I have long been obsessed with obituaries. The ones in The Economist are my favourite. A few years ago they published a collection of their obituaries in book format. I was top of the queue to get it. My wife pokes fun at me and says that my fascination with the reporting of a life lived in the wake of death is the ‘west of Ireland’ in me. In my home town, Ballinasloe, a funeral is major news and almost a social event in that very Irish way. Calls home to my mother often begin with the phrase- “You’ll never guess who is dead?”
What fascinates me about obituaries is how, in a few hundred words, they sum up a person’s impact on the world. It puts two truths to the front of my mind:
- None of us are here for a long time.
- When you’re gone you’re gone.
If a public figure dies, their passing gets a significant amount of attention. The media coverage becomes a collage of tributes, personal stories, reminiscences and anecdotes. In some cases, a life of many decades, is condensed into mere vignettes. But something curious happens in this process. The collection of considered sentiments usually synthetise into a single line narrative. It is a wonderfully positive, if reductive, process that simplifies and communicates with crystal clarity the meaning of the life that person lived. But why is it so impactful? What is it based on?
What are the things that you remember most about someone when you endeavour to sum up their life; their principles – the rules by which they lived their life. So to the book. Principles are so central to Ray Dalio’s book they are in the title: “The Principles of Success.”
My late Dad passed away in 2016, after a long illness. It was a very sad and traumatic time. At his funeral my brother and I delivered his eulogy. It a huge honour to be asked to speak at someone’s funeral. It is also a significant responsibility. When I started to distil the life my father lived in words I immediately asked myself: “What were his principles?”
A principle is a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.
When I examined my Dad’s life – his principles shone through. He believed in the power of hard work and honest endeavour. Friendship had a deep meaning for him. He was also capable of great generosity and would literally drop everything in an instant and traverse the country to help someone. My Dad wasn’t perfect, who is? But they were the principles by which he lived his life. As I wrote those words through tear-filled eyes I learned something new about him. As a business person, he had little or no interest in money. Work, and working hard, were his gods. I realised that he was much more a socialist than he ever was a capitalist. That never occurred to me with clarity while he was alive. It only presented itself when I looked at the principles by which he lived his life.
Ray Dalio is a very successful man. He is a self-made billionaire, an investment manager. He now dedicates his time to philanthropy, writing and education. His first principles book was written in 2011, which outlined his philosophy on investment and corporate management based on his career.
This latest book is an illustrated guide – you will literally finish it in 20 minutes. The words are sparse and impactful and are coupled with the engaging illustration and design by Mark De Lima, Mio Yokota, and Christina Peabody. The central element of the book is the five step process. As outlined here:
As someone who has spent the last decade building software to improve the lives of PR people – It’s all true. And it describes the path to success in such a simple and accurate way.
When I finished reading the book – I gave it to my 10 year old daughter Gwen and asked her for her review. Here’s what she thought:
“One of the things that I liked about this book is that the pictures describe the book, but not in the way you would think. I also like this book because it isn’t afraid to tell you that you have to face reality. One of my favourite parts was the five steps to success – Goals, Problems, Diagnosis, Design, Do it. It also tells you how, if you want a reward, you’re going to have to take a risk, and try to see your life through someone else’s eyes and have them see through yours. I would recommend this book to people of all ages.”
Gwen put it better than I can. Equally impactful on a 46 year old man and a ten year old girl. Check it out.
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