The revolutionary workplace rule that transformed a $150 billion company.

We’re currently in the golden age for unconventional workplaces.

Inside the headquarters for Twitter, Google and Facebook, you’ll find meeting rooms converted to ball pits, giant teepee swings, rooms dedicated to gaming, real marine aquariums, impeccably designed chill-out spaces, and restaurants and cafes where the food is FREE. The food is FREE, people.

Apple is currently building a new office (probably more accurately described as a campus, or a suburb) that looks like a spaceship, while Google are developing plans for offices that resemble what you’d see once you exit that spaceship, into the future.

Mia Freedman, Monique Bowley and Jessie Stephens discuss unconventional workplaces, including Bridgewater Associates, on this week’s episode of Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below. 

Well, we throw a boob around every morning to brainstorm ideas. So it’s sort of the same thing.

With people spending more time at work than ever before, the unconventional workplace has never been so compelling.

But one company, a Hedge Fund in New York, has attracted attention not for an aquarium or mini-golf setup, but for its very unconventional philosophy.

Bridgewater Associates LP subscribes to a policy of “complete honesty”, where employees must openly share blunt opinions about each other’s work and personalities.

Founder Ray Dalio says talking behind a colleague’s back is “so corrosive, it’s just bad.” He argues, “Justice is the right to confront your accuser.”

During a conference session, titled ‘Meaningful Work and Relationships Through Radical Truth and Transparency,’ Dalio explained, “you have to get past [the] emotional barriers,” that hold people back from hearing and giving frank, honest criticism.


He says it’s crucial for success that the company adopts complete honesty in decision-making. To ensure this honesty is maintained, every meeting, conversation or exchange at Bridgewater is recorded. So everyone really does see everything.

As you’d expect, this can be incredibly difficult for new employees.

“There’s a joke we have that you need a spousal support group when you join,” Mr. Dalio said. “We have it…It’s a big transition.”

In the spirit of complete transparency, the principles upon which this policy is based are publicly available online.

In the lengthy document, Dalio writes that from his early years investing in the stock market, he learnt some valuable lessons.

1) It isn’t easy for me to be confident that my opinions are right. In the markets, you can do a huge amount of work and still be wrong.

2) Bad opinions can be very costly. Most people come up with opinions and there’s no cost to them. Not so in the market. This is why I have learned to be cautious. No matter how hard I work, I really can’t be sure.

3) The consensus is often wrong, so I have to be an independent thinker. To make any money, you have to be right when they’re wrong

As a result, he began to “stress-test” his opinions by having the most competent people around him challenge them. He also started to care less about others’ conclusions, and more about the reasoning that led them to these conclusions. As such, he writes that he “improved his chances of being right.”

'The consensus is often wrong, so I have to be an independent thinker.' Image via BBC. 

At the same time, he became "wary about being over-confident" and worked out how to "effectively deal with not knowing."

So, in order to ensure that he reaped the benefits of this insight professionally as well as personally, he wrote 210 management principles that are lived out at Bridgewater. And after reading them in detail, I'm left with mixed feelings. His principles are overwhelmingly liberating and inspiring, however, I can't help but think that some of them fundamentally go against human nature.

"Never say anything about a person you wouldn’t say to them directly," he writes, "and don’t try people without accusing them to their face."


"Don’t let “loyalty” stand in the way of truth and openness."

"Do not feel bad about your mistakes or those of others."

"Don’t worry about looking good—worry about achieving your goals."

"Get over “blame” and “credit” and get on with “accurate” and “inaccurate.”"

"Don’t depersonalize mistakes."

'Don't depersonalize mistakes.' Image via HBO. 

In an ideal world, where the single goal was exceptional performance, this philosophy would be highly effective.

But aren't there some elements of learning and failing, that don't require complete honesty?

I know that some of my greatest learning experiences have occurred when I've stuffed up silently, processed it privately, and vowed that I'd never make the same mistake again. In those moments, when I'm quietly panicking, and my coworkers are likely aware of my errors, I think a policy of unrestrained honesty would have put me in a spiral of shame, rather than allowed me to grow. Sometimes you're not ready to make your failures public. Sometimes you're too sensitive, and need self-reflection before facing the feedback of others.

Failures can also be outside of your control, and sometimes it is necessary to "depersonalize mistakes," in order to move on.

I would love to go to Bridgewater Associates LP and observe what goes on. Are the employees really honest about everything? Are you allowed to share that you simply find someone annoying, for no other reason than you're having a bad day? Do people cry? Do some people not cope with the culture? Do Bridgewater employees start applying this philosophy to other aspects of their lives? Can anyone learn to be completely honest?

Of course, a high degree of honesty is necessary for any business to be successful. Complete transparency from my coworkers is something I sincerely appreciate at Mamamia, as it makes me better at my job. But I do think there's a difference between adopting unconditional honesty in a workplace that deals with stocks, and adopting it in a workplace that deals with peoples creative endeavors.

We could probably all learn from Dalio's principles - in the workplace, we really shouldn't be saying things behind peoples backs that we wouldn't say to their face. We should be straightforward about bad ideas, and we shouldn't let loyalties get in the way of objectivity.

But there's always a place for tact, and I, for one, am very, very grateful for that.

You can listen to the full episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here. 

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