More than thirty years ago, Brazilian CEO Ricardo Semler chose to live a different way. He decided that, two days each week, he would do whatever he might do if he knew he only had a short time to live. He called them his “terminal days.” Why wait? He would do it now. In his 20-minute TEDGlobal2014 talk (see below), he shares his extraordinary story of how he transformed his company, created a new kind of school system, and found a new way of life.
After experiencing what it was like to take time each week for what was most important to him, he decided to give the employees in his company the chance to do the same thing. He offered them the option of taking one day each week to pursue their dreams in exchange for just 10% of their salary. With that first step, a whole new kind of company was born – a company built on honesty and transparency, personal care and support, freedom and personal autonomy for each of the more than 5,000 employees.
His guiding question was, “How do you set up a company for wisdom?” In his words, “We’ve come from an age of industrial revolution, an age of information, an age of knowledge, but we’re not any closer to the age of wisdom. How do we organize for more wisdom?”
Ricardo Semler continued incorporating one radical idea after another, including saying to his sales people, “Once you have reached your quota for the week, please take the rest of the week off and go to the beach! Then start again on Monday for your next week’s quota!” He made two Director positions on his Board open to whoever was interested. One of the cleaning ladies stepped forward. She became a valuable Board member.
However, as things changed within the company’s structures and policies, it became clear that many of the employees didn’t know what to do with all of their new freedom and equality. They were more comfortable when someone else told them what to do, how to do it, and what the steps would be toward promotion. That’s all they had known. They had little or no experience with thinking on their own and being fully responsible for their own futures.
And so another idea was born – a new kind of education system. Semler acknowledged that the design and structure of the current education system didn’t prepare children for real life. So he set out to create an education system where children would actually learn how to think, how to be their own person, how to make choices and decisions. His company created a foundation that now runs three schools. Once again, the guiding question was, “How do we re-design a school for wisdom?”
Today, the Lumiar Schools are built on three fundamental questions:
- How do we measure ourselves as human beings?
- How do we express ourselves?
- How do we learn more about the most important things in life that we actually know very little about – love, death, and why we’re here?
In a Lumiar School, the students make all of the rules, and they are the ones who enforce them. Each student’s curriculum is built on his or her particular interests and readiness. And the students grade themselves on their progress and development.
Ricardo Semler suggests that one way to get to our greater wisdom is to simply ask three “Whys?” in a row about everything you are doing. He says, “The first ‘Why?’ you always have a good answer for. Then the second ‘Why?’ starts getting difficult [to answer]. By the third ‘Why?’ you realize that, in fact, you really don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing.” Semler says that by asking “Why?” three times, you start to get clearer about who you are and why you are here. In other words, you start to find your own wisdom.
In a short exchange with TED Curator Chris Anderson at the close of the talk, Ricardo Semler said: “It takes a leap of faith about losing control, and almost nobody who is in control is ready to take a leap of faith.”
It takes a lot of courage to stand up and say, “What am I doing this for?” and to choose a different path when you realize that the path you’ve been on is no longer the right one.
Thank you, Ricardo Semler. Wise words. A powerful invitation. Enjoy the video.
P.S. Ricardo Semler clearly has a relaxed yet powerful personal presence that has made an impact on thousands of people’s lives. To further develop your own personal presence in ways that can make a difference for others, a good place to start might be my meditation-in-a-book, The Power of Your Presence. This engaging little book provides a 20-minute meditation that you can do anytime and anywhere – while waiting for an appointment, during your morning commute to work, or as a morning or evening meditation. It’s also available as an audio book.
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