As the founder of the world’s largest hedge fund, Ray Dalio is successful by any standard. He took his company, Bridgewater Associates, from an operation running out of his two-bedroom New York apartment and turned it into a firm managing about $160 billion in assets — making him a billionaire along the way.
To succeed like he did, there are two bad habits you need to nip in the bud, Dalio says in “Principles for Success,” an animated video series based on his book “Principles: Life & Work.”
Both habits have to do with self-awareness, and they are problems anyone can fix.
1. Listening to your ego
The first bad habit is believing you are always correct.
“Because our need to be right can be more important than our need to find out what is true, we like to believe our own opinions without properly stress-testing them,” Dalio says, meaning to offer up an idea for dispute by others. “We especially don’t like to look at our mistakes and weaknesses.”
When our ideas and opinions are questioned, the natural reaction is to be defensive and angry. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right reaction. “This leads to our making inferior decisions, learning less, and falling short of our potentials,” Dalio explains.
To avoid this pitfall, he suggests viewing criticism as helpful feedback instead of as an attack. It’s something the billionaire himself practices.
For example, when Dalio received a harshly critical email about his performance during a meeting from a junior employee, he passed it along to all of Bridgewater. The email, which Dalio shared at a Ted Talk, read:
Ray – you deserve a “D-” for your performance today in the meeting … you did not prepare at all because there is no way you could have and been that disorganized. In the future, I/we would ask you to take some time and prepare and maybe even I should come up and start talking to you to get you warmed up or something but we can’t let this happen again. If you in any way think my view is wrong, please ask the others or we can talk about it.
“Isn’t that great?” Dalio said to the Ted Talk crowd about the email.
“It’s great because I need feedback like that,” he continued. “And it’s great because if I don’t let Jim and people like Jim express their points of view, our relationship wouldn’t be the same.”
2. Not realizing your blind spots
“The blind-spot barrier is when a person believes he or she can see everything,” Dalio explains in a “Principles for Success” video.
And that mentality is a mistake: “It is a simple fact no one alone can see a complete picture of reality,” he adds.
Since people have varying strengths and weaknesses, Dalio says, the best outcomes are created with a wide range of perspectives.
“While some people are better at seeing the big picture, others excel at seeing details,” he continues. “Some are linear thinkers, and others are more lateral. While some are creative but not reliable, others are reliable but not creative.”
Organizational psychologist and Wharton professor Adam Grant agrees that sourcing a variety of opinions — even those you disagree with — improves idea generation.
“Evidence shows that minority opinions improve decision-making even when they are incorrect,” Grant tells CNBC Make It. “Your probability of making a smart decision or coming up with a creative solution to a problem actually goes up, and the reason for that is that dissenting opinions force us to reexamine our criteria, to reconsider our processes and all the options available. Instead of leading to convergent thinking they stimulate divergent thinking and really increase diversity of thought.”
Even Amazon CEO (and the world’s richest man) Jeff Bezos understands he isn’t always going to be correct. To account for that, he asks a simple question: “Disagree and commit?”
“If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus,” Bezos writes in Amazon’s 2017 annual shareholder letter, “it’s helpful to say, ‘Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?'”
Bezos himself used this technique when deciding whether or not to produce a new project for Amazon Studios. He worried the production would be a flop.
“I told the team my view: debatable whether it would be interesting enough, complicated to produce, the business terms aren’t that good, and we have lots of other opportunities,” Bezos writes. But, his team saw the situation differently. They wanted to move ahead with the project.
Bezos decided to trust his team, despite their contrary opinion: “I wrote back right away with, ‘I disagree and commit and hope it becomes the most watched thing we’ve ever made.'”
It’s unclear what happened to that show, but as Dalio says: “If we put it out there and then we have a thoughtful disagreement process, aren’t we going to be better off?”