Principles: by Ray Dalio – A Book Review

Summary:  Why should you care? You can pick up Principles, by Ray Dalio and turn to any page and learn something. Ultimately its a wonderful collection of well thought out “How To’s.” It is filled with great examples, visuals, and sensible approaches. Perhaps its greatest strength, terrific approaches to life and business, becomes its weakness. For most of the 567 pages it lacks the human connection. And in that sense Ray Dalio is as real to me as Socrates.

principles book cover

Detail Review: I start with aesthetics. The hardcover book is well constructed. It’s black with white “PRINCIPLES” and red “RAY DALIO.” The font is large. Pages go by with relative ease. There are visuals throughout as well. For a hearty book you need some pages which go by quickly. They help the sense of achievement. I’m also a fan of ribbon book marks. When the book is on its side I like to look and see how far down the page the marker is. Again, accomplishment.

rules of thumb book cover

Before we get into the subject of the book, I’d offer another: Rules of Thumb by Alan Webber. It has 52 rules which are each about three pages in description. It is easy to consume and with deliberation, easy to put into practice. For more see my review: Rules of Thumb – A Review

On to the subject of the book: Principles. How I think about principles is certainly as a sort of ethical code. That if you live by them then the results are something you can mentally reconcile. To get reflective for a moment. Life is short. One day you will want to look back and say “I lived a proper life.” Perhaps not virtuous, but fair.

This was never truer than with the death of Socrates. At the bottom of the review is a video highlighting the debate: be loyal to your principles and die. Betray them and live.

You’d want the same for your organization. You’d want it organized by Principles which reflect your values. Follow with policies, standards, and procedures. This creates a clear lineage between the type of company you want to be and the one you actually are.

Back to the book. It is divided into three sections: An introduction, life principles, and work principles.

The introduction is perhaps my favorite part. Dalio is very transparent especially as he describes his upbringing. He isn’t a good student in school; the subjects didn’t interest him. He buys some stocks with money he earns caddying. At first he thinks he’s smart, but realizes the market itself was doing well. He goes from college, which he loved, through the building of his company. Several stories of the ups, the downs. He has a few realizations through his journey. A major one is to learn from his mistakes and to codify them. This evolves to be his principles.

Next is the Life Principles. This is my next favorite section. These can be applied without an organization. They are like a new year resolution. Or perhaps a personal constitution. If the book ended after this section, it would be worth every penny.

Last is the Work Principles. It comprises much of the book. Each one is useful, but they are best served reading in chunks and not in long reads. This influences my overall view of the book. More than half of it is best read not as a story, but as guidance.

So what are the “Principles?” He has several. Perhaps the easiest ways to get them is through Twitter and Linkedin. Dalio posts them practically daily. But here are a few I pulled out.

The principles are chapters and are numbered. Then there are mid-level principles designated as a decimal e.g. 1.1. Finally, there are sub principles, which are letters such as 1.1a.

Life Principle 1 – Embrace Reality and Deal with It. I like this one because people, myself included, like to rationalize, tell themselves stories, and avoid tough decisions. Its better to face reality and act accordingly. Luck won’t save you and eventually no one else will. Creating the discipline to see your future and make it happen is such a valuable thing to live by.

Life Principle 1.8 – Weigh second- and third- order consequences. This is a nuanced principle. Most people solve the problem in front of them not realizing the solution may have created new or different problems. For example, suppose you excercise to lose weight. You have a good routine and get a sweat. Later when it’s time to eat you prepare a little more than normal. You’re really hungry because you’re expending more energy working out. But now you’re also eating more to compensate for the deficit in calories. So you can’t just excercise, you also have to diet. The first order consequence was addressed, but not the second and third.

Life Principle 2 – Use the 5-Step Process to Get What You Want Out of Life. This process is referenced several times throughout the book. Check out the visual:

raydalio-five-step-process-1

Life Principle 3 – Be Radically Open-Minded. Being open minded allows you to understand problems and the solutions for the possibilities that created them. No one and nothing is perfect. To get quality results being open to different perspectives, viewpoints, cultures, and ways of doing things is necessary.

Work Principles – An organization is a machine consisting of two major parts: culture and people. He presents this via this visual. As the Work Principles unfolds he goes further into each aspect.

dalio2

Another major tenet of the Work Principles is the Idea Meritocracy. He pushes his company, Bridgewater Associates, to have an Idea Meritocracy which is defined as Radical Truth + Radical Transparency + Believability-Weighted Decision Making. They realize this vision through consistent feedback and constant evaluation. While good in theory, I don’t think in practice this is for everyone. Dalio acknowledges this reality and says many individuals sort themselves out of the company as a consequence. I wonder if talented individuals are missed out because of this structure? I assume so, but Dalio believes the benefits outweighs it.

Work Principle 3 – Create a Culture in Which It Is Okay to Make Mistakes and Unacceptable Not to Learn from Them. This principle isn’t controversial. You want people who are eager to make a difference and take on an acceptable amount of risk. Learning from situations is by itself a benefit. Its likely you can apply those learnings elsewhere. Thomas Edison once said he didn’t fail in making the lightbulb. He found 2,000 ways to not make one. And only needed to find one way to make it work.

Work Principle 6.4 – Once a decision is made, everyone should get behind it even though individuals may still disagree. I’ve seen passive agressiveness first hand. People will agree to a decision in a formal setting, but then walk away and not truly commitment and at times undermine it. Organizations need to work to prevent this, whether through culture or through other mechanisms.

Work Principle 9 – Constantly Train, Test, Evaluate, and Sort People. This is one section I felt worked best in theory. As I read the book I got a sense this is what they do, but the human side of it must be taxing. If you’re constantly being sorted and evaulated, (perhaps a reality anyway), you never really relax. You are constantly looking over your shoulder. If people are compensated a certain way I could see this being less of a concern i.e. they make enough to cover expenses like a house. But if they don’t you’d get people who want to maintain the job. When this principle is tied to Work Principle number 3, the mistakes oriented one, you have to balance it. Take risks and learn versus being constantly evaluated.

Work Principle 16 – And for Heaven’s Sake, Don’t Overlook Governance. Having an infrastructure where accountability is built in is very important. It ensures hubris and proper risk taking is addressed on an ongoing basis.

Tidbit – I really like the example of how to tell good stories. He describes a process where the story has things that happen, but then shows for some parts of the story you want to provide more detail and context, but if you do that too much or don’t keep the story on track you’ll lose the audience.

Summary – The book is terrific, but its girth makes it a bit sterile. Telling stories, as discussed in the book, is a great way for people to connect. It needs more of them. Inspiring? Not really. Good read? Certainly. But only in chunks.

For inspiration, check out this 40 minute clip of Socrates.

5:45 mark – The majority opinion – they can’t be trusted

8:23 mark – Can’t expect me to change my ways now – being consistent, in good and bad times is part of the contract with the city or as the Principles book describes, the company.

9:06-13:45 mark – the essence of the argument and the part that reminded me of this book.

20:25 mark – A philosopher and death.

24:18 mark – The argument for the soul using opposites.

33:00 mark – An interesting metaphor of the soul and a musical instrument.

Welcome Back

My name is Ben Leeson. I wrote this working thoughts blog for several years originally between 2007 and 2013. More posts are coming.

A few things about me:
I created this blog to excercise my critical thinking and writing skills. It worked.

I work in financial services. I advise start ups. I golf.

I have a family. Beautiful wife, kids, and a dog.

There are several posts missing due to hosting being cancelled. Pictures have been deleteted. The template is old.

I write this blog because I like the macro side of HR. This is people, jobs, the economy, and things like that.

Thank you.

December 2010 Jobs Report and Wages

Here are the job market and compensation numbers for December 2010 (based on the job report):


Net gain
of 103,000 jobs in the month
(revised to a gain of 152,000)

  • Analysts expected an overall gain of 146,000
  • Private sector payrolls increased by 113,000
    • Private service producing industries added 115,000
    • Goods producing industries lost 2,000


  • November was revised to a gain of 92,000 a revision of 71,000 and from an original reading of 39,000 gain
  • October was revised to a gain of 171,000, from a revised reading of 172,000 and an original reading of 151,000
  • Payroll processor ADP reported an employment gain of 297,000 jobs
  • Including population growth, the job market is 11 million jobs below the point of when the recession began 3 years ago
  • The US labor force is smaller now than when the recession began, by 4 million people
  • 6.4 million people have been jobless for more than 6 months (long term
    unemployed) – up significantly from the last four months

    • 44.3% of the unemployed are long term unemployed – ratcheted up up from 41.9% last month
  • The
    main type of hire for the past few months was for Temporary Help Service (+16,000) but this month the large gains were in Leisure and Hospitality (47,000) and Health Care (37,100)

Unemployment rate dropped to 9.4%

  • Analysts predicted it would be 9.6%
  • The unemployment rate has been over 9% for 20 months
  • 260,000 people dropped out of the employment count producing a labor force participation rate of 64.3% (66.5% is average to good)
  • The employment to population ratio is 58.3% – relatively unchanged
  • The
    U-6
    report, which is a broader group to count (workers who are part
    time but want to be full time and discouraged worker), dropped to 16.7%.
    This reflects the same decrease of unemployment rate to 9.4%
  • PMI,
    a measure of manufacturing pace, is 57% and the 20th consecutive
    month of readings over 50 percent. Anything above 50% means the
    machines are running

Specific Segment Job numbers:

  • Manufacturing gained 10,000 jobs
  • Construction lost 16,000 jobs
  • Retailers gained 12,000 jobs
  • Leisure and Hospitality Services gained 47,000 jobs
  • Government sector lost 10,000, Federal gained 10,000
  • Education and Health Services grew by 44,000 jobs
    • Health Care and Social Assistance grew by 37,000

  • Professional and Business Services grew by 7,000
    • 15,900 jobs added in Temporary Help

Wage (can be revised):

  • The average weekly paycheck (seasonally adjusted) is $645.46 – an increase of $2.59
  • The average hourly earning (seasonally adjusted) is $19.21
  • Average
    weekly hours and overtime of production and nonsupervisory employees on
    private nonfarm payrolls by industry sector, seasonally adjusted is
    33.6 hours

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Report Stats Summary

Good Time to be a Tech Startup

“This is our decision – to live fast and die young.”

“We’re out looking for astronauts, looking for astronaunts”

These are lyrics from songs I like (Fated to Pretend by MGMT and Looking For Astronauts by The National), but they came to mind as I read an article on Fortune.com this week called The Implications of too Much VC Money and too Little Startup Talent by JS Cournoyer.

Cournoyer highlights the market for technology talent and focuses on the supply and demand curve is currently very much in favor of the worker. Evidence of this is Google giving 10% raises across the board. This was to prevent an ever escalating clash with other tech firms. But another tactic is underway as well – buying start ups for the engineers. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Oracle are flush with cash. They are looking for astronauts.

But here we sit with 9.6% unemployment. And remember we need about 2.5% GDP growth to generate jobs, so to lower the unemployment rate to 8.6% growth would need to be around 5%. Where is the innovation for this to happen?

Investors believe it’s in Startups. Investment is near the levels of 1999, the last gold rush. It’s a smart play really, invest in a potential target of a company like HP – a company with lots of cash – and work them to transfer some of that wealth in the form of a purchase. Knowing what companies fit the portfolio is important. This is our decision, to live fast and die young.

Although web development is always big, I think the next group of experts is in data. The growth of data is estimated to be increasing at a compounding rate of 60%. We won’t be hearing statements like “I need more data.” We’ll hear “Can I trust the data?” When a resource over a 5 year term is 10x more abundant you know money is to be made.

This is our decision
To live fast and die young
We’ve got the vision
Now lets have some fun

Yeah, it’s overwhelming
But what else can we do?
Get jobs in offices
And wake up for the morning commute?

Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas everyone.

And if you don’t celebrate Christmas then I hope you have an extra helping of
happiness and healthiness.