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Two surprises from reading Dalio's Principles


I just started reading Ray Dalio's new book PRINCIPLES. Two things have already smacked me right between the eyes. My wife calls these moments a "cosmic 2x4".

1. Few people write down their principles.

Life is complicated so having principles to deal with the complexity is essential. But few people actually take the time to write down their principles. There is a lot of talk about goals, vision, core values, purpose, intention, etc. But less so about principles. I found this really interesting. Take-away? You can raise your game just by writing down your principles.

Reminds me of Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World by Kathleen Eisenhardt and Donald Sull. The best businesses have simple rules to deal with and to thrive in complexity. They present a number of examples of such rules, as well as different types of "simple rules": how-to, boundary, priority, timing and exit rules.

Smeal College of Business has principles that guide our work on sustainability. They are ever-evolving and always open for input. See what you think and let us know. But they are meaningful, guide what we do and how we do it. They are our boundary and priority-area rules, to use Eisenhardt and Sull.

Smeal Sustainability Principles

Built on Fundamentals - widening our analysis to include environmental/social costs and risks means we raise (not lower) our standards for hard-nosed business analysis

Value Diversity - no company or organization can be a leader in sustainability without leading in diversity and inclusion. The intersections between economic, social and environmental issues demand a blend of perspectives from different geographies, genders, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, functions, disciplines, industries, etc. There truly is strength in diversity.

Part of the Ingredients, not the Icing - sustainability is most effective when built in from the beginning (e.g. of analysis, product development, business model generation) not just as the “icing” applied at the end

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Strategic imperative - we focus on operational integration to save energy, reduce waste, and protect worker safety but acknowledge the greater rewards and responsibilities are in market transformation: pioneering new products, supply chain transparency and and disruptive innovations (thanks to Andrew Hoffman at University of Michigan for articulating the difference; see his 2017 State of the World chapter)

Focus on results not just methods - we focus on targeted, measured business, social and ecological outcomes and impact, not just on prescribed means and methods which can have adverse effects when applied in a real business or market context. All that glitters is NOT gold even if it is local, fair trade, organic, cage free, living waged, gluten free, and solar-powered. Don't go for methods; focus on results.

2. Meditation is for Hedge Fund Managers (and all of us)

Due in large part to the centering and grounding effects of the practice, Dalio points to meditation as critical to his success.

“When I look back at my life, I am happy to have had what most people would consider a successful life, not only in terms of business, but in my relationships and in lots of ways. More than anything else, I attribute it to meditation.."

Let me put a finer point to this. Billionaire Ray Dalio, the founder of $160 billion hedge-fund behemoth Bridgewater Associates, says that meditation has been “the single biggest influence” on his life!

Dalio, 66, is considered by many to be the most successful hedge fund manager of all time. And meditation is his secret.

I learned meditation over 17 years ago, attended several retreats and took part in home study courses on the topic. I found to be profoundly helpful for strengthening the mind, developing focus, creating a healthy relationship with my emotions and "monkey brain" and for stress-relief.

I have had a morning meditation practice ever since. I agree with Dalio that it is essential. As things speed up and get complex, the ability to slowdown time and simplify is almost a superpower.

I recommend you give it a try for 1 or 2 minutes a day. Try to work up to 5 - 15 minutes or more. There are many resources online and at the library. I wouldn't pretend to make any recommendations. Find what works. I combine it with Bible study and prayer, but it can be done just for mental and emotional well-being and without a spiritual component.

Image Credit: Huffington Post, 2013

You don't have to sit cross-legged. You don't have to mumble incantations. You don't have to "clear your mind." Get rid of these wrong ideas. Learn what it is really about and dive in. Find what works for you.

Write Down Your Principles...but Meditate on Them First

Our minds are under assault and we need them in top shape. Knowing our principles helps us to manage complexity. We can keep things simple amidst the storms. But that's not enough. We also need a break from the storm. We need a rest stop, a scenic overlook, where we can pull over and gain perspective. That is where meditation comes in.

Meditation and other contemplative practices relax, strengthen and allow the mind to recover. They must be a daily part of any modern leader's life.

I will share more about Dalio's book in later posts.

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