Why you shouldn't read Ray Dalio's Principles

Ray Dalio is one of the world’s most financially successful men, so when he announced that he would be publishing the principles he credits with his success many people were excited to see what he would come out with.

I was one of these people. After the public release of his shorter principles writeup he drafted and released online through Bridgewater’s website, I was excited.

Based on what we could read for ourselves, the more formal release of his principles was to be a meaningful dive into what enabled his life’s success. It was sure to be a focused and exhaustive look into working effectively and taking action. Principles promised to enable every reader to create better outcomes in their own lives.

Dalio’s philosophy seemed to center around what we might call goal-oriented self-reflection. The process of taking action, looking at results, and seeing how these results challenge our understanding of how we can reach our goals. This process would strengthen our character and skillset.

The promise of Principle’s release excited and captivated many. It’s a wonderful thing to believe you can achieve future success while being virtuous at the same time. Many of us imagine a life where personal meaning and personal wealth intersect. This future is exactly the sort of vision Principles seemed to aspire to.

So it was to great dismay that I found Principles to be deeply lacking in how it offered to help us execute this vision.

Principles was a book with a profound mission to inspire its readers to embrace the habits and principles that led Dalio to success, but what did we get in return?

Our years-long wait to understand the foundation behind Dalio’s success was an encyclopedic lookup table?

You’ve got to be kidding me.

I found myself hating Principles because it promised to inspire transformation, but instead offered an author’s self-indulgence.

Principles seems to be an example of a book where the editor was unable to do their job. Instead of publishing an appealing and convincing narrative, the book asks us to use an index of go-to scenarios.

The complexity of these scenario-based principles is comical.

Dalio holding readers' attention with section 16.1g

No book, no matter how well crafted, can persuade an audience by breaking down ideas into their minutiae without communicating their value through contexts we might relate to emotionally.

But that’s exactly what Dalio’s done.

He took one of the most promising book releases of this decade and destroyed its potential by making its message unpersuasive. His great opportunity to improve and positively impact the lives of others was thrown away. It’s especially sad because Dalio published Principles as a way to give back to the community and form a lasting legacy.

I cannot recommend you read Principles in full. Likely I won’t have to anyway to ensure that doesn’t happen. The number of people who read Principles from cover to cover is few and while a book from a very successful man who touts the promise of merging virtue with work will carry on with conversational merit at dinner parties, its influence will quickly wane.

If you do wish to read Principles, read and focus your attention on “Part 1 - Where I’m Coming From”.

“Where I’m Coming From” offers value to readers by showing Dalio’s path toward success as something that can be easily understood. It reveals how one man’s hubris led him to take risks and fail, but because he documented his process and how he failed, he was able to learn from his failures and continually improve.

It’s not very noticeable, but here’s where Dalio makes his greatest contribution towards helping readers and it’s fairly subtle.

Most everyone understands that learning from failure is important, but most don’t understand that reflecting on failure isn’t enough to understand how you failed.

Reflecting on failure is emotional and retrospective. This type of reflection our clouds judgment and creates bias. We don’t want to confirm our suspicions. We want to know the truth, so we stop failing.

You can’t learn from failures if you don’t understand how they happened.

Retrospectively looking at failure isn’t reliable. To ensure you learn from failure, you must document your process beforehand.

Dalio actively documents his processes to avoid retrospective bias.

The true lesson Principles offers is that it’s extremely valuable to document the process you use to do anything important and by documenting your process you will notice ways to improve it.

Documenting process allows to you understand failures in context, grow, and improve faster than those who don’t, which is almost everyone.