If I were to characterise my father in one word, I’d choose “principled.” I remember not getting my way as a child and asking why, why, why couldn’t I have the latest object of my affection. Often the answer was “it’s the principle of the matter!” After years of rebelling against them, I’ve become committed to well-thought-out principles.
Ray Dalio lays out his principles for life and work excellently in this book, which is his gift to share with readers as he exits the professional phase of his life. While he’s known for his successful hedge fund career, the principles are applicable to anyone trying to improve their outcomes in the world. There’s something for everyone. Whether you’re resolving conflict, reaching for goals, hiring people, managing teams or just trying to forge strong relationships with friends or family, there are sound ideas to improve your approach. The book is dense and can make for difficult reading at times. It’s almost like a reference book which could be returned to whenever dealing with a particular issue. It’s gold though! A must-read for anyone who’s committed to improvement.
Relationships > Money
I love the way Dalio explains that he never targeted financial success when starting out Bridgewater, which became the world’s biggest hedge fund and made him financially wealthy. His primary goal was deep and rewarding relationships in both life and work, not money. This decision was critical for Dalio because strong relationships created his most gratifying outcomes, not financial success.
Equanimity through meditation
The other noteworthy anecdote from Dalio’s personal experience is his commitment to meditation. It creates an equanimity which allows radical open-mindedness and clear thinking when others are driven by human emotion. Dalio’s commitment to meditation, combined with numerous other recommendations, pushed me on my own personal journey towards daily practice. I’ve appreciated the impact so far.
Principled vs. dogmatic
A principled life doesn’t need to imply a dogmatic life. In fact, two good principles can come into direct conflict with each other. For example, family values and professionalism are both great principles. But what if one person’s definition of professionalism is replying to important emails in the evenings and another person’s definition of family values is dedicating evenings to bathing the kids, story-time and dinner with their spouse? This simple example could be resolved easily but it highlights that principles can conflict if left undefined. A dogmatic approach would result in one principle trampling all over another. The mark of a truly principled person is the ability to resolve the conflict in a principled manner.
People sometimes view Bridgewater as a cult due to the principled nature of the organisation but Dalio argues it is exactly the opposite. The principles enshrine the commitment to radical open-mindedness, conflict resolution, an idea meritocracy, transparency and believability-weighted decision-making. These cultures are the opposite of a dogmatic cult. They are outcomes that most successful people would strive for if they truly reflect on the characteristics that drove them towards success.
I couldn’t recommend Principles highly enough!
A few great insights are available in these two podcasts where Dalio is questioned by high-quality interviewers: