Radical Transparency Means Having Your E-Mails Read Aloud At A TED Talk

Ray Dalio's life--and Outlook inbox--are an open book.
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A few months ago, Ray Dalio (and his publisher) decided he wasn’t going to give his priceless pearls of life wisdom away anymore. From now on, anyone who wanted to know all of the secrets to building the world’s largest hedge fund and all other success in life would have to pay for it, although in addition to receiving the blueprint for happiness, they’d also get a handsome hardcover book to display on their shelves.

Since then, Dalio has had some second thoughts. Sure, if you want the whole Dao of Ray, you’ll still have to go through Simon & Schuster. But cutting people off from the most important philosophical revelations in the history of human thought does now seem, in retrospect, to be in line with the principle of radical transparency, if he’s being really honest in his evaluation of things. So Dalio has started a Twitter account, and is also now giving the occasional talk—about evaluating people, himself, mostly, honestly, as it happens.

As part of his presentation, Dalio shared internal videos and emails to demonstrate how his company works. In one example, employee Jim Haskel — identified on his LinkedIn profile as a director of portfolio strategy — slams Dalio's performance after a meeting and offers to coach him in the future.

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.

It's the type of note that could hardly pass in other organizations. But Dalio not only embraced this email, but shared it internally within the company and went on to show it to the more than 1,800 attendees of TED.

"Isn't that great?" he asked the crowd. "That's great. It's great because I need feedback like that. 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."

You know who doesn’t think it’s great? Old friend Matt Levine. In fact, in the spirit of radical honesty and accurate evaluation, he thinks it’s all one big charade.

From the outside, it always seems to me like Bridgewater's radical transparency exists, as it were, in quotation marks. There is a lot of strenuous performance of openness and egalitarianism. The idea of this story is that Dalio has such natural, unpretentious, tell-me-anything interactions with his employees that they feel comfortable sending him harsh honest emails like this. Which is true. But also, when they send him those emails, he turns them into a TED talk. I never do that when my friends send me blunt emails. (Should I?) If you send your boss an email criticizing his performance, and he says "you're fired," that is one kind of power move. But if he says "ho ho ho, you old rascal, well done," and then tells a room full of chuckling TED listeners about his benign tolerance, that is a different kind of power move. I think I find it more intimidating? But I don't work at Bridgewater.

An employee slammed hedge fund giant Ray Dalio in an email. Dalio loved it so much, he talked about it in a TED talk. [LinkedIn]
Disclosure, Transparency and Criticism [Bloomberg View]

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