There's a contradiction at the heart of Ray Dalio's fraught relationship with the media. He ascribes his unusual success to a unique culture that works by crushing emotions, then complains when media outlets report how his unusual success rests on a unique culture that works by crushing emotions. It's a catch-22.
When pressed, he usually can't name anything flat wrong in the reports from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal that have so gotten his goat. The problem instead seems to be one of emphasis and innuendo. “They’re supposed to come out with things they think are scandalous,” Dalio said Tuesday at a conference held, ironically, by the Times. “As a result of doing that they weave together things in a way that’s meant to be – as they say, good news doesn’t sell.”
True, but weird news does, and Dalio's Bridgewater is a fount of shocks and oddities, owing largely to Dalio's almost-fatal allergy to the expression of emotion. So when a tape showing an executive named Eileen Murray telling a white lie circulates around the company under the title “Eileen lies,” it may be business-as-usual for Bridgewater initiates. But the rest of the world isn't so radically transparent. That, of course, is Dalio's great struggle: Not everyone follows his principles.
Dalio unwittingly encapsulates the issue perfectly in the interview with an analogy about recreational nudity. Speaking about the difficulty of having one's emotional center rocked by the ceaseless scrutiny and merciless fault-finding that makes Bridgewater so special, Dalio says:
Not everybody wants to stand naked in front of everybody. It’s a little bit like going into a nudist camp for the first time... You first walk into nudist camp and its very awkward. Everybody's looking around. Before you know it everyone’s talking about interesting subjects!
Speaking from what seems to be a fair amount of experience, Dalio emphasizes that the awkwardness is natural, but in the service of something greater, namely standing around naked with a bunch of strangers. There's nothing inherently bad about being naked with consensual strangers, of course. The only hang-ups is a process of “getting over that emotional reaction.”
Let's imagine, then, that one of Dalio's radical transparency principles was compulsory nudity. No employee enters the Bridgewater offices wearing so much as a fig leaf. Imagine the possibilities! Gone will be the wasted moments wondering what so-and-so looks like undressed. No longer will employees have to devote mental energies to the needless affectation that is fashion. Body language will be even easier to read. Multiple biofeedback mechanisms will serve to indicate whether the air conditioning is on too high.
The drawback, of course, is that not everyone would be cool with going to work naked. Indeed, some might see it as a violation of their privacy and dignity. Meanwhile, journalists itching to whip up scandal would descend on former employees shaken by the experience of having their bodies routinely and clinically inspected by coworkers. The general public would get the impression that the whole operation was, well, weird.
It all sounds pretty familiar, doesn't it?
All the media hullaballoo around Bridgewater may end up looking silly soon enough, however. Thanks to big data and ubiquitous technology, Dalio said, we're all gonna be naked soon enough. “Radical transparency is coming at you,” Dalio said. “You can't avoid it.”