Looking for Wisdom: A Corporate Philosophy for the 21st Century

In his recent TED talk, How to run a company with (almost) no rules, Brazilian CEO Ricardo Semler’s asks, “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 do we design, how do we organize for more wisdom?”

Mr. Semler – CEO, entrepreneur, author, academic and educational reformer – blends a keen sense existential philosophy with his decades-long corporate experience to reengineer the manner in which the personal and work lives of his employees interact.

Semler runs Semco, a 30-year old Brazilian company with thousands of employees, hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue and a diverse set of operating businesses spanning from rocket fuel propellant to ATMs. The company has also experienced 900% growth, a 1% employee turnover rate and has achieved the #1 position in all the service industries in which Semco is active.

When he first took over as CEO, Semler stripped the company of certain rules that governed the corporate structure of the organization. He slowly went through the process of asking questions like, “Why can’t people set their own salaries?” (Semler actually set up a computer in the cafeteria where one could look up and analyze the company’s salary information.) He wanted to only have leaders in the company who had been interviewed and approved by their future subordinates.

Semler’s innovative business management practices have attracted widespread attention in magazine articles, radio podcasts, and academic presentations. He has written two books on the transformation of Semco and workplace re-engineering: Maverick and The Seven Day Weekend. Read a review of The Seven Day Weekend.

At the end of his TED talk, Semler leaves a message for us to think about. “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.”

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