enough about each other to be there whenever someone needs support and they enjoy each other's company so much that they can have great times together both inside and outside of work. What about the person who doesn't care about all of this meaningful relationship stuff, who just wants to go into work and do a good job? Is this okay? Sure it is, and it's common for a significant percentage of employees. Not everyone feels the same or is expected to feel the same about the community. It's totally okay to opt out. But these are not the folks who will provide the community with the skeletal strength of commitment that is essential for it to be extraordinary over very long periods of time. (pg. 341)

  • Everyone makes mistakes. The main difference is that successful people learn from them and unsuccessful people don't. By creating an environment in which it is okay to safely make mistakes so that people can learn from them, you'll see rapid progress and fewer significant mistakes. Mistakes will cause you pain, but you shouldn't try to shield yourself or others from it. Pain in a message that something is wrong and it's an effective teacher that one shouldn't do that wrong thing again. It seems to me that if you look back on yourself a year ago and aren't shocked by how stupid you were, you haven't learned much. Still, few people go out of their way to embrace their mistakes. Of course, in managing others who make mistakes, it is important to know the difference between 1) capable people who made mistakes and are self-reflective and open to learning from them, and 2) incapable people, or capable people who aren't able to embrace their mistakes and learn from them. Over time I've found that hiring self-reflective people is one of the most important things you can do. (pg. 349)

  • Remind yourself that an accurate criticism is the most valuable feedback you can receive. (pg. 352)

  • Open minded people seek to learn by asking questions; they realize how little they know in relation to what there is to know and recognize that they might be wrong; they are thrilled to be around people who know more than they do because it represents an opportunity to learn something. Close-minded people always tell you what they know, even if they know hardly anything. They are typically uncomfortable being around those who know a lot more than they do. Being open-minded is much more important than being smart. No matter how much they know, closed-minded people will waste your time. If you must deal with them, recognize that there will be no helping them until they open their minds. Finally, watch out for people who think it's embarrassing not to know. They're likely to be more concerned with appearances than actually achieving the goal; this can lead to ruin over time. (pg. 362)

  • Watch out for fast talkers. Fast talkers are people who articulate and say things faster than they can be assessed as a way of pushing their agenda past other people's examination or objections. Fast talking can be especially effective when it's used against people worried about appearing stupid. Don't be one of those people. Recognize that it's your responsibility to make sense of things and don't move on until you do. If you're feeling pressured, say something like "Sorry for being stupid, but I'm going to need to so you down so I can make sense of what you're saying." Then ask your questions. All of them. (pg. 367)

  • Conversations that fail to reach completion are a waste of time. When there is an exchange of ideas, it is important to end it by stating the conclusions. If there is agreement, say it; if not, say that. Where further action has been decided, get those tasks on a to-do list, assign people to them, and specific due dates. Write down your conclusions, working theories, and to-dos in places that will lead to their being used as foundations for continued progress. To make sure this happens, assign someone to make sure notes are taken and follow-through occurs. (pg. 367)

  • If you can't successfully do something, don't think you can tell others how it should be done. I have seen some people who have repeatedly failed at something hold strongly to their opinions of how it should be done, even when their opinions are at odds with those who have repeatedly done it successfully. That is dumb and arrogant. (pg. 374)

  • Every leader must decide between 1) getting rid of liked but incapable people to achieve their goals and 2) keeping the nice but incapable people and not achieving their goals. Whether or not you can make these hard decisions is the strongest determinant of your own success or failure. (pg. 423)

  • It helps to clarify whether the weakness or mistake under discussion is indicative of a trainee's total evaluation. Sometimes when you give people constructive feedback they believe they are on the brink of getting fired. You must be clear when critical comments have nothing to do with the overall evaluation. Take time to explain when a simple redirection does not impact the bigger picture. This will give confidence to the employee so they aren't worried they will lose their job. (pg. 426)

  • Every observation of a person potentially tells you something valuable about how they operate. When collected systematically and put into perspective over time, data can be extremely valuable when it's time to step back and synthesize the picture of a person. Any one event has many different possible explanations, whereas a pattern of behavior can tell you a lot about root causes. The number of observations needed to detect a pattern largely depends on how well you get in sync after each observation. A quality discussion of how and why a person behave a certain way should help you understand the larger picture. Finally, it's hard to have an objective, open-minded emotion-free conversation about performance if there is no data to discuss. (pg. 428)

  • If problems take you by surprise, it is probably because you are either too far removed from your people and processes or you haven't adequately visualized how people and processes might lead to various outcomes. When a crisis is brewing, contact should be close enough that there will be no surprises. (pg. 459)

  • Your assessment of how your direct reports are doing their jobs should not be based on whether they're doing it your way but whether they're doing it in a good way. Be careful about expecting a person who achieves success to do it a different way. That's like insisting that Babe Ruth improve his swing. (pg. 461)

  • If you didn't make an expectation clear, you can't hold people accountable for it not being fulfilled. Don't assume that something was implicitly understood. Common sense isn't actually that common - be explicit. If responsibilities keep falling between the cracks, consider editing the design of your machine. (pg. 468)

  • Managers need to avoid getting sucked down. This occurs when a manager is pulled down to doing the tasks of a subordinate without acknowledging the problem. The sucked-down phenomenon is what happens when a manager chronically fails to properly redesign an area of responsibility to keep him or herself from having to do the bjo that others should be capable of doing well. You can tell this problem exists when the manager focuses more on getting tasks done than on operating his or her machine. (pg. 469)

  • Avoid the anonymous "we" and "they," because they mask personal responsibility. Things don't just happen by themselves - they happen because specific people did or didn't do specific things. Don't undermine personal accountability with vagueness. Instead of the passive generalization "we," attribute specific actions to specific people. Since individuals are the most important building blocks of any organization and since individuals are responsible for the ways things are done, mistakes must be connected to those individuals by name. Someone created the procedure that went wrong or made the faulty decision. Glossing over that can only slow progress toward improvement. (pg. 479)

Copyright © 2019 by Dr. Jared Smith LLC.  Specializing in Leadership, Education, and Personal Growth.