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Ricardo Semler’s lecture at MIT Sloan Business School

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Leading by Omission : lecture by Ricardo Semler at MIT Sloan Business School. [Real Media]

Ricardo Semler is the CEO and majority owner of Semco SA, a Brazilian company best known for its radical form of industrial democracy and corporate re-engineering. Under his ownership, revenue has grown from $4 million US in 1982 to $212 million in 2003 and his innovative business management policies have attracted widespread interest around the world. TIME featured him among its Global 100 young leaders profile series published in 1994 while the World Economic Forum also nominated him.

If successful business depends on innovation, wonders Ricardo Semler, why are automobiles made essentially the same way today as they were in Ford’s first assembly line 100 years ago? Parallel parking is one of “ the stupidest things we do,” says Semler, “If we had a day, could we not by tomorrow afternoon figure out a way to make a car” that handles better in this common situation — or, on a grander scale, escape from the “silly concept” of oil dependent transportation altogether? The problem, Semler figures, is that there’s “something fundamental about organizations and … leadership that makes it almost impossible for people inside a business to change their own industry.” Industries are based on “formats that are basically legacies of military hierarchies,” says Semler, which neglect or deny the power of human intuition and democratic participation. In Semler’s own firm, there are no five-year business plans (which he views as wishful thinking), but rather “a rolling rationale about numbers.” A project takes off only if a critical mass of employees decides to get involved. Staff determine when they need a leader, and then choose their own bosses in a process akin to courtship, says Semler, resulting in a corporate turnover rate of 2% over 25 years. “We’ll send our sons anywhere in the world to die for democracy,” says Semler, but don’t seem to apply the concept to the workplace. This is a tragic error, because “people on their own developing their own solutions will develop something different.

A few standout points of the lecture excerpted by 37Signals

Growth is overrated for companies…

The assumption that growth is good for companies is a very difficult one to sustain. There is no evidence whatsoever that companies that grow a lot do better than companies that don’t grow a lot.

Admit what you don’t know…

We don’t know where we’re going, but we’d rather not pretend that we do. Because we think pretending is a lot more dangerous than admitting that we don’t…Talking about specific numbers more than six months out is improbable. Think about the future but don’t write it down. If you write it down, you have to follow it.

Most hiring is like internet dating…

[On hiring] The [typical] process of recruitment and selection in a company is basically an internet dating process. You say your company is Brad Pitt and she says she’s Angelina Jolie and you go and meet at a bar…You get together for two quick meetings and then you decide to get married and hope it works…

Written by anol

October 31st, 2007 at 9:57 am

Posted in Big Picture

One Response to 'Ricardo Semler’s lecture at MIT Sloan Business School'

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  1. Sounds wonderful! I don’t suppose he needs a learning consultant on his staff….;-)

    Karyn Romeis

    1 Nov 07 at 5:09 pm

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