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Book Review: Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio
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Book Review: Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio - Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio

Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio

Ray Dalio is the founder of investment management firm Bridgewater Associates and has been listed among the 100 wealthiest people in the world (by Forbes) and 100 most influential people in the world (by Time). In 2011, he self-published a short book called Principles, in which he outlined his philosophy and practices in managing investments and organizations.

Now, at age 68, Dalio says his new long-term goal is to “help others be successful, rather than to be more successfully myself. Because these principles have helped me and others so much, I want to share them with you.” His new book, Principles: Life and Work (Simon & Schuster, 2017) is a greatly expanded new version, with the founder’s life story taking up the first part of the book, adding his ideas about living your life as well as managing your work.

It’s a long read. At first look, it doesn’t appear especially hefty, but once the narrative first section of the book has passed, Dalio presents a detailed, dense set of ideas that don’t exactly fly off the page. It’s not that his writing style is difficult. It’s actually impressive how he keeps a conversational voice in diction and flow. Yet his thinking is so organized and he’s so intent to communicate the logic of his thinking that we expend a lot of energy just following along, rather than merely digesting his ideas. This thought-process writing can be at least mildly frustrating. Here is the opening paragraph from his second section, titled “Life Principles”:

There is nothing more important than understanding how reality works and how to deal with it. The state of mind you bring to this process makes all the difference. I have found it helpful to think of my life as if it were a game in which each problem I face is a puzzle I need to solve. By solving the puzzles, I get a gem in the form of a principle that helps me avoid the same sort of problem in the future. Collecting these gems continually improves my decision making, so I am able to ascend to higher and higher levels of lay in which the game gets harder and the stakes become even greater.

The paragraph has a Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score of 9.2, or easily readable by someone in ninth grade. Yet you can practically see the Roman-numeral outline that shaped this paragraph. The big idea in the first sentence, the rationale, the example, the consequence, and the big picture. This is how most of the second and third sections of the book read, which is not a condemnation but a forewarning. There’s interesting content here, but it may be more suited to a logic-motivated reader than someone looking for a good, enjoyable read.

Still, his rags-to-riches story is compelling, and one imagines that anyone reading this is hoping to achieve at least some semblance of the success Dalio has achieved. This means the biographical portion provides the inspiration, while the Life Principles and Work Principles sections give you the deep nuts-and-bolts material.

Most impressive (and perhaps most unusual) is Dalio’s adherence to a principle of humility. In the first sentence of the book’s introduction, he says he’s a dumb [expletive] who doesn’t know much relative to what he needs to know. As the principles are laid out, you see how humility is expressed in learning, transparency, idea-based meritocracy, personal reflection, and managing conflict. Some of it will sound familiar to readers who frequent this particular bookshelf, but another slowdown in the reading comes when the reader asks him- or herself how to put these subversive ideas into actual practice.

In a few ways, the book feels like those super-inspiring TED talks that get everyone amped for new ideas until the inspired listener tries to implement them in existing organizational structures designed to resist them. For this reason, the best audience is those readers who are already in positions with extreme agency and discretion, or those who aspire to these positions. It’s not difficult to picture a lot of young, ambitious future executives filing this info away for when they get their big shot. Someday.

Amazon named Principles its best book of 2017 in the Business and Leadership category. It might not be our first choice, but it’s definitely a worthy read, as long as the reader is not in a hurry.


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Book Review: Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio - Executive Leadership Articles

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