Book review: Principles

Book cover for Principles by Ray Dalio

It’s up to you to decide what you want to get out of life and what you want to give.

As I read books from my morning reads, which are business and personal development books, I’ve started the habit of capturing notes from them. When I finished Principles by Ray Dalio, there was a lot to capture and digest. But if there was one key takeaway, it was the lead-in to this post. I’m a firm believer that life is full of choices, and it is the choices we make that shapes the life we live. But I would be short-changing Dalio’s efforts if there was only one key takeaway. There are many, many pearls of wisdom contained throughout the book.

As a quick bit of background, Ray Dalio is the founder of Bridgewater Associates. He started the company in 1975 and grew it into one of the largest hedge funds in the world. It wasn’t a straight line to success, which Dalio summarizes at the beginning of the book. It’s his lead-in to the principles that he used to manage himself and the business to success.

Principles is divided into two sections – the principles for managing one’s self, and the principles for building a lasting and sustaining business. Be forewarned that Principles is a long read, and even Dalio acknowledges it in the introduction. While I read it cover to cover, it’s not necessarily a book you want to read start-to-finish. It’s probably better as a reference manual that you can come back to for insight and guidance depending on what you’re struggling with, both personally and professionally.

I got more out of the personal section than the business section, but that’s mostly a factor of where I am in the process of building my startup. Dalio’s business principles are more applicable to mid-size and larger organizations, although there are good foundational principles that could be applied to business that are just starting out. The personal section, on the other hand, is applicable no matter who you are or what you are working on.

In addition to the takeaway at the top of the page, there are a few other nuggets that stood out for me.

In order to have the best life possible you have to:
1. know what the best decisions are, and
2. have the courage to make them.

This passage is really an embodiment of Dalio’s mantra that one must have an accurate understanding of reality and always be in search of the truth. These tenets are the essential foundation for any good outcome.

My most fundamental principle is that you have to think for yourself – make your passion and your work one and the same and do it with people you want to be with.

This one doesn’t need a lot of explanation, and it much easier said than done. However, if you make this your goal in life, and are able to achieve it, I am convinced it will propel to you the highest level of success you are capable of.

Think for yourself!
1. What do you want?
2. What is true?
3. What are you going to do about it?

I like how Dalio boils what one needs to do into a simple statement and three questions. One cannot go wrong if they were to apply these to every situation, decision, and choice one encounters in life.

So would I consider Principles a Must Read or one of my foundational personal development books? It’s a tough call. I would highly recommend the first half, where Dalio outlines the principles for managing one’s self. These concepts are universally applicable. The second part is better suited to executives and managers who are building and managing a larger company. Overall, I wouldn’t consider it a must read, but it is a good read. I really appreciate that Ray Dalio took the time to write down the process and principles he used to manage himself and showed how he applied those principles to create the processes and culture that turned Bridgewater Associates into a successful company.