Ray Dalio loves personality tests. The billionaire founder of Bridgewater, the world’s largest hedge fund, which doubles as a kind of workplace social experiment, is famously interested in questions of character and self-improvement. His employees use iPads to rate each other on various attributes in real time and are encouraged to confront one another publicly in the name of radical transparency. So it makes sense that he’s long sought insights into staffers’ psyches with a panoply of tests, including Myers-Briggs, Workplace Personality Inventory, Team Dimensions Profile, and Golden Personality Profiler.
Now he’s created what he hopes will be the one personality test to rule them all: PrinciplesYou, a free assessment that Dalio developed in collaboration with psychologists Adam Grant, Brian Little, and John Golden.
The online test is meant to be part of Dalio’s legacy—a continuation of his recent efforts, including his 2017 book Principles: Life and Work, to make the ideas he views as responsible for his success more widely available to the public.
“What I want to do is pass along things of value to me,” Dalio says. Whereas some view personality tests as a light-hearted distraction in the BuzzFeed “Which Disney Princess Are You” vein, Dalio sees them as tools to achieve greater self-knowledge and build better relationships.
“If you can know yourself, you can achieve not just in the work environment but in the personal environment,” he says. “You can know where you fit, the pieces you have, and the pieces you need help with.”
How Dalio designed the PrinciplesYou personality test
The PrinciplesYou personality assessment takes about 40 minutes to complete, which struck a sample group of test-takers (myself and a handful of colleagues) as quite long. That said, we had gone in cold—someone who knows it takes 40 minutes ahead of time might find it less tedious.
What distinguishes it from other personality tests, Dalio says, is its comprehensiveness. The qualities it measures are based in part on the Big Five test (the gold standard among scientists who study personality), which assesses people on five traits: extroversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, open-mindedness, and neuroticism. It also draws from psychological research including Grant’s work on “givers” and “takers,” and measures qualities that Dalio discusses in Principles, like humility and toughness.
All this is evaluated via statements like “I would probably make a good actor” or “I’m basically a rebel,” which users respond to on a scale of “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” In the end, an algorithm tallies up your results and tells you which three archetypes among twenty-eight possibilities correspond best with your personality. The site offers up detailed descriptions of each archetype, like “Problem Solver” and “Artisan,” along with their associated strengths and weaknesses (or, more diplomatically, “growth opportunities”), as well as analyses of how specific traits like your level of flexibility or extroversion can impact the way you think and relate to others.
There’s also a tool that allows you to compare your results to those of your friends or co-workers—a function that Dalio says a lot of personality tests lack. “If you’re one way and someone else is another way, what does that tell you about your relationship? We built it out so it actually can help diagnose how teams operate,” he says.
The paid version of PrinciplesYou, called PrinciplesUs, includes coaching and workshops, along with tools that show the personality compositions of teams. It’s meant to help managers identify a team’s complementary strengths and potential gaps. Employees also can rate each other on different qualities, so the assessment reflects how others see you as well as how you see yourself.
Dalio says he can see companies using the test in hiring; he himself finds it “much more reliable than interviews.”
“Too often people in interviews just judge personalities,” he says. “They don’t really know the person.”
So what kind of a person is Dalio? He says his three archetypes are the Shaper, Inventor, and Adventurer. The “Shaper” is a conceit he writes about in Principles, which he says describes “people who can go from visualizing something big to actualization, to actually building it out and making it successful.” He says that personality tests show that big-name business leaders like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Reed Hastings are all Shapers too. But lest you find that you don’t share a personality type with a world-famous founder, fret not. Dalio notes that “no personality is superior or inferior to the other.”
The questions our personality tests raised
Seven of my Quartz colleagues agreed to take the PrinciplesYou assessment for a test drive; later, we gathered to discuss. It turned out that taking the test had raised a lot of existential questions for us about the nature of the self, which is a fun and unexpected way to spend part of your Wednesday afternoon.
Our group talked about the various compunctions we’d felt as we worked our way through the assessment. I might choose “strongly agree” for a question asking whether I’m witty and light-hearted, but we all know people who overestimate how funny they are, much to the frustration of those who get stuck next to them at company dinners.
Another colleague said she kept thinking about her personality as relative: She might feel daring compared to people she’d grown up with, but less daring than foreign correspondents she’s met since moving to New York. Our group also agreed that context can impact how we’d answer a given question. If we’re going through an emotional rough patch (and who isn’t these days?) we might rate ourselves as less energetic and more easily stressed than we normally would.
Yet another co-worker wondered whether his assessment would be more accurate if his wife took it for him, prompting our group to ponder what constitutes our “real” personality: Is it how we think of ourselves, or how others experience us?
It turned out that, perhaps reflecting our own neurotic tendencies, we all felt a little bit judged as we navigated the test, as if we were imagining that Dalio himself was using it to decide whether to hire us. What if I’m not a striver? I fretted to myself as I hovered over a question about seizing new opportunities. Dalio won’t think I’m a winner!
At the same time, most of us ultimately agreed with our top archetypes, relating particularly to the list of suggestions about things we might need to work on. My top result was “Inventor,” describing someone who’s curious, creative, and cool with chaos—all true, I think—and who can have trouble following through on their big ideas (I hang my head in shame). We had several “Individualists,” who somewhat agreed with their descriptions but, true to type, didn’t want to be put in a box.
Our resident “Orchestrator,” an archetype that’s supposed to enjoy bringing people together to complete ambitious projects, excels at a job that involves doing just that. Another of my colleagues, a true maverick, managed to come up with what the test told him was a quite-rare result of having no strong archetype matches at all. (The test gave him his best matches nonetheless.)
Ray Dalio reassured me
When I talked with Dalio about how the experience of taking a personality test sent our group spiraling, he sought to assuage our concerns. On the question of whether people are well-suited to assess their own personalities, he suggested that what we think we are like determines many of the choices we make in life. “Generally speaking, what people are drawn to is also what they’re better at,” he says.
But he also said the test wasn’t intended to be prescriptive. “There’s nothing that means those results are definitely true; you have to agree that’s you,” he says. In his own experience with discussing personality tests at Bridgewater, he says, “I never hold [the result] to be true unless the person believes it’s true.” If an employee felt misjudged by an assessment, he says, he might do “an exercise exploring, if it is true, what would we look at for evidence?”
The other good thing about personality tests
Even results that people feel are inaccurate can still be good conversational jumping-off points. Personality tests provide us with an opportunity to talk to our friends and colleagues about who we think we are, and how our personalities mesh (or don’t). The qualifiers and exceptions we come up with in discussing our results may be just as valuable as the results themselves in helping us to connect with and understand one another.
Upon reflection, I think it was fun to find out that I was an Inventor—but even more fun to talk through how hard it is to take a personality test with my colleagues. There’s nothing like a shared identity crisis to bring co-workers together.