Four Takeaways from Principles by Ray Dalio

After reading a book that is 542 pages, it’s hard to sum up all that I found valuable, so I settled on four takeaways from Principles by Ray Dalio. Overall this was a valuable resource to add to a coach’s library and the earlier in life you can read and comprehend the more the value of the lessons inside will compound themselves over time.

One Plus One Equals Three

The first of four takeaways from Principles by Ray Dalio might mistakenly be compared with the idea that two heads are better than one, but that can get lose in clichéville and I also think the more specific calculation speaks more to what Dalio is after (he uses the phrase “about three times as effective”). Especially in the process of reaching goals, Dalio argues that if you align yourself with people that have the same goals, you will uncover ideas that were previously hidden in your mind. It also will allow for people with different strengths to lean upon one another and hold each other accountable.

I think this idea is somewhat tied into what our team did this year with making our goals public. The idea definitely makes people more accountable than they would be otherwise, but not all of the goals were similar so it misses the mark a little there. Where I also was encouraged was in regards to my own goal of meeting with other coaches to discuss basketball. Our goals to become better coaches in some way are similar, but we have various perspectives. Dalio stresses that while one plus one equals three there gets to be diminishing returns with more people added to this equation (larger groups cause inefficiencies).

Data Is Better Than Emotion

The second takeaway I found in reading Principles by Ray Dalio is to disregard emotion in decision making unless the emotion also aligned with logic. As he stated, “wise people stick with sound fundamentals through the ups and downs, while flighty people react emotionally to how things feel.” Dalio’s work focused on investments, but this idea can be carried into any aspect of life. The emotion stems largely from the ego and with any argument it is possible that the ego needs to be satisfied. Dalio stresses that an open-mind is essential in these moments and that inevitably if two people walk away form an argument feeling that they are right it is the worst time to walk away because that is impossible. He also calls problems puzzles, failures opportunities to learn, and preaches that emotions are eventually going to go away, but the decision could impact you well past the emotion has settled.

Being north of Boston I get to see and hear a lot of Brad Stevens. What I admire about Stevens is that he does not react emotionally to results ever. He will always go back to the quality of shots that the team is taking and not panic when the opposition is on a run providing that the team is doing what they need to in order to get good looks and stops. In reading Jay Wright’s book currently, he also sees past the emotion of a bad turn of events and focuses on past outcomes under similar circumstances.

Data Is Better Than Opinion

I felt it was important to put this under its own heading instead of lumping it in with emotion which is self-imposed and can include opinions since emotions usually help to form them; whereas opinions are the stances that others take. As Dalio puts it:

“Listening to uninformed people is worse than having no answers at all. Opinions are a dime a dozen and nearly everyone will share theirs with you. Many will state them as if they are facts. Don’t mistake opinions for facts.”

The squeaky wheel advocates for the grease on a basketball team. Whether that is a player or a parent of the player, it is important to have in place some type of system that objectively measures the contribution of every player. Sometimes it is as simple as if a player shows up for practice, but in more competitive situations it could be game or practice statistics. After reading this book, I was convinced more than ever that the players need to be privy to the statistics that we track throughout the year so that they know playing time is being looked at as objectively as possible. Of course, there will be things that are harder to measure such as diving on the floor, the level of competition, and the respect with which teammates treat one another. Those things can still be accounted for in addition to the easier to measure outcomes.

There Is Nothing Worse Than Denying Your Weaknesses

This is a really hard one to enforce because it can impact confidence and even relationships. The word that Dalio uses throughout Principles is transparency. To be transparent in his eyes means that problems are identified and confronted as opposed to identified and put off because it is uncomfortable. By putting off problems the anxiety remains whereas if the problem is confronted initially it is uncomfortable for all parties involved, but assuming it gets solved everyone is better in the end.  All of the research that I have seen in the field of education suggests that positive reenforcement is the best way to make improvements, but Dalio seems to suggest the opposite.

“Compliments are easy to give but they don’t help people stretch. Pointing out someone’s mistakes and weaknesses (so they learn what they need to deal with) is harder and less appreciated, but much more valuable in the long run.”

I’d be lying if I said I was going to go to radical transparency that Dalio advocates for, but what I will tell my team are a couple of things when we meet to review expectations.

  1. You can approach me in a respectful manner and at an appropriate time to second guess any decisions. My opinions and decisions have been wrong in the past and it is important that the people that are critical to our success have a voice.
  2. Talking behind the back does not accomplish as much in the long run as talking to the face.
  3. The best improvements happen when we square up our weaknesses and directly confront them. Sometimes that could mean working on them, but it also could mean that we leave that task to a teammate who is better at that particular skill.

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