Those that either don’t see or don’t acknowledge their weaknesses are doomed to be crippled by them. Those that accept their weaknesses and find ways to work around them to play to their strengths do better. Those that do best, embrace their weaknesses and find mechanisms, tools or people with complementary strengths to fill the gaps and turn themselves, their teams and their organization into high performing machines.
In his book Principles, Ray Dalio lays out a compelling argument for how Radical Truth + Radical Transparency + Believability-Weighted Decision Making are the crucial components of Bridgewater’s idea meritocracy. He describes how he and his colleagues turn the best thinking that flows from that idea meritocracy into principles and then use those principles to power the decision-making algorithms that helped Bridgewater become the largest hedge fund in the world.
The fundamental premise is that reducing or compensating for biases and blind spots leads to more productive interactions, decisions and work.
• Radical Truth is saying what you really believe.
• Radical Transparency is letting almost everyone have access to almost all information.
• Believability-Weighted Decision Making weights people’s input into decisions based their track record of reliability and success.
The combination leads to better-informed people making more rational decisions together on a more consistent basis.
We’ve all seen too many organizations bow to self-deluding bosses who make decisions themselves based on their instincts or guts just because they are the boss. Sometimes people in the know reinterpret those decisions before implementing them or passive aggressively fail to implement them at all. These are, of course, poor work-arounds. The only viable long-term approach is to get the boss to see their blind spots and biases or to get a new boss.
Others know their strengths. They avoid situations in which their weaknesses make them vulnerable and create or seek out situations in which their strengths allow them to win. In some ways, this is the essence of strategy — choosing where to play and how to win. Richard Branson is not comfortable giving big, prepared speeches. He avoids them and positions himself on discussion panels or sitting on stage being interviewed by others. This works better for him and for his audiences.
The most successful believe they are not alone. For them, understanding their weaknesses is a sign of strength. For them, that understanding helps them figure out with what mechanisms, tools and others they should partner.
• Mechanisms are ways of getting things done – like a daily checklist or reminder system.
• Tools help get those things done – like the reminders on a smart phone calendar.
• Valuable partners have complementary strengths so they are more effective together than each is individually.
Dalio uses a machine analogy. He suggests we should invest in improving the machines. Machines take inputs and cause things to happen that effect outputs. We can improve the way we think and do things on our own as machines. We can improve the way team machines work by leveraging members’ complementary strengths. We can improve organizational machines’ results by partnering with other organizations with complementary strengths.
Current Best Approach
You can move a long way in the right direction by changing from presenting and then evaluating proposals or recommendations to working conversations.
Instead of someone presenting something for others to judge, that person or group would share their current best thinking or approach as a starting point for a conversation.
Then, others would share data, evidence or insights they have to improve on the current best, creating a new current best together.
The key is the change in mindset. In meetings to present and evaluate, the presenter is on the spot. They generally want to look good and make the sale. They have a bias to mask their weaknesses and play to their strengths.
In conversations to improve current best thinking or approach, the person or group starting the conversation can embrace their weaknesses. Since the objective is to improve on the current best, everyone benefits from the opener highlighting their gaps so others can fill them in – not judging each other, but judging the ideas purely on their merit.