Organizations can be democratic, flat and passionate

3/9/2008 | Christian Kreutz

The web is full of thoughts and discussion around open, democratic and flat organizations. Most of this discussions and concepts are connected to web2.0, but that is not necessarily new, as Ricardo Semler proofs it in his book: The seven-day weekend. For more than twenty years, he has been experimenting with open knowledge models. I was surprised how good it fits to the contemporary approach, such as the new Wikinomics Playbook formulates.


Seven Day WeekendWhile on holidays, I had the chance to read Semler's book. The cover looks a bit curious, but the substance is quite inspiring. Thanks to Ignatia for recommending me this book. The main message of the book is that it is possible to have an open democratic non-hierarchical and successful company. In his book, already a few years old, Ricardo Semler tells his story about how he has transformed a company for the past thirty years until today, together with his colleagues through an open management model. He proved, to my surprise, that an ongoing cycle of questioning things makes progress and change possible. The book has a lot of fascinating insights next to some repetitions. Here is the excerpt, and here are two great quotes:

And the increasingly popular concept of work/life balance is not all that we seek. Balance also ensues when people are given room to explore so they can find out where their talents and interests lie and merge their personal aspirations with the goals of the company. Once employees feel challenged, invigorated, and productive, their efforts will naturally translate into profit and growth for the organization.

Giving up control also means relinquishing exclusive rights to information. Privileged information is a dangerous source of power in any organization. Information that one person has that others lack can be terribly important, and can give them the upper hand. To annihilate information hoarding and illegitimate power, information must be shared. The argument that competitors might latch onto sensitive information if it is widely known is not convincing enough to stop the free flow of information.

Flat The wikinomics playbook -- collaboratively written by the readers of the wikinomics book -- will be printed soon. The online version, freely available, offers many different topics. I, particularly, liked very much chapter 2: "The Wikified Organization." In the centre there is of course a wiki, which is less a technology than a chance for all to contribute and create something new. "At its heart, the wikified organisation is about communications—wide-open, no-holds-barred, inclusive communications."

Wikis are not about bottom-up management, they are about round table solving of solutions where titles are null and void, where intellects win and where ideas are valued, not ruthlessly critiqued...Wikis change the paradigm... the goal is a refined idea.... not an idea beaten into consensus!”

With a wikified approach, a team can transform a “good idea” into a “cause,” and a cause has a life of its own. Often a cause is unstoppable—if the idea that spawned it is “good” enough. Later, a cause, if it has enough energy, capital and direction (read as steerage and guidance), can become a movement. And a movement can change the world.

Passionate The authors of Playbook argue that this wikified approach leads to an ongoing open space of ideas and exchange between passionate driven contributors. Maybe that is why the company 37signals has recently announced a change to a four-day week and that they are funding there employees passions.

Three-day weekends mean people come back extra refreshed on Monday. Three-day weekends mean people come back happier on Monday. Three-day weekends mean people actually work harder and more efficiently during the four-day work week.

It could turn out to be just like the story from Semler. In one part, he describes when the company was introducing hammocks for lunch-break-naps and how this led to a creativity boost.