Updated: Jan 1, 2021
Many topics in HR are gossiped about ad infinitum. In practice, however, very few people have the rustbelt of conviction to bring their outlandish vision to life. Tony Hsieh was one of those outliers. Tony was different. So different that I suspect very few people knew the real Tony. Tony brought to life a work structure known as Holacracy. Holacracy existed before Tony but it was Tony who brought the idea and word into the mainstream. A Holacracy is egalitarianism at work. Taken to its logical extreme, the org chart for a Holacracy is a horizontal line. Think about that. A horizontal line. Recurse that last line again.
I’m not here to judge Tony’s legacy based upon the success or failure of his vision, time will tell, what I am here to celebrate is the audacity that he brought to work. I would however propose that Tony was anti-audacious, meaning he was humble, shy, and when his unique recipe for baking soda came in contact with the right vintage of vinegar, his effervescence boiled over. At the core of this fusion was a very concise message: diversity is more intangible than tangible. For example, HR people are taught ‘measure-to-manage’ but Tony was a case study in contrarianism. Case in point, anytime an organization becomes more famous for its structure than what it actually does, THAT is contrarianism.
And to me THAT is a key takeaway from Tony’s contribution to the world of work. Whether you subscribe to Holacracy or not - be different. We need more people who challenge the status quo and ask, not what can you do for your organization's mission statement, but what can your organization do for Humanity. Because sometimes a competitive advantage is nothing more than being Different. Said another way, being a contrarian is the ultimate differentiation strategy because it hides in plain sight. The world needs more contrarians like Tony Hsieh because sometimes contrarians know the mainstream better than the mainstream knows itself.