My Reflections from Zoom’s Fireside Chat with Ray Dalio
Zoom is thrilled to have had investor, hedge fund manager, author, and philanthropist Ray Dalio as our guest Feb. 20 at Zoom HQ in San Jose. The author of “Principles: Life and Work” shared with Zoom employees some of the principles he lives by and how they inform his decisions, his views on the three stages of life, and how he counts his kids as his biggest accomplishment. I had the pleasure of engaging Ray in a “fireside chat,” where he discussed some of his learnings over his illustrious 40-plus-year career.
He taught me a lot during that chat, and I wanted to share some of my key takeaways. For instance, one pain point for me is when I have a different opinion when making certain decisions with other leaders, and I need to explain why we had a difference. I struggled with why that would happen. Now with Ray’s help, I realize it’s my mistake. I never wrote down all of our business principles because I assumed the high-level business philosophies — like execution paradigm, spending rules, etc. — that I’ve shared with the team would be good enough.
So we are working on writing Zoom’s business principles. These principles will help all of us at Zoom develop an “idea meritocracy,” where the best idea wins out based on our ability to disagree with each other and work toward an effective solution.
Here are a few other key takeaways from our discussion, including how Ray and his team apply unconventional principles at their investment firm, Bridgewater Associates, to create a highly effective idea meritocracy.
Think for yourself & know that you don’t know everything
It’s easy to let others gain influence over your thinking, and it’s also easy to get over-confident in your thinking, both of which can lead to disaster. But in the course of answering a question about how he taught his children to think, Ray gave me a valuable piece of advice: Think for yourself and also know that you don’t know everything.
He explained the importance of being able to think for yourself and being able to develop ideas and opinions while understanding that you don’t know everything. I thought this was a very wise way of thinking, because this mindset gives you the confidence to try new things while recognizing that you could be wrong — and that’s OK!
Mistakes are valuable
When Ray was asked if he would do anything different in the past with the knowledge he has now, his answer was a great piece of wisdom. He said that he wouldn’t want to deprive himself of those mistakes and that his mistakes taught him far more than his successes ever did. He even went on to say that once he realized the value of his mistakes, he began to almost enjoy them.
I found this particularly valuable because mistakes and failures are a natural part of building something great. Being able to learn from these mistakes and enjoy the process of improving ensures that every experience is valuable and that we are constantly learning throughout our journey through life.
‘The Pull’ is essential to success
At 70 years old, Ray is filled with limitless energy! As a fellow entrepreneur managing a large company, a long list of other responsibilities, and a busy schedule, I was struck by his constant energy and animated presence. When I asked him how he maintains this energy, he had a simple answer: “I get excited!” he said.
He went on to explain that although he has a long list of responsibilities and a lot to juggle, he keeps his energy up by feeling “The Pull,” or the excitement that comes from taking part in something. Rather than viewing his work as an obligation, he views it as an opportunity to get excited. By finding that “pull,” the thing that gets us excited about work, we can keep our energy up and find the determination to keep going.
The bad times are the best tests
How businesses handle the hard times can directly impact their future success, so I was curious about what Ray would say about how he manages these bad times. His answer was completely in line with the person Ray is. He responded, “Bad times are a terrific test.”
Ray explained that the hard times shows you which employees are loyal and shakes things loose, helping you identify the parts of the company that are working and which ones aren’t. These tests also provide an opportunity to improve the way you communicate and handle disagreements, which serves to ensure the future success of the organization.
Hiring for values and ability instead of skills
Over the past 40 years, Ray has built an incredible team of independent thinkers at Bridgewater Associates. I was curious about how Ray went about building his team. He explained that many companies hire people based on their skills rather than their values or their ability, and Ray does the complete opposite. He hires people based on their values and ability rather than their skills.
Ray explained that skills can be developed and nurtured, whereas values and ability are unique and ingrained in each person. There’s a much better chance that person will sync with the goals of your organization and be more valuable to the organization as well.
Measure investment sustainability
Ray is a well-known philanthropist and a highly successful investor, and I was curious how he determines the success or ROI of his investments in charities and other causes around the world. His answer was simple and intuitive but incredibly effective. “I like to think about the sustainability of my investment,” he said.
Ray explained that even the richest philanthropists in the world know they don’t have enough capital to solve problems by just throwing money at them. In order to truly understand the value of an investment, we have to look at how well that investment can sustain itself. If an investment can keep producing positive returns, even if they are relatively small, then it has the sustainability to produce real change.
Thanks, Ray, for sharing your wisdom with me and the Zoom family!