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.
Understanding what is true is essential for success, and being radically transparent about everything, including mistakes and weaknesses, helps create the understanding that leads to improvements. That’s not just a theory; we have put this into practice at Bridgewater for over forty years, so we know how it works. But like most things in life, being radically truthful and transparent has cons as well as pros, which I will describe as accurately as possible.
Being radically truthful and transparent with your colleagues and expecting your colleagues to be the same with you ensures that important issues are apparent instead of hidden. It also enforces good behavior and good thinking, because when you have to explain yourself, everyone can openly assess the merits of your logic. If you are handling things well, radical transparency will make that clear, and if you are handling things badly, radical transparency will make that clear as well, so it helps to maintain high standards.
Radical truth and radical transparency are fundamental to having a real idea meritocracy. The more people can see what is happening— the good, the bad, and the ugly—the more effective they are at deciding the appropriate ways of handling things. This approach is also invaluable for training: Learning is compounded and accelerated when everyone has the opportunity to hear what everyone else is thinking. As a leader, you will get the feedback essential for your learning and for the continual improvement of the organization’s decision-making rules. And seeing firsthand what’s happening and why builds trust and allows people to make the independent assessments of the evidence that a functioning idea meritocracy requires.
ADAPTING TO RADICAL TRUTH AND RADICAL TRANSPARENCY
Radical truth and radical transparency takes getting used to. Virtually everyone who joins Bridgewater believes intellectually that radical truth and radical transparency are what they want, because, after careful thought, that’s what they signed up for. Yet most find it difficult to adjust to it because they struggle with the “two yous”. While their “upper-level yous” understand the benefits of it, their “lower-level yous” tend to react with a flight or fight response. Adapting typically takes about eighteen months, though it varies from individual to individual, and there are those who never successfully adapt to it.
Some people tell me it’s inconsistent with human nature to operate this way—that people need to be protected from harsh truths and that such a system could never work in practice. Our experience—and our success—have proven that wrong. While it’s true that our way of being is not what most people are used to, that doesn’t make it unnatural, any more than the hard physical exercise athletes and soldiers do is unnatural. It is a fundamental law of nature that you get stronger only by doing difficult things. While our idea meritocracy is not for everyone, for those who do adapt to it—which is about two-thirds of those who try it—it is so liberating and effective that it’s hard for them to imagine any other way to be.
For me, not telling people what’s really going on so as to protect them from the worries of life is like letting your kids grow into adulthood believing in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. 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. It’s a real asset that people know they can trust what we say. For that reason I believe that it’s almost always better to shoot straight, even when you don’t have all the answers or when there’s bad news to convey. As Winston Churchill said, “There is no worse course in leadership than to hold out false hopes soon to be swept away.” People need to face harsh and uncertain realities if they are going to learn how to deal with them— and you’ll learn a lot about the people around you by seeing how well they do.