Creating an Idea Meritocracy [Key to Unlocking Meaningful Work]

Unleashing “idea meritocracy” within your organization can create a winning work environment for all

3 min read, March 2022

FOFO business leaders not listening

What is “Idea Meritocracy”

First, we need to share more on who Ray Dalio is in case you don’t know him; he is the Founder and Co-Chief Investment Officer of Bridgewater Associates, which is a premier asset management firm. He started Bridgewater out of his two-bedroom apartment in New York City in 1975 and under his leadership, the firm has grown into the fifth most important private company in the US according to Fortune Magazine.

This is a recap of Ray Dalio’s article entitled The Key to Bridgewater’s Success: A Real Idea Meritocracy (a brief essay taken from his book called Principles: Life & Work). You can download the full PDF below.

When Dalio was asked what has made Bridgewater a success, his topline answer is:

“Our success occurred because we created a real idea meritocracy in which the goal was to have meaningful work and meaningful relationships and the way we went after them was through radical truthfulness and radical transparency.”

Ray Dalio Founder Bridgewater Associates

The definition of idea meritocracy: An idea meritocracy, according to Dalio, is a decision-making system where the best ideas win out.

For anyone that read Dalio’s book Principles: Life & Work, it can fuel a lot of excitement around having an idea meritocracy, but rarely does it get executed in the same way that it was created within Bridgewater.

What Do You Need to Create Idea Meritocracy?

1. Everyone must put their honest thoughts on the table for everyone to see

2. All must partake in thoughtful disagreements where there are reasonable back-and-forths in which people evolve their thinking and come up with better decisions that they would individually

3. If disagreements remain, have agreed upon protocols that get people past them in idea-meritocratic ways

This is Dalio’s 3-tier “must-haves” if any organization wants to create idea meritocracy. Bridgewater supported these efforts by creating an environment where the people that worked in the organization sought out meaning in their work and meaning in the relationships within the organization. Dalio’s way of looking at “meaning” is that people are excited, they work collectively on the company’s common mission, and genuinely caring about each other’s well-being that creates a strong community. Two other very important aspects to this approach is to create an environment where people are open to having “radical truthfulness” and “radical transparency.”
  • Radical truthfulness: not filtering one’s thoughts and questions, especially about problems or weaknesses.
  • Radical transparency: giving mostly everyone the ability to see mostly everything. This reduces the negative office political and other “closed door” behaviors. Having things in the open creates more trust.

We have found that, over time, being this way created a virtuous cycle that deepened our relationships, improved our work, and made us more successful.

    Source: LinkedIn 
Bridgewater’s people found the process of bringing the above aspects into the organization quite uncomfortable but also exciting. It requires a lot of emotional processing because it requires a person to separate from their ego (not an easy process!).
“While operating this way might sound inefficient, it is actually extremely efficient. In fact, it is much less efficient to work in an organization in which most people don’t know what their colleagues are really thinking.”

Ray Dalio Founder Bridgewater Associates

There’s a lot of schmoozing, trying to look good in front of others, and other negative behavior that can make a work environment toxic real fast. Dalio’s thoughts were to dismantle this from the get-go so that the superficiality doesn’t win out. Idea meritocracy and the fundamentals listed above to create it builds a more open environment amongst peers and leadership so that more people care about each other, themselves, and the mission. Swae was built upon this construct of creating idea meritocracy (using technology) and helping people weigh different points of view to make decisions and move forward. Bridgewater’s approach is that they take believability-weighted votes (the merits of a person’s view are assessed in relation to their track record in the are being discussed). The entire goal for this framework is creating a workplace where, “…the best ideas win out, regardless of where they come from.”


Creating idea meritocracy in your organization starts with a commitment to choosing that you want to create a more open environment where people matter, their ideas matter, and you want people to have meaning for their work and in the community, you’re creating in the organization itself.

It also means that you must commit to honesty, being OK with disagreements and working through them, truthfulness, transparency, and creating framework where ideas can be assessed properly allowing your organization to make better decisions as a whole (rather than a few).

Would you rather be in an environment where the “best idea” is whatever the boss decides, or an environment where the best ideas win out, regardless of where they come from?

Download your free “The Key to Bridgewater’s Success: A Real Idea Meritocracy” PDF here

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