November 2004

The title of the book itself evokes a feeling of interest to any person, who stumbles on it. In these times where people have seven-day weeks, the phrase “seven day weekends” comes across as a surprise.

True to its unconventional title, the book took me through the making of Semco and the way it is run. Every page is filled with so many anecdotes to spell out the practices at Semco, that at the end of it, I felt like traveling all the way down to Brazil and work at Semco, to have a look at the organization in a much closer way

Semco is in to a lot of businesses and in the words of Ricardo Semler, there is no boundary that he wants to draw around Semco. He believes that boundaries are drawn and redrawn by the employees of the organization

At the outset, this book is definitely unlike many other management books which say that people who work in successful companies work out of their passion. This is the first departure from the normal path. Ricardo says that employees as any human beings definitely put self-interest before company’s interest. Hence for any company to sustain in the long run, it must create an environment where people can discover their interests be it in the organization or outside. Once they discover them, the workplace can act as a great compliment. If people find their passions at their workplace, then it is one of the good things to happen. Passion is rare and is a stretch to find in an office job .It is always seen that workers find their passion, their calling, the place where they can use their reservoir of talent in some place other than the work place. It could be raising a kid, teaching kindergarten kids, opening a part time consulting firm etc. The work place should be conducive enough to provide such an environment.

If one examines the human life, 25 – 50 is when a person has the maximum amount of money and least amount of time for leisure and between 50- 70 is when he has the maximum time and comparatively lesser money. Trading some of the active years to retired years can lessen this disproportionate time access in the society.

Workplace should create an opportunity where the above can take place by introducing Wednesday off programs, remote – working at home options, be it anything, which makes employees mix their personal and professional work. Retire a little program brings in this mix at Semco

The best thing that I have taken from this book is the concept of 3 Why’s. Semco seems to be running on this fundamental concept that a person should always ask 3 Why’s in order to bring instinct opportunity intrigue in to the workplace, which is important for “SUSTAINABILITY” of any organization. I have also learnt that in a true organization where the employees self-manage to a larger extent, there is no need of a Human resource department, the reason being that when a situation arises when there is a conflict between the manager and employee, employee turns to HR when he is supposed to handle it with his manager. HR truly adds no value to the organization. If one traces back the evolution of HR, in the age of FORD, HR Manager used to retired sheriffs or people from the police department. In this age, where sustainability is probably more important than anything else, such departments and their functions are useless in a modern organization.

Any manager, who needs employees should find for himself, like any entrepreneur who wants to put a team in place, finds it for himself

Semco has survived through all the painful times, as their philosophy of entering new businesses has been 3 guiding posts: High entry barrier if they establish a presence in a market, Premium player of the market, catering to unique niche

What makes a person work in the company?

Umpteen number of books, business gurus and corporate leaders keep telling their mantras to how they should make a person work in a company, by imbibing the so called vision, mission, credo etc…But the simple principle behind any person who wants to getup on Monday Morning and go to work is that he finds slow and measured exhaustion of the inner reserve is what makes life worthwhile.

This is like scuba diving; every person is given a cylinder of oxygen and can tour the underwater, and come back to the surface. Mostly we find people who use up their reservoir very early and come back to the surface. They have lost to add balance in their lives.

One of the biggest flaws in our education system is that it is encourages uniformity and hence it does not allow students to pursue or actually discover their interests. Instead, they seem to be following their parent’s interests. As soon as they reach a respectable age, they are suddenly faced with a crucial choice of joining a field that they will continue to work for the rest of their lives. Once they join the company, they are again told the job description and the expectations from him. It is like a person has left a boarding school and has joined another boarding school. The organizations, which succeed, are the ones which allows employees to discover their talents, provide incentives to move around, tune with the inner radar, ramble around the company and find out what they would want to do and for how long they want to do.

There is a mention of a cartoon book called the Survival Manual, which is given to any person who walks in to Semco.. While looking out for people, Semco follows one precept, IQ+EQ+SQ – Ego.

Management by Omission – Let the process take care of itself

Once the employees are given complete freedom and complete information, one must always see to it that the process, which emerges in such a situation, takes care of all the exigencies which crop up. Top management should never ever take the step of stepping in and pushing their decisions, as that will bring the entire house down and an element of fear, insecurity creeps in the minds of employees

Lastly, one of the important elements in the success of any org is that employees should have intuition. No amount of decision tree analysis would help one taking a right decision. In the 70’s, German Scientists did a huge experiment to predict the outcome of football matches in a tournament; they fed in all the statistics of the players, coach, environment, past history etc. Finally none of their predictions came right. A small punter in London got 10 /11 times right. Intuition is like your mom tapping on the coconut to get an idea of the water content in it

Looking at information in an incremental fashion, making judgements on the outcome, re-adjusting the expectations and coming up with a feeling that a specific event is going to happen, develops intuition.

As it is said, it is always ok, if a person is precisely wrong (all stock marketers, analysts). But such kind of behavior is useless to a company that wants to be sustainable. It has to create an organization where employees self-manage, develop intuition and grow business.

Certainly, after reading this book, I am so eager to learn about Semco from his Semler’ first book “ Maverick “ I should be getting my hands on it sometime soon.

Today I happened to pick a book which is slightly out of my usual reads. It’s a book by name “Tuesdays with Morrie.” I completed it in one sitting which shows that book was really an engrossing read

The narrator , Mitch tells his experiences with his professor Morrie after 20 years of his graduation , when he suddenly comes across his professor. Morrie, a lively character is struck by a deadly disease and doctors say that he would not llive more than 6 months. It is during this time that Mitch gets to meet his old professor. He expects to see the professor in a ocean of self pity . BUT to his surprise the meetings and discussions on every Tuesday , with his professor in few months changes his perspective towards life.

Here are couple of statements which make it a worthy read

1.The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves.And you have to be strong enough to say, if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it

2.Every day, have a little bird on your shoulder that asks. ‘Is today the day? Am I ready? Am I doing all I need to do? Am I being the person I want to be? ‘

3.Family is something very different from anything in the world. Family is something which constantly watches you and cares for you and no amount of money can buy this for you

4.Do you want to be young again ? No I wouldn’t want to be . And people who say I want to , have led unfulfilled lives and they want to go back. An individual who has led satisfied life, looks up to the future and wants to relish the future .

5.Get over the confusion of what you want and what you need

Each Night when I go to sleep, I die and Next morning I wake up, I am reborn – M.K.Gandhi

6.Forgive yourself and Forgive Others

In summary, the book says

So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they are busy doing things they think they are important. This is because they are chasing wrong things. The way you get meaning in to your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.