Book Review – Principles: Life & Work by Ray Dalio


I really want to give this book a just review. I can’t, not because it is poor, but because it is so, so rich. Ray Dalio is the founder and co-chairman of investment firm Bridgewater Associates. In his book Principles: Life & Work he shares the principles he developed in running the company.

The book is set out mainly in two parts: Life Principles and Work Principles. Because he has this strict delineation (and so should all business owners and operators), he allows himself to repeat some principles that apply to both areas. The foundation of his principles in both areas is to understand life and work as a system of elements, working together, like a machine whose workings can be viewed from, and controlled from, a higher level.

My own experience with this book is noteworthy, and incomplete. I first listened to the audio book. The book is quite large, and the audiobook goes for some 16 hours. As I listened I was able to discover more about how the principles resonated with me and were immediately applicable to my business. So I reserved an entire workbook to read back over my hard copy and to take notes while studying the principles more deeply.

The reason why I am hesitant to do a book review and why it can’t be just is because there are a lot of principles and there is nothing wasted. In life they cover the gamut of understanding the world around us, learning and evolving, dealing with people, and decision making. In business they cover culture, relationships, performance management, conflict management, recruitment and resourcing, management and governance.

They are principles presented with reflection and context, often with examples and situational reasoning. They are not without tools to use either. There is a great 5 step process in approaching life or work improvements that is simple, which is also refreshing.

  1. Have clear goals.
  2. Identify and don’t tolerate problems.
  3. Diagnose problems to get at their causes.
  4. Design a plan.
  5. Push through to completion.

Other important take-aways are the importance in both life and in work of truth, radical open-mindedness, and radical transparency. These align strongly with our own business values and it is eye-opening (when it comes to radical transparency) and challenging to put into practice as a manager.

Dalio refers to the use of particular tools and resources that he has used in practicing his principles. In another act of generosity, he makes these tools and resources available free via the Principles in Motion app.

The principles (and therefore the book) is structured in a hierarchical way. There are the main principles, with sub-principles, and pointed reasonings and contexts underneath. Not only does this make it easy to follow and retain, but very useful as an ongoing resource that should be on every manager’s bookshelf, if not indeed on his or her desk, as it has been on mine for quite some time now.

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