What Raps Beefs and Bridgewater Associates Can Teach on Criticism

Accepting criticism is hard. It affects you physically, emotionally and sends your mind into a tailspin. It does not matter whether it is done by email, in person or on the phone, being criticised sucks. It makes us defensive- either by outright telling the person they are wrong, or your mind just filters the information and sends it straight to the trash box. You just remember the highlights so you can recount the ridiculousness to your friends.

The internet is ablaze with the hip hop rivalry between Drake and Pusha T, where each rapper has called out the other over personal and professional events in their lives. Rap rivalries, or "beefs" are used a sparring grounds, where the top lyricist with the "hardest bars" is emerges as the victor. In this beef Pusha T has criticised Drakes parenting participation, and we are now waiting for Drake to reveal his son to the world. This allows the rapper that takes an L ("loss") to go back and improve their style. This time, it looks like Pusha T has won and we will see if Drake learned anything when his album comes out later this month.

This made me wonder, how can criticism make us better? Frankly without criticism, we cannot improve, all people need to receive feedback to find out what is working and what needs to be stepped up. 

Adam Grant is an organisational psychologist and a professor at the Wharton School of University of Pennsylvania, which is one of the top business schools in the world. He recently started a podcast called Work Life with Adam Grant, where he explores ways to work suck less. I recently listened to his talk on "How To Love Criticism."

Adam spoke to Ray Dalio,a billionaire and the founder of Bridgewater Associates which is the most successful hedge fund in the world with $160 billion assets under management. In 1982 Ray made a horrible mistake that saw him losing all his staff and borrowing $4000 from his father to make ends meet for his family. He said this was because he had become too arrogant and when he was rebuilding his company he decided that brutal honesty would be its bedrock.  At Bridgewater, they practice "Radical Transparency" where, within their framework, anyone can openly criticise another colleague- including Ray himself.  I think Radical Transparency sounds like Constructive Criticism on steroids. 

According to Ray, one the formulas for life is Pain + Reflection = Progress.  He says "mistakes are like puzzles" and the reward for solving the puzzle is a gem of knowledge. Dalio has compiled each of the gems into his book Principles, based on his reflections after the mistakes he has made. If a billionaire who runs the most successful hedge fund in the world can find value in mistakes, there is no reason that we cannot do the same in our organisations. 

A Support Network Vs A Challenge Network

In my previous article about trusting people you don't like, I spoke briefly about how workplace cultures promote cliques. Everyone wants to be in the squad and you get there by being the same- not by being different. When your boss is mean to you at work, you call your BFF, mom or work bestie who will symphathise with you and agree that "they are just out to get you."

Adam says that "A challenge network are the people you trust to push you to get better!" They who will keep it 100 with you and tell you what you need to hear- not what you want to hear. A challenge network will only be as effective to the extent that you are willing to listen. Ray Dalio says " If your objective is to be as good as you can possibly be, then you are going to want criticism. You have care about results than you do your image."  

The Dos and Dont's of Radical  Transparency

Adam spoke to Kim Scott, an Executive Coach in Silicon Valley and she said the following about Radical Transparency:

Do care personally about the person receiving the criticism and also challenge them directly. 

Don't give the "Feedback Sandwich"- which is starts off with praise or positive feedback, then moves to criticism or negative feedback and ends with more praise on a positive note. Its as bad an idea as a week old tuna sarmie.

Do make it clear that your desire is to help the person by giving the criticism. 

Do it like Bridgewater, where the video or audio of almost every meeting is recorded. This eliminates rumours and the "he said/ she said" that is necessary to fan the flames of office politics. I remember that when I was working at a law firm, the associates would use their cellphones to record meetings with HR just in case they needed to prove constructive dismissal! 

Rap beefs, done right, can elevate a career like 50 Cent was able to move from a rapper to being a suave business man by applying the 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene. Drake or Pusha T can definitely learn a few things from Ray Dalio and should consider reading his book Principles where he complies his lessons on life and work. 

Given under the right circumstances, we can look at criticism as objective data that is telling us what we are like- whether it is good or bad. Adam says when someone gives you feedback, they have already evaluated you and now they judge whether you are open or defensive. He adds that the best way to prove yourself is to improve yourself!


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