Ricardo Semler — The Seven-Day Weekend and How to Break the Rules (#229)

“If you are giving back, it’s because you’ve taken too much.” — Ricardo Semler

Ricardo Semler (@ricardosemler) is the former CEO of Semco Partners, a Brazilian company best known perhaps for its radical form of industrial democracy and corporate re-engineering.

During his leadership, Semco grew from four million in 1982 to two hundred and twelve million in 2003. His innovative — but very controversial — business management policies have attracted widespread interest from all over the world.

He is the best-selling author of Maverick: The Success Story Behind the World’s Most Unusual Workplace and The Seven-Day Weekend: A Better Way to Work in the 21st Century.

Ricardo recently started a podcast called LeadWise, where he has conversations with leaders about “challenging assumptions and changing how we live and work.”

Entrepreneurship and education are just two of the topics discussed in this wide-ranging conversation. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Ricardo Semler as much as I did!

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

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#229: Ricardo Semler -- The Seven-Day Weekend and How to Break the Rules

Want to hear another episode with a successful entrepreneur influenced by Ricardo Semler? — Listen to this interview with David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH), which has already been downloaded nearly 1.5 million times. In this episode, DHH shares his thoughts on the power of being outspoken, running a profitable business without venture capital, Stoic philosophy, and much more (stream below or right-click here to download):

#195: David Heinemeier Hansson: The Power of Being Outspoken

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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

  • Connect with Ricardo Semler:

Website | Twitter | LinkedIn | LeadWise Podcast | LeadWise at Twitter | LeadWise at Facebook

Show Notes

  • Ricardo tells us about his background: a refugee mother, a “miracle” birth, rock bands, law school, and inheriting a failing business. [08:07]
  • The big decision Ricardo made to turn his company around. [15:10]
  • In retrospect, was this decision rash, courageous, or simply the only option at the time? [19:46]
  • What does “Virando a Propria Mesa” mean? [21:40]
  • On asking “three whys in a row.” [23:10]
  • Ricardo wrote his first book (which became Maverick) in nine days. [26:28]
  • What’s the “right” way to fire someone? [30:29]
  • What changes are made once the “three whys” have cleared the way? [33:13]
  • How a small team with limited resources tests the processes that allow it to breathe and expand. [42:15]
  • Common mistakes made when scaling a business, and the importance of testing processes impartially. [47:14]
  • Books that could save civilization. [50:03]
  • Ricardo relays one of his favorite Kafka parables. [55:10]
  • On burning accolades from his past at age 50. [57:56]
  • Maximum personal wealth, and why no collector can ever be happy. [1:02:14]
  • Dark times and difficulties overcome. [1:15:19]
  • Does Ricardo rely on any guiding philosophies for handling tough or unpredictable situations? [1:19:17]
  • Processes over goals, and the purpose of what Ricardo calls “Terminal days.” [1:22:44]
  • Finances and a lifestyle directed by the wisdom of Swiss bankers and The Little Prince. [1:27:04]
  • “There’s nothing else of any importance while there’s a speck in your eye.” [1:32:09]
  • Ricardo’s morning ritual hasn’t involved an alarm clock for many years. [1:33:02]
  • “Absurdly wonderful” things Ricardo loves doing. [1:36:19]
  • The ephemeral nature of risk and consequences — both positive and negative. [1:38:04]
  • On enjoying the passing of time as the meaning of life (with thanks to James Taylor). [1:44:35]
  • What was the pattern interrupt that prompted Ricardo to stop collecting wine? [1:49:17]
  • Favorite documentary. [1:54:53]
  • What would Ricardo teach a disadvantaged ninth grade class? [1:58:51]
  • What would Ricardo’s billboard say? [2:02:28]
  • Parting thoughts and encouragement for listeners to get past misgivings to make desired changes. [2:03:50]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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39 Replies to “Ricardo Semler — The Seven-Day Weekend and How to Break the Rules (#229)”

  1. Mr Tim Ferriss, today my debt to you is just too big. Thank you so much for this. Ricardo became someone who deeply influenced me from the moment I first read his book to today. The same is true to you. From the 4hour workweek to today I’ve been enormously lucky to be able to consume all or almost all you produce (books, podcast, tv show, blog..). I’ve come to listen to every podcast, I’ve read The Art of Learning, The Obstacle is the Way, Spartan Up, Sam Harris’s books and podcast, Derek Sivers’s as well, and so much more.

    Today I just had the chance to listen to an amazing conversation between two of my heroes (with no illusions, I know you all have ups and downs, defects and qualities), and I’m so grateful you provided me (and everyone) with this opportunity.

    I can only shout out for a round 2, as I’m sure everyone else will as well.

    It was a hell of surprise to listen my own question spoken trough your voice, and I could not have chosen a better podcast for this to happen. Thank you Tim, may I someday be able to repay all this, either to you or forward.

  2. Semler is a true leader, way ahead of his time. He does not live in fear and money is not his god. A very unique and inspiring individual!

  3. Your best interview. Full stop. Your questions were perfect. Your tempo respectful and balanced. You brought out the best in one of the most amazing people I have ever listened to. Wow

  4. Hey Tim!

    I can’t help but notice that there is one BIG absence in your Podcast….


    His point of view regarding leadership is also worth listening… I’m sure your episode with him will be EPIC. You both are so good at what you do. PLEASE make it happen!!!

  5. I really enjoyed the “3 Whys?” I usually stop after 2, but now I’m going to push harder. Everyone DOES have an answer for the first question, but I’m going to see how many folks have a good answer to the 3rd question.

  6. Wow! Actually one of the best podcast episodes I’ve ever listened to. Interesting points of view complementing the 4 hour work week concepts. A very proactive, thought provoking and well directed talk. Thanks Tim and Ricardo.

  7. For some reason the episode is not showing up in Stitcher. The email link simply takes you to episode 228 (the weightlifting guy).

  8. Ricardo Semler is the guest I was so looking forward to hearing on your show. He’s one of the greatest Brazilians alive and his thought provoking points of view have a lot to teach us not only about business but mainly about education. His ideas and the Lumiar School are simply the most advanced examples of how the educational system should be reinvented. I really hope to have the podcast Ricardo Semler – Part 2 with his views on education. Thanks Tim for bringing Ricardo to the show.

  9. Enjoy the passing of time and live in the now. As humans we spend most of our time thinking/worrying about the future or by living in the past. By living in the now you enjoy the time you have.

    Also the wine story – at the end you just have glass worth .20cents but every opened bottle of wine is a memory with a good friend can “waiting for the someday”.

  10. Appreciated, enjoyed.

    Gabriel Wyner wrote a fantastic article about his Fluent Forever the most effective way of learning a language that exists.. The piece was a brilliant concise summary of the approach. You have never revisted this, something I have trouble comprehending. Isn’t it long overdue you had Gabriel on this podcast? One notes also his exceptional organisational, teaching and communication skills – the way he structures and articulates his book is very impressive, unlike few authors or publishers I have come across.

  11. Tim – this was definitely keeping it real! At a time like this we need more people/leaders like Ricardo. Thank you so much Tim – another job well done.

  12. Tim you need to try the INNER ENGINEERING course by the Isha Foundation. There is an upcoming program coming soon. LOOK IT UP NOW.

  13. What a great podcast with so many insights! That amusing story about the car collector…

    But… isn’t that that the twin that lived on the mountain would be younger than the twin that lived near the sea, not another way around, or am I missing something? not being picky or something 🙂 just in the process of reading the biography of Einstein.

    Big hugs from Switzerland

  14. I have been listening to your fantastic podcasts for quite a while and this one blew my mind! Ricardo Semier is a truly inspirational visionary whose business and life tips are incredibly progressive and ahead of their time. I have run several creative businesses which always got crippled by unnecessary process and pursuit for growth. I wish I had read his books 15 years ago and am never going to have an org chart, vision statement or stupid process diagram in my life again!

  15. I was sick of listening business coaches saying things like “you can do it just tight your ass harder and visualize”… what a nice and sweet, and pretty close to wisdom food for though here …Thanks Tim Ferriss​

  16. Many thanks, Tim. This was the podcast equivalent to a “quake book” for me. Adding my vote: Please do see if you can do a follow-up with Mr. Semler. Not since Cal Fussman (part 1 and 2) have I been so blown away by so much anecdotal wisdom and humor.

  17. This was a great interview that I was very enjoyable and inspiring to me. I have so much respect for Ricardo and what he’s achieved!

    I have a recommendation for a future guest on your podcast who’s also from Brazil and has changed the world that I think would make for an amazing episode on your podcast. Rorion Gracie (son of Helio Gracie, founder of Brazilian jiu-jitsu) introduced Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to the US, helped to start the UFC, and changed the course of MMA around the world. He has a very interesting perspective on many things including an extremely unique diet called the Gracie Diet that focuses primarily on the combination of foods (such as not eating foods with sugar and fat together) instead of number of calories, what is eaten, etc. as in most of the other diets out there. I know you’ve done a lot of research on nutrition and tried diets such as the Slow Carb Diet and Ketogenic Diet, but I think the Gracie Diet will blow your mind with how different it is from other diets. If you would like me to get you in touch with him, please let me know.

  18. Hi Tim, Best podcast episode Ever!

    I grew up in a trailer park in upstate NY very poor.

    One thing changed my life and broke a 7 UP Cycle.

    My Dad told me that I would have to go to university and that I would have to pay for it myself.

    For me this was a TRUTH, it was like some kind of imposed mantra or positive affirmation.

    Throughout my growing up knowing this little detail carried me through.

    I found my way to navigate my way out of Drug use by telling all my friends that I got tested each week (I got total respect and stopped taking drugs at 12) I was never tested.

    All my friends from growing up either still live in a trailer, in jail or are dead.

    I did end up going to universities all my real learning has taken place far outside of classrooms.

    I now live in New Zealand where I’ve built a home where I live with my wife our child. I’m 38 and I’ve lived a life of almost no regrets.

    After hearing Ricardo speak about the statistics of people not changing their lives I was shocked, I have been eating and sharing stories of “you can do it” for so long…. This will definitely change the way I’ll do my work in the future.

    Thanks so much,


    Question’s for Ricardo if you have a follow-up:

    What inspires you? Can you define or name your own personal internal inspiration? How would you suggest using our own inspiration to inspire others?

  19. Wow Tim, again! Just finished the entire Titans and am already looking forward to updates with such inspirations as Ricardo Semler. Billions of thanks!

  20. Favorite quote or lesson: “By definition, a collector of something can never be satisfied” (paraphrased). Very profound, and also makes me wonder: most of the “collectibles” markets (muscle cars, guns, vintage toys, etc) are driven by the baby boomers; while the younger generation seems to eschew “things”. So, as the baby boomers die off over the next few decades, it will be interesting to see if the market demand and prices for these things hit a peak and begin to decline.

  21. Can someone recall what the three “no’s” were (one was no complaining). Want to hang those on the fridge….

  22. I really enjoyed this podcast, as I found Semler’s manner of expressing himself to be charming, and his approach to many essential questions to be thoughtful and usefully provocative (for example, the concept of “terminal” days). Thus, I hate to be a killjoy, but Semler’s description of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity is completely wrong; it’s particularly painful to hear that Semler is teaching this to youngsters in the public school system. I hope that, for everyone’s sake, Semler will find a way to convey the same valuable life-lessons to schoolchildren without distorting one of the most important principles of modern physics.

  23. Such a wonderful podcast. A calm, thoughtful person with a deep way of thinking you don’t often hear and is different from the style of business / mindset talks you hear a lot these days. Very refreshing and it somehow strikes more of a chord with me. Thank you very much!

  24. I’ve become a regular listener to your pod this year Tim. Congrats and keep up the great work. I like 80% of your guests and the topics but always appreciate the preparation and process.

    Wow….Ricardo was amazing….well done on just letting him talk and nudging him down the track. What a unique thinker, what thought provoking concepts (3 whys? $12M max limit, need for the Age of Knowledge, lessons from the Kafka essay and more). I made a few pages of notes and will listen again soon as I know I missed a lot. I spend a ton of time in Brazil and run a business there and his message of positivity despite difficult times and the need to think really differently and be prepared to learn and fail were inspiring.

    New entry to my top 3 of your pods – along with your Debbie Millman and Adam Robinson. Common thread is what they shared about processes and thinking that can really help everyone.

  25. Tim, quick request here.

    Would be great to hear a conversation with Atul Gawande.

    As I’m sure you know, he has a hugely successful and varied career as a surgeon, author, public health researcher, policy expert and all in addition to having a family.

    As a medical student and someone who aspires to a wide ranging career like this it’d be great to get some insight and wisdom on how he manages to fit all these things into his life and hone new and varied skills (like writing and speaking and a political career) with such a demanding and engrossing career like medicine.

    Other things that would be great to hear discussed are:

    – how to keep mentally healthy as a medical professional.

    – how introverts can thrive in such a people focused profession, with the lack of down time and as well as flourishing in visible, public roles

    – planning and mapping a career that spans medicine, public health, journalism, politics – and how to fit this all in and if this is even possible

    – the sacrifices that he has had to make, personally

    – how to succeed as a female surgeon in a male dominated profession, and get ahead when it is not in your nature to ‘network’

    Thanks, Tim. Huge fan of all of your books and work.

  26. Three profound quotes noted. Thank you Ricardo, thank you Tim:

    “Exchange the lens of past and the future for living in the present – which is the only very difficult thing to do.”

    “The meaning of life is to enjoy the passing of time.”

    “Success to me is making sure the passing of time is worthwhile, not being exchanged for a hope in the future or something I had in the past.”

  27. What a phenomenal podcast – I’m behind so just got to this recently. Should be required listening for all managers. I also love how he evolved his life in the past decade or so with unscheduled days that revolve around family time.

  28. Thank you Tim!! Ricardo is incredible, please please please have him back as many times as he’ll agree to do it! Currently writing my master’s thesis on introducing regrowth into B-School curricula, and was desperately searching for educational models already existing that make sense as a potential solution….Lumiar is the push I needed! Philosophically, morally, this guy is so much more than a business man. Thank you both for this fantastic episode…off I go to listen to it 5 more times.

  29. THANKS, Ricardo and Tim for this podcast. Tim, this was one of your best podcasts ever. I never heard of Ricardo Semler. I was blown away by Semler’s WISDOM about life. What is truly amazing about Semler is that he seems to have been this wise since his youth.

  30. Outstanding. I listen often. I almost skipped this podcast, and I am so thankful I did not. Thank you for doing this! Just a great listen.