Dalio: “Remember that the WHO is more important than the WHAT.”
“The secret to my success is that we’ve gone to exceptional lengths to hire the best people in the world.”
— Steve Jobs
One of the most important lessons from Ray Dalio’s book, Principles, is that the WHO is more important than the WHAT. And that anyone who runs a successful organization will tell you the same. Just ask Ray. Or, Warren Buffett. Or, Jack Welch. Pick the right people over what they do any day.
“A reputation is something that takes 30 years to build and only 5 minutes to destroy.” — Warren Buffett
Ray discusses how important Bridgewater’s reputation is to their hiring goals. He (and Buffett) try to keep their firms’ reputations pristine so as to attract the best talent. They are both ruthless on those who tarnish their organizations’ reputations. As Buffett says, “A reputation is something that takes 30 years to build and only 5 minutes to destroy.” You must protect it with all you’ve got.
It isn’t just reputation that concerns these gentlemen. Making the right hiring decisions concerns them, too. In Dalio’s case, he doesn’t necessarily want the Ivy League grad. He wants the person who thinks the way Ray wants him to think: openminded yet assertive; the ability to admit fault and to know that it is OK to be wrong; the ability to offer opinions when the person is believable on the topic; the ability to ask, “Is it true?” and then discuss what to do about it. While it is difficult to find this particular Who, Dalio and his lieutenants have tests and trials to filter down candidates and find them.
Hiring for Buffett personally comes through acquisition. He repeatedly states Berkshire does not provide management, so executives have to come from the companies he buys and must stay put to run them. Buffett’s historical managerial process is to leave the companies he buys alone to keep on doing what they’re doing. After all, they’re the pros at what they do — why bother tinkering with them? This executive / leadership arrangement works well for both parties. The Who is vitally important to Berkshire’s success.
Top firms don’t want just anybody.
It isn’t just Bridgewater and Berkshire where the Who is imperative. Look at Tech. Apple is notoriously difficult to get into. Most software developers couldn’t get into Google headquarters with a crowbar. Amazon also has strict hiring practices. These top firms don’t want just anybody. As Jobs mentions above, their secret is hiring top talent and the practices they use to get it and retain it. They seek the highest quality talent.
In his biography, Jobs discusses how he always sought out ‘A’ players. He says that the ‘A’ players would produce the best work. He also discovered that ‘A’ players only wanted to play with other ‘A’ players. They wanted nothing to do with the ‘B’ team. Jobs considered anyone playing at ‘B’ level or below a “bozo” who had to go. In his mercurial, Jobsian fashion, the ‘B’ team would not play at Apple for long. Really smart, dedicated people only want to work with other really smart, dedicated people.
Google’s hiring is a bit more Bridgewater than Apple. They already assume you’re smart. You have to be the right type of smart. If you’re a lone star, you won’t make it in Google’s culture as it is all about team. Team supersedes the individual at Google. If you cannot get along with others for the greater good of the team — and there are many smart people who cannot — you won’t play at Google for long.
Note that at these firms, such as Bridgewater and Google and Apple, smarts aren’t enough. They may not even get you in the door. Being smart is assumed. This upsets and perplexes a lot of smart people because they think just because you are smart and went to the “right school,” every door of opportunity ought to swing open for you. Sometimes even the “right school” or privileged lineage are not enough.
If you contemplate the Who long enough, you’ll find that the What nearly becomes incidental. Assuming tools and resources, the right Who can take care of almost any What. The secret sauce is all in who you work with in accomplishing your what.
Here’s the other vitally important part of the Who: they create and shape your culture. Yes, it is the job of leadership to create and shape and defend the organizational culture, but everyone on the payroll also shapes the culture whether they realize it or not. A bad hire negatively shapes the culture. An exceptional hire positively shapes the culture. An employee gone rouge definitely exhibits poor effects. An employee who cares so much about team, process, and culture gets promoted to manager and becomes a great one in the new role.
Seek meaningful work and meaningful relationships.
Ed Catmull, one of Pixar’s co-founders, talks about the importance of their company’s culture. One of his main concerns shared by his fellow Pixarians from the Disney acquisition from over 10 years ago was would they maintain the wonderful culture they had created and shaped throughout the years? They created a family-like culture at Pixar, one where everyone worked very hard, played hard, shared common goals, and cared tremendously for one another. Ray Dalio calls this culture “meaningful work and meaningful relationships.” Pixar had this and some would say continues to have this through Ed Catmull’s and John Lassetter’s leadership despite its acquisition by an entertainment behemoth. When you have something wonderful you’ve created, whether it be a film, a TV show, or a creative, caring culture, it is your obligation to defend it.