At first glance, his principles may not be easy to stomach, especially for those of us accustomed to sugarcoated critiques. One of his principles, for example, is “Evaluate accurately, not kindly.” Another is “Recognize that tough love is both the hardest and the most important type of love to give (because it is so rarely welcomed).”
But underneath what may seem like a clinical, emotionless approach is something different and far more poignant: Mr. Dalio is preaching for individuals to have a sense of humility and introspection, an ability to open themselves to appreciate pointed criticism and use it to improve.
On Sept. 19, Mr. Dalio will publish his codified principles in a 500-plus-page book, “Principles: Life & Work,” which is already being buzzed about as Wall Street executives and investors have passed around galley copies.
Mr. Dalio made an abbreviated version of his “Principles” available on the internet in 2011; the document has been downloaded more than three million times.
His new book is more significant than the original list of principles: It is part memoir, part how-to guide. It is a deeply personal story, with Mr. Dalio wading into how he started his firm in 1975, internal conflicts inside the company and strife early on in his career. The book is both instructive and surprisingly moving.
At its core, the story traces Mr. Dalio’s own evolution. And he is convinced that we learn much more from our mistakes than from our successes. It is a point worth lingering on, because it is rarely given enough consideration.
In a particularly telling moment, Mr. Dalio describes how his fund nearly imploded in the early 1980s on bad bets on the bond market, a period he acknowledges was like “blows to the head with a baseball bat.”
“Being so wrong — and especially so publicly wrong — was incredibly humbling and cost me just about everything,” he wrote. I saw that I had been an arrogant jerk who was totally confident in a totally incorrect view. I was so broke I couldn’t muster enough money to pay for an airplane ticket to Texas to visit a prospective client.”
Mr. Dalio has long been an object of fascination because of the seemingly grand social experiment he has been running inside Bridgewater: The firm explicitly requires its 1,500 employees to follow the “Principles,” sometimes leading to uncomfortable confrontations. Virtually all conversations and meetings are recorded so…