The Seven-Day Weekend: A Better Way to Work in the 21st Century - Ricardo Semler

I've been holding off on reviewing this for a while. I thought What Got You Here Won't Get You There was a bit annoying. This is a whole different ball game.

Ricardo Semler is the owner of a reasonably large company (Semco). He inherited a reasonably successful company from his father, changed it massively and grew it. This book is about his management style.

His management style is, in his words, "democratic", and in the view of someone like me "anarchic". Well, it is a democracy, but rather more a direct democracy of everyone involved. Power is delegated, but there's also no centralisation of a wider strategic direction. There are good parts to this, in that people on the front line have control to make things work and do things right. There are bad things, such as when a firm that does environmental assessments got clobbered for breaking environmental laws - laws they knew they were breaking, but couldn't actually prioritise fixing.

This is perhaps the strength and weakness of the company's approach: It centres around managing by not managing - on any tricky issue which divides the company, the default action is to do nothing. I'll admit this is an often-effective and underused technique in most companies - most places feel they must make some action, and try to do too many things, and are ineffective at "wait and see". However, I think "do nothing" should be an active decision, rather than an incidental side-effect of a political log-jams.

It seems that the Semco empire is highly siloed. If every decision has to be made across the entire group affected, those groups can't grow too large. Everyone runs their own infrastructure. The global inefficiencies are weighed against local agility. It seems the business models they've chosen work like this, although I don't think this model can scale for everything. Having worked at both a siloed company and a company with large and effective horizontal projects, I now appreciate what effective strategic steering can do.

And at the top of it all is Ricardo Semler. He does rather go on a bit about how his job is very nice, and largely involves taking himself out of the loop and going off having a nice time around the world. I'm not quite sure what the message is, here. Being the capital owner of a large stake of a successful business is nice, perhaps?

I don't disagree with everything in the book. However, it takes things to extremes for reasons that are unfathomable to me. It's like an annoying, hyperbolic person arguing for something you believe in a way that makes you feel less convinced afterwards.

As for the book itself, it's quite tedious. Perhaps the book is a model of Semco? It's pointlessly long, rambling, doesn't particularly make any conclusions and for all that is apparently very successful in the marketplace.

Posted 2017-05-27.