Aug 10, 2017

Interning at Bridgewater With One Hand in My Pocket

Tuck MBA Candidate Rene Bystron T'18By Rene Bystron T'18

You might still remember one of the 90s most iconic anthems, Alanis Morissette’s “Hand In My Pocket.” The song starts with a set of dualities such as free but focused or sad but laughing and finishes with a hopeful message: What it all comes down to / Is that everything's gonna be fine fine fine / 'cause I've got one hand in my pocket / And the other one is giving a high five. I’ve had Hand In My Pocket on repeat on my Spotify since I started my internship seven weeks ago. Let me tell you why.

In early June, I joined Bridgewater Associates, a Connecticut-headquartered hedge fund, well-known for its innovative investment strategies but also its culture of radical truth and radical transparency. The culture plays such a significant role at Bridgewater that an organizational psychologist Adam Grant devotes several chapters to it in his book Originals. When he polled executives and students about the strongest culture they had ever encountered in an organization, “the landslide winner was Bridgewater Associates,” he writes.

The idiosyncratic culture is rooted in the concept of “idea meritocracy,” in which meaningful work and meaningful relationships are pursued through radical truth and radical transparency. This “way of being” requires everyone at Bridgewater to be extremely open, air disagreements, ruthlessly test each other’s logic and explore mistakes and weaknesses in order to improve and innovate. And it is through this continuous process of pain and reflection that meaningful work and meaningful relationships are thought to be formed. To make the journey towards radical truth and radical transparency easier, Bridgewater employs an ecosystem of proprietary tools, which are, along with its investment algorithm, among the firm’s most valuable intellectual properties. These tools enable everyone at Bridgewater to capture each other’s strengths and weakness in real-time—and to facilitate reflection.

The journey towards radical truth and radical transparency has not been an easy one for me. From day zero, I have been forced to re-think some of my most fundamental values and beliefs. What are the limits of privacy? (In pursuit of radical transparency, the firm tapes most conversations and makes them accessible to all employees.) Are you open-minded enough to let go of your opinions if they are bad? How do you react when you find yourself at the bottom 25 percent of the firm? Do you try to prove everyone wrong or can you get above yourself? How about the top 1 percent? Do you get excited or do you maintain equanimity? There has not been a single day when I did not doubt myself. The pain has been immense—but so has the progress.

My experience at Bridgewater has been difficult, to the say the least. Talking to fellow Tuckies over the past couple of weeks, I realized that many of us are going through similarly challenging times, as interns at some of the world’s most competitive firms. Many of us are making big career switches, pivoting from government to private sector or from being entrepreneurs to working at established firms. The intensity of the experience (and the accompanied stress and anxiety) might be overwhelming. No matter how rigorous the first-year curriculum was, no courses could have completely prepared us for the “real world.”

My summer at Bridgewater has been full of dualities. There have been moments when I felt both lost and hopeful, brave and chicken shit. But with Alanis on repeat, I came to peace with the fact that I haven't got it all figured out just yet. I suggest you give Hand In My Pocket a listen. The song is about two hands. One hand is hiding in the pocket. Indifferent and disengaged, it fears the outside world. The other hand is open and ready to seize whatever life has to offer. It is “flicking a cigarette, giving a peace sign, playing the piano, and hailing a taxi cab.” I might join Bridgewater full time or I might hail a taxi cab to ride with someone else. But whatever the outcome, I am grateful for the opportunity Bridgewater has given me: an opportunity to fall and stand up stronger. Again. And again. And again. And so my friends, as our internships are nearing their ends, don’t worry if you haven’t got it all figured out just yet—no one has. Just keep in mind that whatever the outcome, everything’s gonna be fine—‘cause you’ve got one hand in your pocket and the other one is giving a high five.