No doubt, Principles by Ray Dalio will have been one of my favorite read books of 2018 (and lifetime). It is long, but well worth the time investment it.

Time is like a river that carries us forward into encounters with reality that requires us to make decisions. We can’t stop our movement down this river and we can’t avoid these encounters, we can only approach them in the best possible way
-Ray Dalio

The book is really three different parts (or separate books) bound together:
Part 1 is Ray’s personal story of his journey in creating Bridgewater Associates, an extremely success investment management firm that is responsible for over $160B in funds.
Part 2 is Life Principles, and is the meat of the reason you might buy the book. It’s organized as a list of Ray’s personal principles that he chooses to live his life by. Not just a list, it contains a wonderful thought-breakdown of how he came up with them, why they are important and how he approaches each one.
Part 3 is Work Principles, basically an application of his life principles, applied to work. There is less behind-the-scenes in this section of the book and more straight to the point.

How to Read it

Ray’s advice in the beginning of the book is sound. Don’t treat it as him being humble, he has actually bound three different books together in one, and doesn’t want you to waste your time. Here’s my own flavor of his advice:

  • if you don’t really care for his personal story, skip it. No one’s feelings will be hurt. As I’m not running my own business or in the investment business, there was not a lot of value I drew from this section (relative to the reason I bought the book) other than just fulfilling pure curiosity. Think of it like a brief memoir that helps you understand how principles came about
  • Life Principles is like a normal book…read it start/finish…this part has content that applies to everyone.
  • use the third part of the book, Work Principles, as a reference manual…don’t necessarily read it start/finish unless you just want to. Look back at it when you encounter situations at work and need suggestions for how to approach difficult encounters.

In order to fulfill my “read it” criteria for my 100 books goal, I ignored the advice above. No regrets, but I wanted to share the above because he was honest about his advice and others may not have the same goals as me. 

General Impression

For the most part, the rest of this summary/review focuses on the second section of the book: Life Principles. I could write pages and pages (I did in my journal) on the advice Ray leaves you with. In fact, I even started my own Life Principles project to begin documenting my own.

As mentioned above, this section is outlined very well but also goes deep into explaining why the principles are important in many aspects of life. It’s easy to read, immediately applicable and I found myself highlight entire paragraphs and pages and ultimately had a stop altogether – it was all good.

Like with many authors I’ve found in the business or self-help section, parts of their messaging can often get repetitive. That part is somewhat inevitable in Life Principles, where the principles all support one another and are intertwined. You might think that is what contributes to the size of this book; however, you would be wrong. It it packed with MANY (new) ideas – not just the same old tips repurposed in a new book.

My favorite concepts

To avoid this being an insanely long post, I will share some of my favorite takeaways in bullet form without any reflection (they are good enough on their own).

  • people will better admire your work if you can prevent them from becoming threatened or jealous
  • obsess with finding right, not being right
  • most people call something “bad” only because it is bad for them
  • don’t be embarrassed by your problems; be embarrassed by not working to solve them
  • don’t be afraid to fire yourself if you are not the right fit; lead yourself first, before you can lead others – Einstein was a genius, but would you want him on your basketball team?
  • humility is probably the most important skill
  • you can’t learn what you already know
  • be clear about whether you are arguing or seeking more information to understand better
  • before you make a statement ask yourself if you know everything there is to know to make a statement, if not – phrase it in a question
  • it is never harmful to hear an opposing viewpoint; it doesn’t threaten you to learn more
  • people often make decisions first and cherry-pick data to support their decision
  • focus, focus, focus on doing the must-do things very well (and first)

Again, this list is probably just 5% of what I noted and took away from just part two of the book. And I have already referred back to Work Principles once or twice in working with my teams through some difficult projects. Can’t say enough: highly recommend this one.