Most of us are very good at telling others what we have achieved, which milestones we have cracked, which committees we sit on and how we keep going from win to win.
But we often struggle to explain how all of our individual actions fit into the broader goals and vision of the organisation that we work for.
This is normal as many of the institutional incentives are often geared in such a manner that individuals have to compete hard for visibility and recognition and hence individualistic approaches to success remain rooted in the work culture.
Yet, in order to be a successful individual in an organisation, we need to also have a deep understanding of the organisation’s goals and key indicators of progress, and how what we do progresses both individual aspirations and collective benefits.
Ray Dalio’s Principles gives us here again many insights, including collaboration, that can increase our individual success and happiness while also enabling organisational progress in a number of key areas.
Radical open-mindedness as a culture
When it comes to collaboration, we often think we have mastered expertise at a level that is not easily matched and so we know we are right.
But even if we have tremendous amount of expertise, each of us are still prey to two key barriers that impede the way we can and do make decisions: our ego and blindspots.
Egos drive our feelings of superiority and confidence in knowing that we are right.
Often, we assume straight away that we are right and that it is our opinion, based on years of expertise, that shouldn’t be questioned.
But as Ray explains, this often leads to suboptimal decision making because people rather assume that they are right rather than question their stand and try finding out what is actually true.
Blindspots are areas of not knowing, perspectives you might not have even thought about because of the way you already perceive a problem and its solution.
Working with others helps in combating these both and in Bridgewater Associates, these insights have been critical in developing a company culture that is based on idea meritocracy (which idea is the best and has most validity) and where collaboration and understanding others is encouraged.
In order to get away from ego-driven decision making and navigating blindspots, the company has embraced radical open-mindedness in trying to see which perspectives and ideas can drive both the people and the company forward.
Radical open-mindedness is in essence
“motivated by the genuine worry that you might not be seeing your choices optimally. It is the ability to effectively explore different points of view and different possibilities without letting your ego or your blindspots get in the way”(p. 187).
In this case individual’s success is closely aligned with how well he or she collaborates and engages in deeper conversations about the ideas at the table.
Different brains, different views
Each brain is wired differently based on the particular physiology of that brain.
The reasons people behave, think, feel and act differently is partly, but not always, due to these differences in how our neurons are structured and connected in our brain.
Understanding this fact is key in understanding collaboration and it really unlocks something profound also when thinking about our teams, ourselves, and even our organisational leadership.
Having this view in mind, we can better understand and appreciate why people have different strengths and different perspectives and why collaboration is often much more fruitful than working alone on our ideas.
Accepting that you are not strong in particular areas and recognising your weaknesses is important in developing a more productive level of self-awareness but it also signals you to seek other people who can complement you:
“Asking others who are strong in areas that you are weak to help you is a great skill that you should develop no matter what, as it will help you develop guardrails that will prevent you from doing what you shouldn’t be doing” (p. 161).
In fact, collaboration, when done effectively, frees you up to excel in areas where your key strengths are while also expanding your perspectives on a range of other areas that you would not normally have access to or thought of.
Having a better understanding of others’ perspectives and areas of expertise can also inspire you to learn new things and test for example new methods of analysis and question some of your ingrained assumptions.
We have now known for decades that our brains have high levels of plasticity and hence we can constantly learn and re-shape our knowledge and skills.
But keeping in mind the simple fact that we are often wired in different ways can enable a deeper appreciation for collaboration and also why we have sometimes difficulties in communicating also with each other.
Key takeaways for better career development and success
It’s easy to buy into the individualistic approach to career success as we are often judged by our own individual efforts when it comes to such processes as the performance review.
Yet, as Ray Dalio reminds us:
“A few good decision makers working effectively together can significantly outperform a good decision maker working alone- and even the best decision maker can significantly improve his or her decision making with the help of other excellent decision makers”(p. 198)
So, don’t be a jerk.
No one wants to work with people who are highly competitive and just think about their own career success and cut off others at every opportunity they get.
Be the person at your institute or organisation who everyone wants to work with.
Word gets around and so if you are busy building your own little empire but burning bridges and neglecting others, your path to success is a one-way lane to bad reputation amongst your peers.
This does not mean that you have to work with everyone all the time and have to say yes to each request that is passed on to you within your organisation.
Being successful means that you know your priorities and make choices amongst different options and opportunities based on your own vision and values, and seek those out who you know are sound in their area of expertise and have different perspectives.
In the end, organisational culture plays a massive role in how people behave:
“which of these factors (self-interest or collective interest) wins out in any organisation is a function of that organisation’s culture, which is a function of the people who shape it” (p. 216).
This means organisations have to take a hard look at the current structures and systems in place and critically evaluate whether they are driving individuals with the current incentive structures towards increased self-interest and protection, or whether they are able to foster interest and passion for collective outcomes and benefits.
But aligning your aspirations and goals more closely with those of others can enable you take faster leaps in your career and gain much needed fresh perspectives also on those ideas that you think should be progressed.
This applies as much to business and management as it does with scientific organisations and how we progress ideas around particular fields of thought.