Friday, December 5, 2008

Democracy Is Common Sense, Not Political

True democracy is not a political platform. Democracy is still just as much common sense as when Thomas Payne wrote the historic pamphlet, Common Sense, that inspired the American Revolution.

Let's imagine, for all intensive purposes, that it became known that you can make money by running long distances. Now suppose that to make this money you organized two groups.

The first group was told to come in at 6:00 AM and leave at 9:00 AM and they had to ask when they wanted to go to the bathroom. In addition, they were told that all of the profit would be managed by someone that would be brought in. He would keep track of the money and pay everyone exactly the same (so that everything was fair) and he would keep the rest of the money for himself. Also, he would make sure that they clocked in at exactly 6:00 AM and left no earlier than 9:00 AM. He would also make sure they were all running fast enough and not cutting corners. You can probably see where this is going.

The second group decided they would run 3 hours a day. Together they decided to run in groups of at least 7 to encourage team work and safety. Group leaders, hirings, and firings were all decided by secret votes of the group members. In addition, each person chose his/her own salary based on needs and desires and obviously...peer pressure.

Which group do you think would create the biggest profits? Which group would have the happiest runners? Which group would be more creative and innovative?

You may also be thinking what I thought the first time I heard of the idea...If everyone chooses their own salary, wouldn't everyone choose the highest salary they could get and work the least they can? The truth is, a company called Semco, which has over 5,000 employees, revenues of more than $1 Billion, and is one of the fastest growing companies in Brazil does exactly this. Ricardo Semler's (CEO of Semco) employees choose their own wages and work whenever they want to. Wouldn't you like to have that kind of boss? What is his secret? The secret is that he doesn't act like a boss. Ricardo Semler doesn't even have the power to fire an employee. There are only three levels of management and he treats his employees like adults and not adolescents. Novel idea? No...common sense.

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How Will You Measure Your Life?

I recently read this article by Clayton Christiansen out of Harvard entitled, “How will you measure your life?” It is what he tells his students on the final day of his class.

One of the items that he mentions sticks out to me. It reads as follows:

“One of the theories, . . . . . how to be sure we find happiness in our careers—is from Frederick Herzberg, who asserts that the powerful motivator in our lives isn’t money; it’s the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, contribute to others, and be recognized for achievements. I tell the students about a vision of sorts I had while I was running the company I founded before becoming an academic. In my mind’s eye I saw one of my managers leave for work one morning with a relatively strong level of self-esteem. Then I pictured her driving home to her family 10 hours later, feeling unappreciated, frustrated, underutilized, and demeaned. I imagined how profoundly her lowered self-esteem affected the way she interacted with her children. The vision in my mind then fast-forwarded to another day, when she drove home with greater self-esteem—feeling that she had learned a lot, been recognized for achieving valuable things, and played a significant role in the success of some important initiatives. I then imagined how positively that affected her as a spouse and a parent. My conclusion: Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team. More and more [people think] that a career in business means buying, selling, and investing in companies. That’s unfortunate. Doing deals doesn’t yield the deep rewards that come from building up people."

I’m sure you can see why it sticks out.