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Ray Dalio On How To Run A Meeting & Other Business Tactics

Reading a book is easy. It’s much harder to take what’s in the book and incorporate it into our lives. I like to tackle this problem by distilling books down to a few tactics that I can implement quickly. 1

In a previous post, I outlined 4 ways that you can make better decisions using Ray Dalio’s life principles. In this post, I’ll outline what I think are the most impactful and actionable tactics from Dalio’s work principles.

Here they are:

1) How To Run A Meeting

“Meetings are an addictive, highly self-indulgent activity that corporations and other large organizations habitually engage in only because they cannot actually masturbate.” ― Dave Barry

Dalio often describes his organization as an intellectual version of the Navy Seals, and it’s clear from his Principles that like the military, he has an affinity for structure. So it shouldn’t be surprising that he thinks the most important part of running a meeting is to be clear about who is in charge and what the meeting is supposed to achieve:

Make it clear who is directing the meeting and whom it is meant to serve. Every meeting should be aimed at achieving someone’s goals; that person is the one responsible for meeting and deciding what they want to get out of it and how they will do so. Meetings without someone clearly responsible run a high risk of being directionless and unproductive

– Principles, Work Principle 4.4 – A

Dalio’s second Principle for running effective meetings is to assign someone to keep track of both responsibilities and the conversation flow. Said person ensures that any tasks to be done are assigned to specific people and not forgotten. They also ensure that the meeting doesn’t veer too far off topic.

Be careful not to lose personal responsibility via group decision making. Too often groups will make a decision to do something without assigning personal responsibilities, so it is not clear who is supposed to follow up by doing what. Be clear in assigning personal responsibilities.

– Principles, Work Principle 4.4 – H

Watch out for “topic slip.” Topic slip is random drifting from topic to topic without achieving completion on any of them. One way to avoid it is by tracking the conversation on a whiteboard so that everyone can see where you are. (Emphasis mine)

– Principles, Work Principle 4.4 – F

Applying Dalio’s tactics may make people feel uncomfortable at first, but in the long run, it will reduce peoples anxiety about meetings because they’ll know how they’re expected to behave and that their time won’t be wasted.

2) Use Standing Meetings

Our true priorities are defined by where we spend our resources, and that most often means where we spend our precious time. Too often though the distractions of daily business pull us along low-value tangents that take ours and others time away from where it would best spent. Dalio has found that the best way to avoid these distractions is to habituate your time allocations by setting standing meetings. For instance, if your company priority is sales, you should have a weekly sales meeting.

Use standing meetings to help your organization run like a swiss clock. Regularly scheduled meetings add to overall efficiency by enduring that important interactions and to-do’s aren’t overlooked, eliminating the need for efficient coordination, and improving operations (because repetition leads to refinement). It pays to have standardized meeting agendas that ask the same feedback questions in each meeting, (such as how effective the meeting was) and nonstandard meeting agendas that include things done infrequently (such as quarterly budget reviews).

– Principles, Work Principle 13.3 – D

3) Use Daily Updates To Stay In Sync

Use daily updates as a tool for staying on top of what your people are doing and thinking. I ask each person who reports to me to take about ten to fifteen minutes to write a brief description of what they did that day, the issues pertaining to them, and their reflections. By reading these updates and triangulating them, (i.e., seeing other people’s takes on what their doing together), I can gauge how they are working together, what their moods are, and which threads I should pull on.

-Principles, Work Principle 10.6 – C

Imagine if you woke up every morning instantly knowing what everyone in your company intended to work on that day and everyone else knew the same thing. Appealing, because of how incredibly efficient that might make everything, right? And, at the same time, kind of terrifying because you don’t want everyone looking over your shoulder judging what you intend to do every day.

The latter concern was why I first resisted using daily updates. I told myself, “I’m competent. I don’t need someone looking over my shoulder to do the right thing.” But now that I’ve been using it for a few months, I’ve come to see the value in it.

For me specifically, it’s as simple as sending my colleague a list of things I intend to work on each day. And in addition to it being a useful communication tool, it helps me organize my day and prioritize what I need to work on first. By contrast, my old habit of jumping into my email first-thing would lead me down a rabbit hole that didn’t necessarily reflect my priorities.

4) Use Process Flow Diagrams

Dalio’s ideal is a company that runs like a machine. At its core, a machine is a set of processes. Using process flow diagrams can help you visualize the different processes that make up your organization. These visuals help managers understand how resources will be allocated and interact with each other. But more importantly, they help ensure that everyone understands how the organization is expected to run and their role within it.

Understand that a great manager is essentially an organizational engineer. Great managers are not philosophers, entertainers, doers or artists. They are engineers. They see their organizations as machines and work assiduously to maintain and improve them. They create process flow diagrams to show how the machine works and to evaluate its design. They build metrics to light up how well each of the individual parts of the machine (most importantly, the people) and the machine as a whole are working. And they tinker constantly with its designs and its people to make both better.

– Principles, Work Principles, 10.1 – B

Process Flow Diagrams. Just as an engineer uses flowcharts to understand the workflow of what they’re designing, a manager needs a Process Flow Diagram to help visualize the organization as a machine. It might have references to an organizational chart that shows who reports to whom, or the org chart might supplement the Process Flow Diagram (PFD). Ideally the PFD is made in a way that allows you to both see things simply at a high level and drop down to low level. 

– Principles, Appendix

Since reading Principles, I’ve used process flow diagrams to visualize a number of personal and professional activities. I find that creating visual representations allows people to communicate more effectively about complex processes then they could otherwise.

Here’s an example of how process diagrams can help you visualize things. This was made using Lucid Chart:

 

 

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If you enjoyed this post, check out these other posts on Ray Dalio’s Principles:

Ray Dalio’s Principles – 4 Steps To Better Decisions

Ray Dalio’s Secret Sauce – The Truth Machine & The Good Life 

  1. The difference between tactics and strategy is strategy tells you what you should do, tactics tells you what to do. In other words, a strategy is the more general goal and tactics are the things you do to make that goal happen.


Passion is Bullshit – Cal Newport on Finding Work You Love

Once upon a time, my job was to sell bonds. I didn’t like my job. I spent a lot of time thinking about what job I should do instead. The internet said that people should do what they are passionate about. So I thought, what am I passionate about? And I thought about it some more. But the answers were never that compelling.

There were a lot of things I was interested in, but nothing had that quality of deep and soul consuming fire which sends people up the tallest mountains or dodging bullets to feed refugees. So I kept thinking about it. And then, finally, I read Cal Newport’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You.

Now I can tell you that passion is (mostly) bullshit. There is a better way to find work you love.

Why Passion Is Overvalued And Overblown

The myth that passion is the way to find work we love, like any good lie, is built on a grain of truth. That truth is that when someone is innately passionate about something, and it works out it for them, it just makes so much sense. We see someone who was born passionate become successful at what they love, and think by golly that’s the way the world is supposed to work. But we forget that this is like looking at someone who was born with a passion for playing the lottery and happened to hit the jackpot – it doesn’t mean it’s going to work for everyone.

The second reason we over attribute success to innate passion is that we tend to like what we become good at. There are a whole lot of people who did not decide what to work on based on any preexisting passion, but developed passion because they became good at what they did. These people then confuse things by telling themselves and others that they have been passionate about what they do all along.

Cal Newport opens So Good They Can’t Ignore You with Steve Jobs as an example of someone who was not always the quintessential passionate entrepreneur. In truth, Jobs was a bright young man who stumbled into something good and then developed a passion for it only after experiencing some success.

As evidence, Newport cites the fact that Jobs was a co-founder at a startup company before starting Apple but abandoned his job without telling his co-founders to spend months at the All One spiritual commune. Not the type of behavior you’d expect from a person who was supposedly deeply passionate about starting a computer company.

Finally, some people just lie about being passionate. They say they love what they do because they’re afraid to admit they don’t. This is a symptom of the fact that our society presumes that to be good at something you must be innately passionate about it. So much so that many people feel it is a mark of personal failure to even admit they do not LOVE their jobs.

For all these reasons and more, passion gets way more credit than it’s due.

Ask Not About Passion But About Career Capital

Instead of trying to figure out what we are passionate about, Newport urges us to focus on acquiring what he calls career capital. For Newport, career capital is rare and valuable skills.

How is this different than the passion-based approach?

First, as a question, the career capital framework shifts the focus of our decision criteria from a question that is centered around “I”, “What am I passionate about?”, to a question that is centered around others, “What is the world looking for that I can become really good at?”

Second, it specifies that the skill must be rare and valuable. For instance, writing words on the internet about books you’ve read is not a rare and valuable skill, so getting good at that is probably a waste of time.

Third, the career capital framework does not demand passion as a prerequisite for trying things. This means you won’t prematurely disqualify things you may end up having a great career in before you have a chance to try them.

Fourth, using the career capital framework makes it explicit that you have to not only identify what skill you want but also acknowledge that you have to get really good at it. Getting good at things is hard. To become genuinely skilled at something you have to get up and do stuff that is tiring and dull and uncomfortable and you have to keep doing it, often for years. Acknowledging this up front helps you make decisions about what you are willing to pursue.*

Finally, the Career Capital approach also provides a safer road-map for getting to where you want to be because as Newport points out, passion can be dangerous. Dangerous because making decisions on passion alone can lead us to attempt things that we are genuinely unprepared for. Passion has lead many people to start businesses armed only with good intentions and no skill or contacts.

Unfortunately, this is like jumping out of an airplane without really knowing how to use your parachute. Yes, you are deeply motivated to learn how to open your chute but you only have so much time to do it and the results will be devastating if you don’t. I did this when I started a business without customers. It’s painful, don’t do it.

Career capital is not as sexy as passion. No one is going to put “Develop Career Capital” on a t-shirt or mug. In fact, it’s so economically intuitive as to be banal. But it is a better approach because it both changes the questions we ask and better defines what we’re seeking.

Once You Have Career Capital, Bargain for Control

The final but critical step in Newport’s formula for achieving work you love is to bargain with your accumulated career capital for control and autonomy over what you do.

To see why these qualities are critical to having a career you love, imagine what it would be like to be a rock star without them. Yes, you’d be famous, and make a lot of money but if you only had three weeks of vacation per year, and no say over where and what you had to play, you’d probably grow to hate it in the long run.

Now imagine you’re a rock star that gets to decide where and how often you work (within reason), and you’re also allowed to pick most of the songs you play. You’d probably end up hating the former and loving the latter scenario, even though they are technically the same job.

Part of the brilliance of Newport’s framework is that he makes it explicit that our ability to set the terms of how we work can be just as, if not more important than what we do.

Work Past And Future

In 1931 the economist John Maynard Keynes wrote that given the rate of improvement in economic productivity, in the future (our present), we would only have to devote a few hours a day to paid “work.” The real problem, he predicted, would be figuring out what to do with all our leisure time.

Keynes’ vision of the future has not come to pass. We still spend a large portion of our lives doing whatever people are willing to pay us for. There has however been a somewhat compensatory shift in focus towards making that work meaningful and enjoyable.

The problem, up to now, had been that no one gave much serious thought to how to intelligently go about finding work you love. Cal Newport’s career capital framework has changed that. Both by re-framing the questions we ask and by better defining what it is we’re looking for, Newport gives us the tools to make better decisions and ultimately create more meaningful lives.




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