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Holacracy drives Berlin startup Blinkist on its quest to make books more digestible

Sam Shead | April 24, 2015
Holacracy is an organisational operating system that was invented by Brian Robertson in the US. It replaces traditional "command and control" management by substituting hierarchies with a formal set of rules. By using these tools, employees can, in theory, govern and run an organisation without any management.

A Berlin startup whose book summarisation app was voted as one of the best apps on the market by Apple last year has decided to remove the job titles of all of its staff as part of an effort to put everyone on a level playing field and create a self-governed organisation.

The company, made up of 25 people and known as Blinkist, said it chose to adopt the newly-coined "holacracy" approach in a bid to replace hierarchies with a formal set of rules that allow employees to govern and run the organisation without management.

Blinkist cofounder Sebastian Klein said: "Holacracy fits our company's culture very well since we've always been a bunch of similarly smart people, where it seemed pretty counterproductive to have just a few of us call the shots while the others slaved away."

The search for alternative organisational structures is growing among start-ups. Last year London web design and big data consultancy startup Outlandish 'gave' itself to its employees, in a model it copied from the UK retailer John Lewis.

Since adopting holacracy earlier this year, an approach that has also been embraced by US firm Zappos, Blinkist claims it has become more flexible, allowing it to significantly grow its revenues.

The working method has tremendous effects on productivity, motivation, and the use of creative potentials, said Klein.

Blinkist aims to help people fit more reading and learning into their day by taking high quality nonfiction books and summarising their key insights into a bitesized, made-for-mobile format. Each insight is called a "blink", and an entire set of "blinks" from a book takes up to 15 minutes to read. At the moment, there are over 500 books on the platform, with more than 40 new books added each month.

Blinkist cofounders from left to right: Tobias Balling, Niklas Jansen, Holger Seim and Sebastian Klein Blinkist

"We were able to launch a big new feature (audio summaries) that we had thought would be impossible to do before," said Klein. "We thought we would need to hire a couple of new people and spend a lot of money, but with our new structure, we didn't need either. Even the idea of launching this new feature came from within the team, rather than from the founders."

Blinkist is confident that an increasing number of startups and larger firms will transition to holacracy in coming years.

"We are confident that this is the future of running any successful organisation," said Klein. "Right now, we still have leaders and management-centred companies dominating our business world (such as Apple or Microsoft), but there is already a trend towards less hierarchical, more decentralised companies, as can be seen in Google or Amazon, for example."


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