Go counterintuitive with our summer reading list

For an Aussie like me, good weather means beach time. As is our annual tradition, we’ve selected a short list of books you might want to pack in your beach bag. We’ve found a common theme of counterintuitive thinking. This list comes from a handful of folks in our Investment Division, with one special selection from our friends in the non-profit space.

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success
By Adam Grant
Penguin Books

There are three kinds of people in the world: Givers, Takers, and Matchers.

According to Wharton professor and organisational psychologist Adam Grant, the counterintuitively best way to get ahead in business is by being a giver. Unlike takers, who strive to extract as much as possible from others, or matchers, who aim to trade quid pro quo favours, givers help others without expecting anything in return. Grant’s thesis is that acting in service of others does not erode productivity - in fact, it is a powerful motivating force that spurs it on, and not only helps you succeed in your career, but also helps you impact and empower others along the way.

This is not to say that giving is purely altruistic. In fact, through rigorous data-driven research and a variety of case studies and personal histories featuring selfless CEOs, salespeople, financial advisors, consultants, entrepreneurs, lawyers, writers, and doctors, Grant demonstrates that the most successful givers are otherish. This means that they care about benefiting others - whether they be colleagues, clients, mentees, or other individuals they interact with - but they also have goals for advancing their own interests and values.

This book resonated here because we see the value of putting our clients’ needs and desired outcomes first. While givers have been shown to perform worse initially than takers and matchers, in the long run, it is successful givers who end up forging deep relationships and broad networks that they can tap into, lifting others up as they themselves rise to the top. We’ve seen that happen time and time again with our longstanding clients and business partners. We tend to agree with Grant, who provides a provocative, alternative approach to work, productivity, and success that can transform not only individuals, but also entire organisations.

Principles
By Ray Dalio
Simon & Schuster

This is one of those books that many in the industry know, and reference, but few seem to have actually read. Ray Dalio, the founder of one of the world’s largest hedge funds, Bridgewater Associates, may be known as much for this collection of principles as he is for his investment expertise.

The book comes in at a hefty 567 pages, much of it insightful, some of it perhaps a bit obvious - but all of it written in the counterintuitive and quirky voice of the man himself.

Dalio also covers the history of both Bridgewater and himself, as a kind of case study for the principles he shares. He describes the boom and bust of the firm - at one point being the only remaining employee. He places a huge value on what he calls radical transparency and shares examples of where he asked for feedback and got it. It wasn’t pretty. But rather than be crushed by the criticism, he learned from it and codified his learnings.

Those learnings - these principles - define the culture at Bridgewater, where that clear definition is meant to help determine if new employees fit in or not. They want to know quickly and harbour no ill will if things don’t work out - a six-month timeframe is mentioned. Those that stay must embrace the principles, including that style of radical transparency, which has the explicit goal of speaking frankly about everything to cut through niceties that could lead to sub-optimal outcomes.

One of the reasons this book resonates is that Dalio strongly encourages readers to develop their own principles and write them down. We agree. We invest according to a strong and regularly debated set of strategic investment beliefs. And we work with our institutional clients to develop their own investment beliefs to guide their decision-making on the way toward reaching long-term outcomes. This is challenging work, but we believe it is worth doing. Dalio would likely agree.

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
By Jonathan Haidt
Vintage

Don’t worry; we’re not taking a side in the political debate. While Jonathan Haidt, NYU professor and social psychologist, certainly delves into political differences, the main messages to take away from his book are how to find common ground, how to interact with others civilly, and how to really understand the core beliefs that may be causing disagreements in the first place. And while this book may help you civilly discuss religion or politics at your next family gathering, it also has some powerful lessons on understanding and listening to others that can be applied in a professional setting. We can imagine how the tools and approaches Haidt lays out could benefit a financial advisor who is trying to understand an investor client. They could help in finding common ground with a challenging board member or coworker as well.

In a nutshell, Haidt explains that each person has a set of core beliefs that they keep hidden. We each have an inner lawyer who argues on behalf of those beliefs, making most of our arguments with others lawyer to lawyer. But if we could put in the effort to get past the argument and really understand the underlying core belief, then true communication and true understanding could occur. Haidt believes in the power of reason, but the reasoning has to be interactive. It has to be other people’s reasoning engaging yours. And Haidt recognises what we all know: We’re good at challenging each other’s beliefs, but lousy at challenging our own.

A reader can use Haidt’s approach on how to gain a better understanding of the other side and how we might all benefit from being a little more open minded. He also talks about groups and organisations, stating that a key part of our evolutionary success depends on bee-like behaviour, which allows us, like honey bees, to work cohesively within groups, but also causes us to find conflict between groups. Understanding how the human mind works this way—and spending some time with Haidt’s other insights and approaches—make this book worth reading if you are looking for a deeper understanding of people and seek to improve your own communication skills with clients, colleagues or cousins.



Any opinion expressed is that of Russell Investments, is not a statement of fact, is subject to change and does not constitute investment advice.

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