Lessons from Lego and FullContact

Last year, the employees at FullContact, a Denver-based software company were told to go on vacation. Their contract already stipulates a certain amount of paid vacation days, but Bart Lorang, the CEO, didn’t want to stop at that standard level of contractual compensation. He gave each of his employees an additional $7,500 to spend on their vacation however they wanted. He also forbade them from working while they were gone. No e-mails, no brainstorming, and no calling into the office.

The workers at Lego Headquarters in Denmark are finishing up work for the day. They retrieve the boxes so they can put away the thousands of miniature blocks for further inspiration tomorrow. They turn off the lights of their workspace, where the floors look like freshly mown grass, and the walls are painted to look like a partly cloudy day. They may have spent their day designing new products for the world-famous toy company, or perhaps playing with Legos in the social spaces, waiting for the next big idea to click into place.

As strange as these scenarios may seem, the tides of the modern world are turning to make working conditions like these the rule, rather than the exception. Not every company is giving away massive vacation bonuses, or allowing their workers to build castles out of children’s toys, but the important point is the underlying principle behind those innovative or unusual business practices.

The world of business is changing, and in order to survive and flourish in the new environment of modern business, old ways of thinking must evolve. We have entered the generation of cool, the era of the alternative, and it is becoming increasingly obvious that the further outside the box a business is willing to think, the more success they are bound to find. The old traditions of three piece suits, business luncheons, time cards and cubicles are going the way of the fax machine. In this age of instantaneous communication and a globalized economy of knowledge where innovation is king, it is only natural that the principles of business and leadership will require a fundamental overhaul to stay relevant and practical.

It is no longer enough to smugly hold the title of CEO while watching your workers scurry around the office like mindless drones in an ant farm. The new generation of leaders who are running the most successful, significant, and profitable businesses on the planet are not simply figureheads or empty suits. They have taken the traditional role of business leadership and turned it on its’ head, blazing trails rather than directing others to do it for them. These are men and women who are not afraid to get their hands dirty, or to swallow their pride when one of their risky ventures flops. They don’t stand on the shoulders of their workers, glorifying their own wisdom and foresight, but rather give credit where credit is due, rewarding and celebrating the brilliant minds that have brought their companies such widespread success.

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Can Akdeniz

Can Akdeniz is the author of seven books and founder of Business Hacker, a popular business blog. His books such as Go Nuts, Cool Boss, Happy Company and MBA 2.0 have changed how people think about business, productivity and work.