Principles are ways of successfully dealing with reality to get what you want out of life.
Ray Dalio, one of the world’s most successful investors and entrepreneurs, cites principles as his key to success.
Remember that for an organization to be effective, the people who make it up must be aligned on many levels—from what their shared mission is, to how they will treat each other, to a more practical picture of who will do what when to achieve their goals. Yet alignment can never be taken for granted because people are wired so differently. We all see ourselves and the world in our own unique ways, so deciding what’s true and what to do about it takes constant work.
Alignment is especially important in an idea meritocracy, so at Bridgewater we try to attain alignment consciously, continually, and systematically. We call this process of finding alignment “getting in sync,” and there are two primary ways it can go wrong: cases resulting from simple misunderstandings and those stemming from fundamental disagreements. Getting in sync is the process of open-mindedly and assertively rectifying both types.
Many people mistakenly believe that papering over differences is the easiest way to keep the peace. They couldn’t be more wrong. By avoiding conflicts one avoids resolving differences. People who suppress minor conflicts tend to have much bigger conflicts later on, which can lead to separation, while people who address their mini-conflicts head on tend to have the best and the longestlasting relationships. Thoughtful disagreement—the process of having a quality back-and-forth in an open-minded and assertive way so as to see things through each other’s eyes—is powerful, because it helps both parties see things they’ve been blind to. But it’s not easy. While it is straightforward to have a meritocracy in activities in which there is clarity of relative abilities (because the results speak for themselves such as in sports, where the fastest runner wins the race), it is much harder in a creative environment (where different points of view about what’s best have to be resolved). If they’re not, the process of sorting through disagreements and knowing who has the authority to decide quickly becomes chaotic. Sometimes people get angry or stuck; a conversation can easily wind up with two or more people spinning unproductively and unable to reach agreement on what to do.
For these reasons, specific processes and procedures must be followed. Every party to the discussion must understand who has what rights and which procedures should be followed to move toward resolution. And everyone must understand the most fundamental principle for getting in sync, which is that people must be open-minded and assertive at the same time. Thoughtful disagreement is not a battle; its goal is not to convince the other party that he or she is wrong and you are right, but to find out what is true and what to do about it. It must also be nonhierarchical, because in an idea meritocracy communication doesn’t just flow unquestioned from the top down. Criticisms must also come from the bottom up.