23 Sep 2015 19:31 IST

Doing things better, not doing better things: the journey from 0 to 1

Here, ‘Zero’ represents improving on what already exists, while ‘One’ represents a breakthrough

Most of the organisations that we perceive as being very successful, more often than not, have flourished by doing things better as opposed to doing better things.

They tread on well known and worn paths and gain advantage by doing better what others also do. In a recent booked called Zero to One, Peter Thiel, its author, and famous silicon valley entreprenuer-guru describes this phenomena.

‘Zero’ represents improving on what already exists, while ‘One’ represents a break through new idea/thought/product. SEMCO is one such company that chooses to tread the untraded path. Ricardo Semler, who spearheaded this phase of SEMCO, is a Maverick in true senses of the word. (Incidentally, Maverick is also the name of his semi-biopic book on SEMCO, the company he inherited.)

Semler turned conventional wisdom on its head when it came to managing people and creating a effective culture. In his company, people decide what they should earn, when they will come to work, how long one should work, who gets promoted, who gets a bonus and so on. There are no secretaries. Every one does his own work including sending mails, fixing appointments, receiving and taking care of guests.

People who are hired or promoted will be interviewed and assessed by people who are going to work under them, not by the bosses. Actually, there are hardly any bosses in the company. Semler got rid of 75 per cent of the managerial/supervisory positions. The profit sharing was fair and equitable and not loaded heavily in favour of the senior management.

Empowering people

We are getting into a VUCA (Vloatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambigous ) world. Traditional understanding in terms of what motivates people, how do you structure the organisation, processes and systems are undergoing dramatic changes. To survive in such a scenario companies must be organised in such a way to enable drastic change.

People are more empowered and want to change. Organisational loyalties are going to diminish and people will refuse being monopolised by a single organisation. They would want to have a say in what happens in the company and how that impacts them. Rigid structures and systems meant for a ‘command and control’-era has to give way to more democratic forms. Outcomes will become more important and not just inputs and time clocked or the place.

Opinions and views will be and should be freely expressed and heard and acted upon.

In the words of Semler: “In their quest for law, order, stability, and predictability, corporations make rules for every conceivable contingency. Policy manuals are created with the idea that, if a company puts everything in writing, management will be more rational and objective. Standardising methods and conduct will guide new employees and insure that the entire company has a single, cohesive image.

And so it became accepted that large organisations could not function without hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of rules. Sounds sensible, right?

And it works fine for every kind of system from an army to a prison system. But not, I believe, for a business. And certainly not for a business that wants people to think, innovate, and act as human beings whenever possible.

All these rules cause employees to forget that a company needs to be creative and adaptive to survive. Rules slow it down.”

“…The desire for rules and the need for innovation are, I believe, incompatible…Rules freeze companies inside a glacier; innovation lets them ride sleighs over it…A turtle may live for hundreds of years because it is well protected by its shell, but it only moves forward when it sticks out its head.”

This I call as organisational equivalent of ‘One’, while Peter Theil’s proposition is on the business side of the enterprise.

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