The Sun is but a Morning Star

September 21st, 2015

Last week of August I visited Morningstar, a tomato processing company in California, together with fellow colleagues from the Danish Consultancy “resonans”. The visit was one among many visits to innovative and forward-thinking companies in Sillicon Valley. We also payed a visit to Google, Linked-in, Tradeshift, Facebook, Institute for the Future, Ernst & Young, Singularity University, Chamber of Commerce and Presidio Graduate School. All places where we could meet with people, who could tell a story about an area in the world and an organization, where new things are tried out and tested – including new ways of organizing, leading, involving and making things happen. The visit to Morningstar stood out as something particularly moving to us, and here is why:

In 2011, Gary Hamel from Stanford wrote an article about this amazing company. In this article, Hamel describes an organization which is based on the following characteristics:

• No one has a boss.

• Employees negotiate responsibilities with their peers.

• Everyone can spend the company’s money.

• Each individual is responsible for acquiring the tools needed to do his or her work.

• There are no titles and no promotions.

• Compensation decisions are peer-based.

We were curious to experience first-hand, if this could in fact be true – and how would it “feel” to walk around on a factory, where these characteristics were in play?

Well, it felt great! Not only because everybody seemed friendly and our host, Doug Kirkpatrick did an amazing job enlightening us about the history of this very special organizational model. But also because we among others met Leo – one of the electricians working at Morningstar. When asked: “Who is your supervisor – who tells you what to do?” he first looked stumbled, as if he didn´t really understand our question… Then he lit up and said: “Oh, but that´s obvious – the plant does…”.

I must admit I almost cried when I heard that answer. It must be so nice to work at a place, where no one but the plant/the mission tells you what to do. Where it is OBVIOUS what needs to be done – because we are on a mission – have something very important to do. In the case of the electrician working at Morningstar, it is to make sure that everything is running smoothly, gets adjusted well and in time (before things break down) and during less busy months to keep updated with new inventions and ways of doing things, so that innovation can happen.

When Henry David Thoreau wrote the book “Walden”, he ended it with a paragraph including the quote which is the headline for this post (p. 137):

“The light which puts out our eyes is darkness to us. Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star”.

I think it is time we wake up and see that there is more day to dawn. Morningstar is only one organization showing, that if your mission is strong enough and people are encouraged and educated to take responsibility for themselves, you can create great results, innovate and at the same time be a humane place to work. We need more of this. And more companies combining tech with kindness and love, which Facebook, Linked-in and Google are trying to promote (through concrete programs and deliberate spaces that foster kindness and mindfulness). Even though these organizations also still has “a way to go” (i.e. in terms of i.e. fair conditions for workers in all parts of the organization), we might be inspired and encouraged by their examples from the areas, where they are doing great and indeed are doing something different which creates better working-environments and products (they of course have data to back this up – the fact that kindness and mindfulness create better working-environments and products!).

To end this post, I just want to mention one last thing. Morningstar has two – and only two – guiding principles:

1. Don´t use force – one human being should not/never use force towards another human being. (Giving orders is also considered as using force…)

2. Do what you say you will do (stay committed).

Two principles. That´s all. And then a lot of structure to support the self-managed system. As they say: “We manage great complexity with extreme simplicity”.

What are your guiding principles – and if you could chose only two for your organization – what would they be?