Ray Dalio’s Triangulation Method: What A Billionaire Investor Can Teach You About Choosing Continuing Education (+ Other Things Too)
By John Berardi, PhDEducation and Professional Development
When you’re looking to level up your health and fitness knowledge it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. With so many courses, seminars, and options how does one choose? In this article I share a proven method, from billionaire investor Ray Dalio, for surfacing your best options and deciding among them.
Introducing The Triangulation Method
In previous articles I’ve written about how to plot out a T-shaped learning curriculum and how to evaluate the pros and cons of different educational modalities. Hopefully, if you read those articles, you now know which health and fitness domains you want (and need) to receive more training in as well as which learning formats might be best for you.
Now let’s talk about how to evaluate, and decide on, the specific resources, people, and companies available when trying to choose among the many continuing education options available to you.
Whether you’re looking to level up your nutrition knowledge by doing a nutrition certification, or to improve your knowledge of anatomy by taking a fascial dissection course, it’s hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.
To help you do so, I highly recommend a particular method popularized by Ray Dalio and taught to me by my long-time friend and Precision Nutrition co-founder, Phil Caravaggio. It’s called Triangulation.
Let me start with a little bit about Phil.
When Phil gets into something, he really gets into it. And recently he’s gone deep into coffee—to the point where he decided to set up a world-class coffee bar in Precision Nutrition’s Toronto headquarters.
Of course, he could have done some Googling, talked to a few local experts, and consulted a few coffee equipment manufacturers to figure out how to set up the coffee bar.
But that’s not how Phil does anything. When something matters to him—whether it’s hiring the best coffee machine or hiring the best CEO—he uses a particular, highly effective formula.
- Find at least three believable* people with demonstrated competence** who are passionate about the subject matter.
- Prepare thoughtful, insightful, deeply curious questions to ask them. Creating these questions might take some research and “homework” beforehand—for instance, he might review a particular person’s career path, read materials they wrote, and so forth.
- Use these questions to interview them in person (preferably) or on a video conference; listen closely and absorb everything they teach, taking extensive notes.
- Pay particular attention to areas where the experts don’t agree. (This is important). Then follow up with each to figure out why they disagree.
- Only then, taking everything into account, make your decision.
*Believable people are people who have repeatedly and successfully accomplished the thing in question, who have a strong track record with at least three successes, and have great explanations of their approach.
**Demonstrated competence means that you can demonstrate your “authority” or “expertise” with consistently high-level performance.
In the case of his coffee bar, Phil called three people (including a world-champion barista, a highly regarded coffee grower, and a thought leader on coffee hardware / machinery) and asked them pointed questions on everything from beans to machines to brewing process.
Through the interviews it turns out they agreed on a lot of things. However, two of them strongly disagreed on which machine (and process) Phil should use in his coffee bar. This was awesome because understanding where and why experts disagree can provide the best learning.
When Phil brought up this disagreement, Expert 1 mentioned that, while he respects his colleague, Expert 2 is really fixated on using robotics to achieve coffee-making consistency. As a result, his priority is making a reliable, reproducible cup of coffee every time, regardless of the variable conditions that could influence coffee making (altitude, ambient temperature, water quality, and so on). His recommendation was biased by a particular set of interests he has.
When Phil spoke with Expert 2, he mentioned that, while he also respects his colleague, Expert 1 is interested in craftsmanship and the human factors involved in coffee-making. He doesn’t mind a little variability as long as every cup is excellent. So his recommendation was biased by his own (very different) interests.
For Phil, this was especially enlightening because it became clear that this disagreement wasn’t about which approach was “right” or “wrong,” “better” or “worse.” Rather, it was about personal style and preference. Since each approach had merit, it was up to Phil to decide which trade-offs he was willing to accept at his coffee bar, based on his own goals.
Using Triangulation In Your Decision-Making
This is what triangulation gets you: The ability to hear from world-class experts, to look for areas of agreement, and to learn from their areas of disagreement. And, as mentioned, I highly recommend using this process, especially as you try to evaluate which people and companies to learn from while building your educational curriculum.
Find a few believable people. Ask them the best learning opportunities in each domain. Take note when they agree. And probe deeper when they disagree.
Here’s a great example that’s come up in my work. People often ask me whether they should do one of two particular nutrition certifications: the Precision Nutrition (PN) Certification or the International Society of Sport Nutrition (ISSN) Certification. Of course, they expect me to recommend the one I co-authored, the PN program. They’re often surprised by my answer.
When asked, I tell them that both programs are valuable and well-respected and that any health and fitness professional who’s deeply interested in nutrition will eventually do both. So don’t ask “Which is better?” but, rather, “Which should I do first?”
The answer: the one that addresses your current limiting factors.
The PN Certification is a nutrition coaching certification. While the first half of the program focuses on the science of nutrition, the second focuses on coaching and change psychology.
The ISSN Certification, on the other hand, focuses on the science of sports nutrition and supplementation, in theory and in practice.
So, if you need advanced sports nutrition and supplement protocols for highly disciplined, nutritionally compliant athletes more or more urgently, you might tackle the ISSN program now and the PN program later.
On the other hand, if you need to help clients change their behaviors, address limiting factors, build habit systems, grapple with the natural ambivalence of growth, and improve their nutritional quality within the context of their everyday lives, you might tackle the PN program first.
But don’t take my word for it. In the spirit of triangulation, ask a few other believable people to help you come up with a few options.
Triangulation + Crowdsourcing + Reviews
Once you’ve narrowed your selection, based on the experts you’ve spoken with, here are two additional steps to building confidence in your decision.
Ask friends, colleagues, or social media connections for their opinions. You could even post surveys in your Facebook groups. See what others think the best option is for you, making it clear exactly what your goals are and why you’re considering the programs you’re considering.
Just be sure to do this after triangulation. It’s better to ask people to help you choose between two or three options vs. asking for open-ended recommendations.
If you already know the programs you’re trying to choose between, search Google for program reviews by typing in the name of the program and “reviews” after it, such as “Precision Nutrition Certification reviews,” or “ISSN Certification reviews.”
Keep in mind that you don’t exactly know the believability of the online reviewers or whether their goals align with yours. To this end, weight your original experts highest, using crowdsourcing and reviews to add to your decision-making process but not as your only criteria.
What To Do Now
If you haven’t done so already:
Figure out what domains you want to dive deeper into.
Decide what subject areas you want to learn more about and what you want to master. Using a T-shaped model can help. Here’s more on that.
Decide on what learning format best meets your needs.
What criteria matters most to you in terms of ease, affordability, relevancy, skill-building, credentials or overall career value? What fits best within the context of your current life? Here’s more on that.
Use the “triangulation” method to hear from world-class experts.
Interview three experts to gather their thoughts and recommendations on continuing education opportunities. Look for areas of agreement and to learn from their areas of disagreement. Only then, taking everything into account, make your decision.
Consider other means of gathering information and opinions.
If you want, you can use other tools, such as crowdsourcing and reading online reviews, to gather more intel. Just keep in mind, that information online may not be coming from believable people with demonstrated competence.
Want to learn more? Dive deeper?
Then download this FREE sample of my latest book, Change Maker.
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Whether you work as a health coach, strength coach, nutritionist, functional medicine doc, or rehab specialist, Change Maker will help you discover the right direction to take, the fastest way to make progress, and the practical steps required to build the career of your dreams in health and fitness.
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