Neuroperspective on Dalio’s Meritocracy Manual, Principles (Part 1/4)
In my quest to transition from Principal Investigator neuroscientist to CEO neuroscientist, I have been guided by the frank criticism and advice of numerous mentors. Naturally, book recommendations have arisen, including billionaire hedge fund manager Ray Dalio’s meritocracy manual, Principles.
After reading a couple of books on the goal-setting framework known as “ORK”, I picked up Principles to further my research into organisational strategy, and proceeded to devour it cover to cover. Despite Dalio’s instruction to treat the third part of the book as quick reference only, I pored over every word on every page. Principles became the appetiser, side dish, and desert to my noodles, in the simple Chinese restaurants I frequented along Shanghai’s bustling downtown streets. I made hundreds of notes, finding the book pleasantly affirming and profoundly inspiring.
I would not have had reason to consider — let alone apply — Dalio’s perspective on finance and managerial systemisation during my academic post at the Zurich Psychiatric Hospital. Now, with my energies focused entirely on Mobio Interactive (MI), the healthtech company I co-founded with Mark Thoburn and Avetis Muradyan, Dalio’s work resonates deeply.
As a CEO neuroscientist committed to bringing “Accessible and Effective Healthcare to Every Human,” I am putting Dalio’s recommendations into practice. I hope my “neuroperspective” on Dalio’s Principles is valuable for those readers on a similar entrepreneurial journey to change the world.
A Three Part Manual for Success — Reviewed in Four Parts
Principles is a small trilogy; each section has its purpose and theme. My tetralogical review is, similarly, organised by theme. First with this post, I provide a simple synopsis to distill the essence of Dalio’s meritocracy manual. On its own, Part 1 of this review serves as a concise reminder for myself and my team — or any reader, really — of the core value that Principles generously gifts us.
In Part 2 of my review, I dive more deeply into nine of the most profound concepts presented in Principles. Then, in Part 3, I stage an intellectual and moral brawl between myself and Dalio, focusing on the use of personality profiling within an organisation. Finally, Part 4 attempts to set the record straight on the neuroscience Dalio describes. To cut to the chase, Dalio gets almost all of it wrong.
I intend to publish each of these separate parts weekly — starting today — and invite you to follow me for notifications on these and the other stories forthcoming.
Synopsis of a Modern-Day Seneca
Dalio’s business bible opens with an autobiography, and damn is it an exciting portrait. Its purpose is not to dazzle, however; it’s to provide advice on how each of us can live a rewarding life. Dalio is a good person to provide such advice; he’s had a life brimming with success, by nearly any definition one might care to argue.
This part of the book is worth reading if only to internalise that Dalio knows what he’s talking about. He’s “believable”, as he’d put it, on the subject of how to establish a successful and sustainable idea meritocracy. With his specific advice on how others should live their lives, he’s wise to keep it broad and open to interpretation.
We learn that Dalio is the kind of cat who works his ass off to make his life easy — a trait I recognise in myself. Dalio is also someone who maintains a healthy meditation practice, again as I do. Fun fact: Dalio’s meditation practice was inspired by The Beatles, and one could argue that Dalio has become something of a Beatle himself, within the investment world. Despite an often lighthearted discography, the 60’s pop band were undeniably creative and achieved extraordinary financial success. Dalio did the same in hedge fund management.
A few pages into the book, Dalio’s writing style — direct and concise — began to remind me of Seneca. Having recently read Letters to a Stoic, I couldn’t help but notice that both authors can be criticised and praised for the very same reasons. They both litter their works liberally (and one would assume intentionally) with aphorisms that flirt with the reader, tempting “Quote me! Hey, sexy! Quote me!”
For every one of Seneca’s “nature does not give a man virtue” and “we live amongst things that are destined to perish,” Dalio gives us “maturity is the ability to reject good alternatives in order to pursue even better ones” and “heroes inevitably experience at least one great failure.” Personally, I love a pithy phrase. At MI, we have leveraged both Seneca and Dalio quotes for the Instagram feed of our clinically-validated mindfulness app, Am. See if you can figure out who said what.
As mentioned, Dalio’s purpose in the first part of Principles is to lay out strategies for leading a meaningful and happy life. Many of these strategies are then revisited in the second and third part of the book, as he establishes the foundation of an idea meritocracy. Dalio shows us, step-by-step, how we can turn our organisations into efficient machines through the principles of radical transparency, radical open-mindedness, and radical honesty. For instance, he encourages us to think of employees as equipment, to focus on great instead of perfect, to approximate, to reduce people’s personalities into predefined categories, and to seek objectivity in unusual places. While reading, we must continually remind ourselves that the central objective of his principles — an idea meritocracy — is extremely narrow in focus. We also discover that Dalio is radically utilitarian in his approach.
Principles is not, therefore, a manifesto on moral code. The central question of the book is not what is best for the universe, society, or even the community, but what is best for the company. Principles is about organisational optimisation more than anything else.
At the same time, however, Dalio repeatedly refers to his employees as his “family” and clearly demonstrates a concrete personal concern for the community, society, and universe in which he lives. Highlighting Dalio’s concepts in Part 2 of this review (to be published next week), I consider this broader view.
In summary, Principles is worth reading if you are concerned with organisational optimisation. Meanwhile, my four part review offers alternative views and essential highlights, for all those who have already, or haven’t yet, read Dalio’s meritocracy manual.
Credits: Photos used in this story were captured by the author. Copy and line editing completed by Prof. Judith Scholes of Cascadia Editors Collective.