how totalism works
alexandra stein 2017
goodbye my love
political extremism is supported by an illusion of understanding
philip m. fernbach et al 2013
perceived conflict and leader dominance: individual and contextual factors behind preferences for dominant leaders
lasse laustsen, michael bang petersen 2017
on tyranny: twenty lessons from the twentieth century
timothy snyder 2017
ideas rise from chaos: information structure and creativity
yeun joon kim, chen-bo zhong 2017
originals: how non–conformists move the world
adam grant 2016
“Instead of assuming that others share our principles, or trying to convince them to adopt ours, we ought to present our values as a means of pursuing theirs. It’s hard to change other people’s ideals. It’s much easier to link our agendas to familiar values that people already hold.”
at bridgewater, “In the language of futurist Paul Saffo, the norm is to have “strong opinions, weakly held.”
By devoting more than an hour to the debate on that matter, employees reached consensus that they needed to push one another to share original ideas. That transparency would shield them against groupthink, enabling them to avoid countless bad decisions over time. By building a culture in which people are constantly encouraging one another to disagree, Dalio has created a powerful way to combat conformity. Yet the kind of disagreement he seeks is the opposite of what most leaders invite.
Hofmann found that a culture that focuses too heavily on solutions becomes a culture of advocacy, dampening inquiry. If you’re always expected to have an answer ready, you’ll arrive at meetings with your diagnosis complete, missing out on the chance to learn from a broad range of perspectives.
Ray Dalio doesn’t want employees to bring him solutions; he expects them to bring him problems. One of his first inventions was the issue log, an open-access database for employees to flag any problem they identify and to rate its severity. Getting problems noted is half the battle against groupthink; the other is listening to the right opinions about how to solve them. The Bridgewater procedure for the latter is to gather a group of credible people to diagnose the problems, share their reasoning, and explore the causes and possible solutions.
Although everyone’s opinions are welcome, they’re not all valued equally. Bridgewater is not a democracy. Voting privileges the majority, when the minority might have a better opinion. “Democratic decision making—one person, one vote—is dumb,” Dalio explains, “because not everybody has the same believability.”*
At Bridgewater, every employee has a believability score on a range of dimensions. In sports, statistics for every player’s performance history are public. In baseball, before you sign a player, you can look up his batting average, home runs, and steals; assess his strengths and weaknesses; and adjust accordingly. Dalio wanted Bridgewater to work the same way, so he created baseball cards that display statistics on every employee’s performance, which can be accessed by anyone at the company. If you’re about to interact with a few Bridgewater colleagues for the first time, you can see their track records on seventy-seven different dimensions of values, skills, and abilities in the areas of higher-level thinking, practical thinking, maintaining high standards, determination, open-mindedness yet assertiveness, and organization and reliability.
During regular review cycles, employees rate one another on different qualities like integrity, courage, living in truth, taking the bull by its horns, not tolerating problems, being willing to touch a nerve, fighting to get in sync, and holding people accountable. Between cycles, employees can give real-time, open feedback to anyone in the company. At any time, employees can submit dots, or observations—they assess peers, leaders, or subordinates on the metrics and give short explanations of what they’ve observed. The baseball cards create a “pointillist picture” of staff members, aggregating across review cycles and dots, and incorporate various assessments that employees take. The cards’ display changes over time, revealing who’s best suited to play each position, and flagging areas to “rely on” and “watch out for” with green and red lights.
When you express an opinion, it’s weighted by whether you’ve established yourself as believable on that dimension. Your believability is a probability of being right in the present, and is based on your judgment, reasoning, and behavior in the past. In presenting your views, you’re expected to consider your own believability by telling your audience how confident you are. If you have doubts, and you’re not known as believable in the domain, you shouldn’t have an opinion in the first place; you’re supposed to ask questions so you can learn. If you’re expressing a fierce conviction, you should be forthright about it—but know that your colleagues will probe the quality of your reasoning. Even then, you’re supposed to be assertive and open-minded at the same time. As management scholar Karl Weick advises, “Argue like you’re right and listen like you’re wrong.”-
What happens, though, when believable people don’t agree? In the summer of 2014, Bridgewater conducted an anonymous survey to find out about dissent that hadn’t been voiced. When co-CEO Greg Jensen led an all-hands meeting to discuss the results, an employee, “Ashley,” commented that some people were misinterpreting Bridgewater’s principles. Greg asked if she was correcting them when that occurred, and Ashley mentioned that she had recently called someone out for a misinterpretation.
By speaking up, Ashley was exemplifying one of Bridgewater’s principles. But rather than responding to the substance of her comment, Greg called her out for violating another Bridgewater principle, which emphasizes the importance of understanding the difference between the forest and the trees, and navigating between the two. He wanted a synthesis of how she handled such situations in general, not her account of a specific case.
A senior manager, Trina Soske, felt that Greg made a bad leadership decision. Although he was attempting to adhere to one Bridgewater principle, Trina was concerned that Ashley—and others—might be discouraged from speaking up in the future. In most organizations, since Greg had higher status than her, a manager in Trina’s position would remain silent and go home thinking he was a jerk. But Trina wrote honest feedback for the whole company to read. She praised Ashley for having the courage and integrity to speak up, and cautioned Greg that his response “signaled the exact opposite of what you, as a CEO, should model.”
In a typical organization, as the senior leader Greg’s opinion would prevail over Trina’s, and her career might be in jeopardy for criticizing him. But at Bridgewater, Trina wasn’t punished, and the resolution wasn’t based on authority, seniority, majority, or who spoke the most loudly or forcefully. It started with a debate via email: Greg disagreed with Trina’s views, as he felt he was being open and direct; after all, principle three stated that no one has the right to hold a critical opinion without speaking up. But Trina had heard two different people criticize Greg’s behavior in informal conversations. “The dampening impact is going to be more about what you don’t see and don’t hear,” she wrote to him. She worried that Greg’s behavior would instigate groupthink, causing people to stay silent rather than to challenge leaders. Greg stood his ground: By allowing people to talk behind his back, Trina was failing to hold people accountable for confronting him with their critical opinions. She was allowing them to violate one of Bridgewater’s principles by acting like “slimy weasels.”
It’s extremely rare to see a senior leader open to this kind of thoughtful disagreement, but even more unusual was what Greg did next. “I doubt we’ll be able to resolve this ourselves,” he wrote to Trina, copying the entire management committee—a group of people who had established their believability as leaders. “It’s like agreeing on a judge or a mediator,” Dalio explains. By escalating the disagreement to them, Greg was allowing the idea meritocracy to sort out who was right.
Instead of leaving it to the management committee to resolve, though, Dalio asked Greg and Trina to collaborate on turning their conflict into a case to share with all of Bridgewater. Along with making their debate transtransparent, it forced them to inquire about each other’s perspectives instead of just advocating for their own viewpoints. When the case was finished, to continue the inquiry process Greg and Trina each generated questions to ask the entire company.
Several months after the issue first occurred, it was still being discussed, and the analytics team was preparing to share the data on employees’ reactions. But “resolving the issue itself is in some ways less important than understanding the path to resolving such things in the future, and agreeing on that,” Zack Wieder explains. “No one (including our CEO) has any monopoly on the truth.”
It’s not just Dalio’s openness that makes people comfortable challenging senior leaders. It’s the fact that early in the training, employees are encouraged to question the principles. Rather than waiting for employees to become experienced, Bridgewater reveals that we can start encouraging originality on day one. In most organizations, the socialization period is passive: We’re busy learning the ropes and familiarizing ourselves with the culture. By the time we’re up to speed, we’re already swamped with work and beginning to see the world in the company way. The early period is the perfect time for employees to pay attention to opportunities to improve the culture.
A principle is just some type of event happening over and over again, and how to deal with that event. Life consists of billions of these events, and if you can go from those billions to 250, you can make the connection, ‘Ah, this is one of those ’
he explained that he favored the debate format between believable people, because it was the fastest way to reach the right answer and it enabled them to learn from each other’s reasoning. He had been testing out different cultural practices at Bridgewater for years, and although they’re not controlled experiments, he felt he’d seen enough to have a good sense of what works. He believes that thoughtful disagreement between experts creates an efficient marketplace of ideas, where the best ones emerge over time.
this is my feeling in a nutshell
driven and imaginative, but I was intrigued by three other qualities on Dalio’s list. “Shapers” are independent thinkers: curious, non-conforming, and rebellious. They practice brutal, nonhierarchical honesty. And they act in the face of risk, because their fear of not succeeding exceeds their fear of failing.
Dalio himself fits this description, and the hurdle facing him now is to find another shaper to fill his shoes. If he doesn’t, Bridgewater may vanish like Polaroid’s instant pictures. But Dalio knows that preventing groupthink is about more than the vision of a single leader. The greatest shapers don’t stop at introducing originality into the world. They create cultures that unleash originality in others.
an illustration of why we have and must use diverse capabilities at different times
When we’re not yet committed to a particular action, thinking like a defensive pessimist can be hazardous. Since we don’t have our hearts set on charging ahead, envisioning a dismal failure will only activate anxiety, triggering the stop system and slamming our brakes. By looking on the bright side, we’ll activate enthusiasm and turn on the go system.
But once we’ve settled on a course of action, when anxieties creep in, it’s better to think like a defensive pessimist and confront them directly. In this case instead of attempting to turn worries and doubts into positive emotions, we can shift the go system into higher gear by embracing our fear. Since we’ve set our minds to press forward, envisioning the worst-case scenario enables us to harness anxiety as a source of motivation to prepare and succeed. Neuroscience research suggests that when we’re anxious, the unknown is more terrifying than the negative. As Julie Norem describes it, once people have imagined the worst, “they feel more in control. In some sense, they’ve peaked in anxiety before their actual performance. By the time they get to the event itself they’ve taken care of almost everything.”
fighting pluralistic ignorance
When Popovic trained the Egyptian activists, he shared a story from 1983 of how Chilean miners had mounted a protest against the country’s dictator, Pinochet. Instead of taking the risk of going on strike, they issued a nationwide call for citizens to demonstrate their resistance by turning their lights on and off. People weren’t afraid to do that, and soon they saw that their neighbors weren’t, either. The miners also invited people to start driving slowly. Taxi drivers slowed down; so did bus drivers. Soon, pedestrians were walking in slow motion down the streets and driving their cars and trucks at a glacial pace. In his inspiring book Blueprint for Revolution, Popovic explains that prior to these activities:
People were afraid to talk openly about despising Pinochet, so if you hated the dictator, you might have imagined that you were the only one. Tactics like these, Chileans used to say, made people realize that “we are the many and they are the few.” And the beauty was that there was no risk involved: Not even in North Korea was it illegal for cars to drive slowly
Popovic sees a role for amusement wherever fear runs rampant. Instead of trying to decelerate the stop system, he uses laughter to rev up the go system. When you have no power, it’s a powerful way to convert strong negative emotions into positive ones.
If you want people to modify their behavior, is it better to highlight the benefits of changing or the costs of not changing? According to Peter Salovey, one of the originators of the concept of emotional intelligence and now the president of Yale, it depends on whether they perceive the new behavior as safe or risky. If they think the behavior is safe, we should emphasize all the good things that will happen if they do it—they’ll want to act immediately to obtain those certain gains. But when people believe a behavior is risky, that approach doesn’t work. They’re already comfortable with the status quo, so the benefits of change aren’t attractive, and the stop system kicks in. Instead, we need to destabilize the status quo and accentuate the bad things that will happen if they don’t change. Taking a risk is more appealing when they’re faced with a guaranteed loss if they don’t. The prospect of a certain loss brings the go system online.
this is the beauty of the plague inc “destroy” model
This “kill the company” exercise is powerful because it reframes a gain-framed activity in terms of losses. When deliberating about innovation opportunities, the leaders weren’t inclined to take risks. When they considered how their competitors could put them out of business, they realized that it was a risk not to innovate. The urgency of innovation was apparent.
To counter apathy, most change agents focus on presenting an inspiring vision of the future. This is an important message to convey, but it’s not the type of communication that should come first. If you want people to take risks, you need first to show what’s wrong with the present. To drive people out of their comfort zones, you have to cultivate dissatisfaction, frustration, or anger at the current state of affairs, making it a guaranteed loss. “The greatest communicators of all time,” says communication expert Nancy Duarte—who has spent her career studying the shape of superb presentations—start by establishing “what is: here’s the status quo.” Then, they “compare that to what could be,” making “that gap as big as possible.”
recollections of childhood bullying and multiple forms of victimization: correlates with psychological functioning among college students
dorothy l. espelage, jun sung hong, sarah mebane 2016
altruistic punishment does not increase with the severity of norm violations in the field
loukas balafoutas, nikos nikiforakis, bettina rockenbach 2016
i’ll show you
don’t touch me
once, a long time ago, they too loved, but they lost it.
is it our response to that inevitable loss that determines our individual fates?
all people blind to (truly unaware of) our own mistakes — otherwise why would we still be making them? but essential difference is our current awareness of this something–of–which–we–cannot–be–aware, and what we do about it.
we might argue that we know what needs to be done, or that circumstances are beyond our control, but the question simply becomes: why do we not act to change our lives for the better?