Steve Keil on Happiness, Sense of Purpose and Freedom

Written on:March 25, 2012
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The opening lecture for the Startup Blagoevgrad 2012 conference was held by the unanimous Steve Keil. He has been in Blagoevgrad numerous times. In fact, Keil was even teaching at AUBG for a short period of time but in his own words, the administration found him to be ”too unconventional” for our study programs. He has been constantly reapplying for a position at AUBG, but his offer has been continuously declined.

During his last visit, he presented the infamous ”Play Manifesto”. His insight into corporate reality has been raising the spirits for a long time now. Take a look at his presentation here.

Keil firmly opposed using people as resources in the international corporate machine. To him the so called ”inertial thinking” is our biggest enemy. A rhetorical question followed logically: ”Why are we trying so hard to become machines?” Here he is explaining that ”we are trying to lose our souls to business profit.”

In his view, the best example would be call centres in which we have scripted conversations, decreased call times and last but not least, control and monitoring. Keil’s idea in this particular example is to substitute extremely expensive advertising campaigns with better customer service, i.e. not trying to limit the contact with customers but instead fostering it and attempting to ”actually help the person” on the other end of the line. He gave a nice account of his experience with Mr Keil broke his brand new Kindle shortly after he bought it and called the respective helpline to ask for a replacement. He was more than pleasantly surprised with the service he received, as he got a brand new device for free; he just had to ship back the one broken.

Curious enough, Steve Keil, originally from Australia, came to Bulgaria because of his constant search of love and happiness. He was dating a Bulgarian at the time. After having worked in Sciant and transforming the company’s policies, Keil has recently set up a new business – Xentio. He widely advocates the idea of happy employees and happy customers. Those are his two main and only rules as Keil is against any sort of control over his employees. Here is a short interview with Mr Keil:

R.I.: Can we absolutely eliminate control?

S.K.: But why do we need it? Did it help Lehman brothers? Why do we need control? Control is fear, right? It is fear that people are stupid and are not doing their job.

R.I.: Do you believe that people in Bulgaria are open enough to your innovative ideas?  How long did it take you to enforce change in your employees, if any was needed?

S.K. With employees, they needed some adjustment, so it took me and the management around two years to change the culture of employees and I had a couple of managers fired in the process (laughs). Why do you think Bulgarians have a closed mindset? It was amazing we managed to reform the company in two years. Do you think that it would be easier to change the mindset say, of Americans in the Middle West, with their strong religious beliefs and firm rules. I don’t think so. Bulgarians are open-minded and there is much more room for development here than, say, in many other European countries.

R.I.: Then how can you make sure that the work will be done, if there is no control whatsoever? You must have deadlines at least?

S.K.: Team members interact with each other, and if someone is not doing their job, his/her team members will make sure he does. This is the only form of control that we have, if you wish to call it that.

R.I.: What is your policy when someone decides to leave the company?

S.K.: Well, we only had one guy that was fired as he did not fit the team. Otherwise, when one of our good employees decides to leave, we just ask him/her what the reasons are and we try to keep them. If they are not happy with the project they are working on, we change it, we put them in another team. We mainy have 2 rules: happy employees and happy customers. This is the most important thing.

R.I.: So, you are sort of developing Google’s work environment method?

S.K.: Google are just making incentives for the employees to spend more time in the office. It’s just another gospel. I don’t care how much time my employees spend in the office or in their lunch break, as long as they do their job and the costumers are happy.

In finishing his lecture, Steve Keil advised everyone in the audience to constantly question everything like children do. To him, this is the only way to discovering the truth in anything and also are the ultimate goals of any person – sense of purpose, happiness and freedom.

Photos by Yanita Mircheva



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