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Success - Will it benefit you or haunt you?

Have you defined what success for you looks like, and when you do achieve it will you be happy? Is it about more money or more fame?

You’d think that being a millionaire or being a celebrity or being the CEO would be empowering. If done right, perhaps it is. But the reality is that most of the time it is inherently disempowering.

It’s worth noting that the people we envy, who have reached the pinnacle of success as we have defined it, are hardly as free as we think.

This is not about shedding pity on the prosperous or successful people amongst us It’s about bringing to context our own desires.

Are you sure you understand what success entails? Are you sure you have defined it properly? Are you sure it will make you happy?

Think of the CEO who is at the mercy of the enormous beast that is their business. Think of the prime minister whose schedule is controlled by their staff. It might seem glamorous, but looking closer, it’s hardly so enviable.

The essence of success should be freedom. Freedom to choose my next move…

Freedom to read and study and learn about the things I’m interested in…

Freedom to express what I think needs to be expressed…

Freedom to pursue my definition of success…

Am I in control of my life?

Do I have Autonomy, The choice to do what feels right, for that defines real control.

As Seneca said, “Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.”


In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Emerson’s overarching philosophy was that each individual must go through life learning from others, experience and reading. Lost importantly to learn by himself not through mimicking or imitating.

One could argue that the heart of Emerson’s true education occurred outside of the classroom. Although he attended Harvard University, he was an unexceptional student who graduated without distinction. He felt at odds with his peers and kept mostly to himself. He however read extensively and throughout his life was exposed to and influenced by the ideas of those such as Thomas Carlyle, Montaigne, Goethe, and Swedenborg. His true education, he conducted himself.

Emerson believed in the strength of the individual and in the greatness of the individual human spirit. He believed that there is genius, beauty, and wisdom within each of us, if we listen to and find it. By nurturing oneself, listening to oneself, and by learning from one’s experiences and emotions, one can discover one’s own truth and self.

And this process of discovery is both the journey and the end goal of life.

Emerson was thus on a lifelong journey to discover himself and his writings are his chronicles of that journey.

And he argues that in order to know something, you have to go through the process of obtaining the knowledge yourself.

There are no shortcuts to really knowing,

The world is our classroom and just as “the child amidst his baubles, is learning the action of light, motion, gravity, muscular force” so “in the game of life: love, fear, justice, appetite, man, and God interact.”

The 1840s were productive years for Emerson. He founded and co-edited the literary magazine The Dial, and he published two volumes of essays in 1841 and 1844. Some of the essays, including “Self-Reliance,” “Friendship” and “Experience,” number among his best-known works.

Wisdom/What I'm Reading...

Maverick by Ricardo Semlar

Maverick!: The Success Story Behind the World's Most Unusual Workplace is a business autobiography by Ricardo Semler

The book relates the management succession and increasingly unorthodox ethos of Semco, which grew to become one of Brazil's largest conglomerates.

Ricardo’s management ethos is that no company can be successful, in the long run, if profits are its principal goal. He even posits that from his observation, money isn’t the only goal of workers, either.

What is extremely striking about the management style at Semco is some of the worker-centric decisions made in the 1980s, at a time when almost no company elsewhere in the world thought about them, many companies struggle with these today.

This is a book about a businessman and management style well before it’s time.

Take for instance, Work at Home.

Semco was structured in such a way as to encourage everyone who can work at home to do so. The company stresses to the workers that working from home enhances concentration and productivity and gives them more flexibility.

This truly fascinating business book shows that it is possible to do business with a human face. That both the company and workers can be truly satisfied with their work.

Under his ownership, revenue has grown from 4 million US dollars in 1982 to 212 million US dollars in 2003.

Ricardo Semler was able to make the company a place where everyone participates.

Ricardo wanted to be self-sufficient; he defined his role as a catalyst: “I try to create an environment in which others make decisions. Success means not making them myself.”

The storyline is based on the transformation of a traditional manufacturing company into a dynamic business run on trust, merit and a sense of ownership.

With fewer meetings, less reports and no hierarchy. Just get out of the way and let the people do what they are good at.

One Change Leads to Another

“There are similarities between this system and the Japanese approach, but also important differences. In our groups, younger members didn’t automatically submit to their elders. Once a team decided an issue, it stayed decided. There was no approval needed to make a change. Then again, there were no special rewards for new ideas. It was a spontaneous process”.

I am a big believer in MBWA, or Management by Walking Around.

Semco’s Headline Memo:

The crucial information is at the top of the page. If you want to know more, read a paragraph or two. There are no second pages.

This makes for an exciting business story, filled with practical, hands-on guidelines, Semler shares how he unleashed a chain reaction that transformed a stagnating, old-fashioned company into one of the most dynamic and innovative companies in the world. This is a story of a company that challenged the old ways of doing business, blazed a path to success in an uncertain economy, and has lessons for every business leader.

For the skeptics, don’t forget that in the UK the John Lewis Partnership is organised along similar (although not quite so radical) lines, it is still growing on the high street while most other retailers are having a torrid time, its Waitrose stores and Ocado online food businesses are amongst the most highly rated by shoppers.

Maverick is an excellent example of how to run a large company in an unorthodox way, although many of the ideas are extremely ambitious (even in this day and age) it makes for a thought provoking read. The main takeaway for me was that business leadership is constantly evolving.

Semco isn’t a model, with programs to be followed with precision. Semco is an invitation. To forget socialism, capitalism, just-in-time deliveries, salary surveys, and the rest of it, and to concentrate on building organizations that accomplish that most difficult of all challenges:

to make people look forward to coming to work in the morning.

Today, the Semco Style reflects the learning from 35 years of trial and error. Their impressive growth rate (average 46.5% for the past 20 years), and extremely low employee churn rate (less than 2%), are testimony to the success of the new style.

See you next week...


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