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Gary Hamel: Are you really serious about innovation?

by Gary Hamel on October 16, 2012


gary-hamel's picture

Gary Hamel: Are you really serious about innovation?


Watch Gary Hamel, co-founder of the Management Innovation eXchange (MIX), discuss how to make innovation an everyday, everywhere capability.  In this video blog, Hamel lays out three critical questions you can use to test the depth of your organization’s innovation competence.  

This video also introduces the “Innovating Innovation” challenge, the first leg of the 2012-2013 Harvard Business Review / McKinsey M-Prize for Management Innovation

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charles-ehin's picture

You may be interested in my recent paper entitled “Can people really be managed?” published in the International Journal of Commerce and Management, Vol. 23 (3), 2013.
The paper present a general framework for the comprehension and advancement of sociocultural homeostasis (not to be confused with a steady state but a dynamic constantly evolving process) in order to increase worker engagement, productivity and innovation within our enterprises. The latest research findings in neuroscience, social neuroscience, and social network analyses are used to determine what types of organizational dynamics best support voluntary worker engagement. Further, it offers convincing evidence why certain organizations prosper while others falter depending on their knowledge and advancement of sociocultural homeostasis principles. Finally, the paper provides practical suggestions in how to move an organization from an environment of structure and compliance to one reliant on emergence and individual commitment.

heather-clawson's picture

I somewhat disagree with Mr. Koenig and others who are worried that Professor Hamel is somehow advocating the idea of forcing people to be innovative. I agree 100% that you can’t force someone to be innovative and even those who are naturally innovative can’t churn out new ideas non-stop. However, I don’t think this is what Prof. Hamel is advocating at all. What I got from this video is that Prof. Hamel is advocating the idea of fostering a high-energy innovation environment that’s conducive to innovation and where momentum is constant. It’s not that you expect EVERYONE to be unnaturally innovative, it’s that you encourage your entire employee population to share their innovations WHEN they have them. My company has over 250,000 employees so even if only 2% were submitting new ideas at any given time, there would still be a healthy level of innovation going on.

In short, I feel that it’s not about forcing people to be innovative non-stop, it’s about fostering an environment where anyone can share their innovative ideas whenever they have them. You never know who is going to have an innovative idea so you make sure that whomever it is has a way to share it.

david-haynes's picture

It seems to me that "naturally occurring" is just a variation on the nature/nurture debate. What's "unnaturally occurring" innovation? Whatever "innovation" means, one can argue - and offer examples - of it arising out of very stressful and time-sensitive situations that one never anticipated being in.

Likewise the "how?" answer is simply, "I don't know". One of the most intriguing aspects of Hamel's argument for Management 2.0 is that Management 1.0, if you will, has remained in place for so long mainly because the workplace has been generally stable and the rate of change in people's environments has been pretty slow. The Internet has changed all of that but there's no overarching management model to copy, only some few specific experiments to observe, and even those don't follow a particular script beyond a willingness to try some radical approaches.

But my main argument would be that we need to make our workplaces more democratic and more humane first because it's the right thing to do, and second because I think those types of organizations serve all of us better. The decision for most companies today is a philosophical one - Hamel claims eventually it will be a survival question. Maybe, maybe not, but the fact that I'm not exactly certain how to go about this change isn't going to stop me from trying.

mark-mccarthy's picture

just got ot this......and agree with most comments below...but I think have a sub text.....which is "so what", ie the bleeding obvious. I find it more interesting in why companies are happy with being mediocre.....lower quartile........even if the are public. You dont have to innovate that is a fact in as much as look around at the data; company performance. And then again certain companies would say that if they did have growth and growing market shate they may assign it to listening/serving the customer. I am afraid Gary's piece is just another commentors muse.

keith-kendrick's picture

It sounds like you are coming from the perspective that created the problem you are trying to solve. Namely, that you have the creativity and you can give it to me via knowledge transfer; rather than - I have the creativity, and you can help me bring it forth. The latter perspective is the kind that David Kelley (IDEO, Stanford indicates when he talks about creative confidence. We were all born with creative confidence, and we were all bringing it forth (innovating) just fine until parents, teachers, coaches, etc. began to systematically force us to put it away in favor of acquiring their knowledge. Many years later, we recognize the crisis we've created (although not that we've created it!), and we set about trying to solve it from the same set of beliefs that established it in the first place! If we don't change the perspective from which we approach this, it seems highly unlikely we'll change the result. Isn't this the kind of thing that so frustrated W.E. Deming late in his life?

jim-smith_1's picture

The "WHAT" is arguably the easy part as so many dream sellers are proving with their publishers everyday. The challenge is describing the "HOW" followed by a profile of the speaker or writer demonstrating having personally accomplished prolonged business value. Peter is correct, human nature is everything. It starts with the janitor and ends with the board, none are exempt from the frailties of being human. What so many of the dream sellers miss is that these frailties occur at every level, so the best concept implementation is only as good as the leaders who are implementing it.

Books and speeches have a very limited life span, witness today's economy verses the tens of thousands of business books and business experts giving hundreds of thousands of speeches. If all it took was the management theory de jour we wouldn't be in the mess we're in. The "what" is easy, and should take up only a bit of the book or speech, the focus should be on the "HOW" and sustainability.

If you were to read Phil Rosenzweig's book "The Halo Effect" you will find just how little sustainable impact the dream sellers have had on the companies they use as examples. The convenient thing about opinions based on theory is you never have to prove anything.

olivier-lavergne's picture

I wholeheartedly agree with Peter Koenig. However, I did not hear in Gary's video that he was advocating to industrialize the innovation process. I heard that he wanted to hear about our best practices to nurture and grow innovation in our organizations. Obviously, seeding in the middle of the Winter and expecting immediate results can only result in disappointment :D

nat-thangavelu's picture

Thanks Gary for that High-Energy Innovation Discourse.

I tend to some how agree with Peter Koenig on Innovation predominantly is a naturally occurring instinctive process, than something that can be imparted as training.

I agree with you on getting that Innovation ecosystem setup etc (those 3 questions that you mentioned)...but I dont feel that, that by itself would suffice. I must also add that without that ecosystem, some perhaps limited Innovation is happening in organisations I have seen.

I recently read something on the Innovation process in 3M and their famed 30-15 model Innovation got scuttled when their New CeO introduced Six Sigma process into their Innovation culture. I believe creating an ecosystem for Innovation is important, but Innovation is not a predictive process, but rather a instinctive one and I think it probably goes right back to how we are trained when were young and imparting training on Innovation at a later stage of our lives and career can perhaps have a very limited impact and incremental Innovation..

peter-koenig's picture

I'm sorry Gary, this high energy hype can't possibly work. It shows too little understanding of human nature, is in fact ultimately the cause of dearth of innovation, not the solution for it!
Humans like all other living beings go through seasons and phases, just like the seasons of the year. The creative, innovative phase is akin to springtime and springs naturally. But before Spring is Winter where all is silent, energy is concentrated into the earth, nothing moves. There is death and deathly stillness. Without this winter there is no spring. And without Autumn, a time of natural depression and decay, there's no Winter.

What we are witnessing with this innovation-drive is akin to a generalised, mechanistic attempt at eternal spring, an avoidance of winter and a forced denial of autumn. The result? Ironically, perpetual autumn! So many of our organisations show the symptoms of being "stuck" in the autumn phase and stick there ironically because of their unwillingness to allow it. High energy hype is not a solution. It provides a temporary boost like a pep-pill but in the end causes nothing but burn-out!

The real solution and resolution is much more profound. It is to release the mechanistic, industrial perspective of the human being that can simply be "trained" like a machine. This was appropriate for repetitive tasks where people were required to act as automatons on a production line. But for creation and innovation? The reverse is needed: un-training/deprogramming, allowing people to rest, be still, "die" and resource themselves. The creativity and innovation that so emerges is itself naturally unstoppable, does not have to be called forth. (We must understand: the conditioned reality of industrial era has been so deeply inherited, implanted into our bodies and cells in the last 300 years that this epigenetic un-training/deprogramming is now necessary for almost everybody).

The implication for business leaders in terms of developing cultures where people in their organisations can follow their natural rhythms over longer cycles of time is more profound still.
Many will not understand or choose to take up this challenge. Their organisations will perish. But younger, more flexible ones with deeper understanding of what is at stake will thrive. We are already in this transition phase.

jim-smith_1's picture

I notice that the vast majority of discussions relating to innovation focus on revenue generation, even here Gary mentioned measuring innovation by revenue increases. There's a huge opportunity in viewing innovation as a bidirectional concept. That is, looking forward for new products, services and process to improve revenue and the the reciprocal direction of looking backwards to find services, processes and products that no longer make any sense. Viewing innovation as bidirectional will result in a significantly larger impact on EARNINGS than just looking for new STUFF.

Example: A $13 billion utility implemented a bidirectional approach to innovation which resulted in a sustainable $300 million SG&A reduction, a $200 million reduction to the approved capital plan and a $45 million one-time inventory reduction, all in ten weeks. Ninety percent of the SG&A savings came from the looking back focus, stopping spending which no longer made sense.

It 's highly unlikely that companies with a history can't accomplish similar results. When we looked at the thousands of employee inputs, the majority fell into a category we called "it was a good idea then, but now...." A total of six investor owned companies, all in different industries, have tried this approach and each had a similar experience, a sustainable 10 to 18% SG&A reduction accomplished in 8 to 10 weeks.

I hope to put more detail around this approach in the current "Innovating Innovation" challenge.

keszeg-d-m's picture

Hello Gary

Very interesting video!

I am a Hungarian entrepreneur. I would ask your opinion about the situation in Europe. In short, what are the factors that hamper innovation here (Central Europe). There are factors wich are important to be highlighted?

Thank you for your answer,