Why Fear Is Running Your Company (And Your Life)

by Derek Loosvelt | April 13, 2011

Bridgewater Associates -- the hedge fund known for its monstrous profits, CEO-scribed "management principles" and allegedly cultish culture -- has now posted several "culture videos" on its website, giving you an even closer look at the inner workings of the firm.

The videos are short interviews with current Bridgewater employees (including CEO Ray Dalio) about the firm's culture, which, among other things, has been called "brutal" and "demoralizing." Of course, it's likely these insiders have been handpicked by Bridgewater management, and if any dissenting opinions were expressed during the taped interviews, there's no doubt they've been edited out. Still, the videos are yet further pieces of evidence pointing to the possibility that a harsh, brutally honest, radically transparent culture could be the most desirable and efficient and thus most profitable one. And, at the very least, they underline Bridgewater's (Dalio's) desire to remove fear from the company culture. After all, fear is what's running most of the country's companies (as well as its citizens' lives). And here are three reasons why:

1. Employees Fear Not Being Liked.
And so they avoid confrontation at all costs, stifling 75 to 95 percent of their opinions as well as impulses to say something that might otherwise cut through much of the B.S. that is most definitely going at their company and thus making it not run as efficiently as it could. This, of course, holds true outside of corporations, as we stifle speaking our minds due to the fear that what we say might cause us to be less liked. And this occurs on a daily if not hourly basis (I can attest to this myself, and man is this a tough fear to shed).

2. Employees Fear Their Ideas Are Stupid.
And so they do not speak their mind in meetings and during the course of their jobs, afraid that they might be "wrong." Look, inside or outside of a corporation, one of the biggest fears is the fear of being wrong (perhaps just a notch below the fear of being not liked). It's also the biggest obstacle to success. For example, you can not know how to shoot a basket until you've tried and missed thousands of times*. That is, failure leads to success. So start failing right now! (Samuel Beckett's famous quote about this subject seems apt here as well: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.")

3. Employees Fear Losing Their Jobs.
And so they avoid rocking the boat by exposing their fellow employees' mistakes and ineffectiveness, or by exposing their managers' mistakes and ineffectiveness. How many times have you chomped down on your lip because you thought speaking the truth about a peer or boss could cost you your job or, at the very least, result in you losing esteem in management's eyes? That's what I thought. As a result, your company is operating with tons of inefficiencies that can take years or even decades to be exposed.

*"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." - NBA legend Michael Jordan, as quoted on the Khosla Ventures homepage

(Bridgewater Associates: Culture Videos)

(Related: Bridgewater Associates Is Not A Cult, It's the Future)

Filed Under: Finance


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