Innovation Lessons from the World of Music – part 5

This post has been inspired by a brief discussion with my good friend Peter Cook at The Academy of Rock who is a huge Prince fan! Peter saw Prince in Camden recently and he said something like “above all, be yourself”. This reminded me of a similar sentiment that can be heard from Maestro Leonard Bernstein in this clip of him rehearsing “Nimrod” from Elgar’s “Enigma Variations”.

The instruction he gives to the Orchestra is simply “let it happen by itself” – and whilst many hate his incredibly slow reading of Nimrod, it is arguably one of the most sublime versions you will ever hear. (The complete concert and extracts from the rehearsal were recently released on DVD.)

But what if you “just let it happen” at work? Sounds likes a recipe for chaos doesn’t it! But not necessarily so! How do you think this company might have been performing?

  • No mission statement
  • You chose your own manager
  • 2 seats at board meetings are taken by the first 2 employees who turn up

Here’s what Simon Caulkin of The Observer said of this company in 2003: 

“ ‘rambles’ into new areas by trial, error and argument. Its current portfolio is an odd mixture of machinery, property, professional services and fledgling hi-tech spin-offs.”

The Company is Semco and it’s remarkable growth started when Ricardo Semler joined the family business. With growth at that time (2003) being quoted at 30-40% pa against a backdrop of the economy in Brazil at the time, it seems “just letting it happen” can be profitable after all. His biography “Maverick” is worth a read to learn more about Ricardo Semler.

What we learn about Semco though is more than “just let it happen” – it’s a totally different kind of organisation. And they are not alone in this – check out Premium-Cola in Germany who do things very differently.Here’s Uwe Lübbermann, the “non-boss”!:

And an interesting interview with him :which tells you a little more,!AG2L2

To finish on a musical note, the ultimate in “let it just happen” has to be the drum solo! I was once on a gig where the band walked off during the drum solo and left him to it – no problem for him, he could have been there all night!

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