Could “radical transparency” actually, uh, work in a company?

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Radical transparency is the core of what Ray Dalio does over at Bridgewater Associates. I guess we need to set up two principles to make this work.

First: Ray Dalio is incredibly successful in conventional terms. He’s one of the 100 richest people on the planet, Bridgewater has $160 billion under investment (insane), and he’s been called “the Steve Jobs of investing.”

Second: he also has a new book coming up, so he’s making some serious PR rounds. That would include Fast Company, the Tim Ferris podcast, a TED Talk of his own, etc. He’s out there promoting.

Third: a lot of men, especially workaholic white men, deeply aspire to this kind of wealth and influence.

So when someone from that ilk gives you the keys to the kingdom, you best grab those keys right out of his hand and start running.

But many don’t.

What gives?

First up: what is radical transparency?

Here’s Dalio from the Fast Company link above:

Suppose we’re working together, and a hundred of us were working together, why wouldn’t I let you see everything and why shouldn’t we be able to talk about it?

Basic idea: forget conventional hierarchy. Don’t withhold info. Cease making the assumption that every piece of intel is only proprietary to the top people. Open up information. Isn’t that kind of what Google did for the world, and they also become billionaires?

This seems logical, right?

To some, sure.

But consider: Ray Dalio is probably in the 0.0000000000000001% of successful people on the globe. The quote on his book? Oh, it’s just from Bill Gates.

But he claims this is it, right here. It’s the main key. Radical transparency. (He also speaks of failure often, as do I. Where are my billions?)

A really successful guy is saying “This thing here makes me successful, in large part.”

But yet people can’t seem to copy it for their own success, individually or organizationally.


Yes, why?

I got this one for you:

  1. Work is about control for many people who come to run sections or divisions. It’s not even really about quality of output anymore. Just control of ideas and processes and people’s time. Radical transparency totally undercuts the idea of hierarchical control, and that absolutely terrifies many people.
  2. Dalio is a finance guy, and he “plays the markets,” so it’s much sexier to think his success is the result of intelligence or some amazing system that beats everyone else (Bloomberg terminal?!?!) than to think he did something with people that helped him.
  3. We always want to jump to a product/service/process explanation for success, and assume anything with people or organizing people was probably a fluke of some sort.
  4. Most organizations wouldn’t even know where to begin doing anything with transparency, much less radical transparency.

Why is this so hard for organizations?

Think about it: you just spent 10 years climbing the chain. Some good days, some bad ones, many awful ones, a few excellent ones.

You were probably told 10,000+ times that a discussion was “above your pay grade” or “couldn’t involve you.”

It soaked into your soul.

So you finally get there. The apex. The executive washroom.

What do you want to do now?

I’ll tell you.

You want to tell other people “This can’t involve you, this is my level.”

That’s how work rolls for most people.

Again, it’s about control and perch. It’s not about quality and connection.

We say it’s about those things, and in a few cases it is.

Sad truth is that many who discuss “relationships” and “transparency” often would stab their first cousin for an extra nickel because “that’s the business of doing business.”

Am I overly negative?


Am I right?

In this case probably more often than not.

I mean, look at these numbers and tell me I’m wrong.

So should we try radical transparency where we work?

Absolutely. But it’s going to require a ton of change management. It’s gonna be terrifying.

Will you, thus, try it? Probably not.

We’ll go back to “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Meanwhile, Ray Dalio has a big house and everyone under the sun wants to interview him.

See the difference that a “fluffy” concept like radical transparency can make?

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