Monday, November 09, 2015

TED talk - Ricardo Semler - Running a company with amost (no) rules

Very inspiring talk by Ricardo Semler. My notes and key points follow.

Mr. Semler took over as CEO of his father's firm when he was 21 (after bitter fights with his father) and realized the value of work-life balance when he fainted once at the age of 25. He's pioneered decentralization and democratization of how companies should work. He puts it very beautifully :
We've come from an age of revolution, industrial revolution, an age of information, an age of knowledge, but we're not any closer to the age of wisdom. How we design, how do we organize, for more wisdom?
The fact that his companies have done so well shows that these ideas don't have to be contrary to the profitability. But he also acknowledges in the Q&A part of the talk that it's just not about courage in implementing these kind of ideas - there's just no incentive for CEOs to do it. They are judged every quarter so if a CEO says "I will do something that will show great results in a generation", they'll be out. It reminded me a lot of what Modi is trying to do as CEO of India by making structural changes but even highly educated people seeming to want results overnight.

Mr. Semler has also pioneered education through his schools which run on the basis of democracy (by students!):
We have approximately 10 great threads that go from 2 to 17. Things like, how do we measure ourselves as humans? So there's a place for math and physics and all that there. How do we express ourselves? So there's a place for music and literature, etc., but also for grammar. 

And then we have things that everyone has forgotten, which are probably the most important things in life. The very important things in life, we know nothing about. We know nothing about love, we know nothing about death, we know nothing about why we're here. So we need a thread in school that talks about everything we don't know.
I found this part the most inspiring:
When I was 50, my wife Fernanda and I sat for a whole afternoon, we had a big pit with fire, and I threw everything I had ever done into that fire.[...] And that did two things.  
One, it freed our five kids from following in our steps, our shadow. And I'm not going to take them somewhere and say, one day all of this will be yours. [...]
And the second thing is, I freed myself from this anchor of past achievement or whatever. I'm free to start something new every time and to decide things from scratch in part of those terminal days.[...]
And with this rationale, I look at these days and I think, I'm not retired. I don't feel retired at all. And so I'm writing a new book. We started three new companies in the last two years. I'm now working on getting this school system for free out into the world,
 Simply amazing! 

Another extremely inspiring snippet:
So when you spend time in a company, in a bureaucracy, in an organization and you're saying, boy -- how many people do you know who on their death beds said, boy, I wish I had spent more time at the office? So there's a whole thing of having the courage now -- not in a week, not in two months, not when you find out you have something -- to say, no, what am I doing this for? Stop everything. Let me do something else. And it will be okay, it will be much better than what you're doing, if you're stuck in a process.
 He ends the talk beautifully:
And I think what this leaves us as a message [...]: We've all learned how to go on Sunday night to email and work from home. But very few of us have learned how to go to the movies on Monday afternoon. And if we're looking for wisdom, we need to learn to do that as well.
And so, what we've done all of these years is very simple, is use the little tool, which is ask three whys in a row. Because the first why you always have a good answer for. The second why, it starts getting difficult. By the third why, you don't really know why you're doing what you're doing. What I want to leave you with is the seed and the thought that maybe if you do this, you will come to the question, what for? What am I doing this for? And hopefully, as a result of that, and over time, I hope that with this, and that's what I'm wishing you, you'll have a much wiser future.

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