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Hack the M-Prize—Help us Define The Next Big Management Innovation Challenge


gary-hamel-and-polly-labarre's picture

Hack the M-Prize—Help us Define The Next Big Management Innovation Challenge

When we launched the Harvard Business Review/McKinsey M-Prize for Management Innovation last year, we aimed to enlist the most progressive practitioners and thinkers in the collective effort of reinventing what we call “the technology of human accomplishment.” We believed that people from all over the world in every realm of endeavor were launching initiatives and experimenting with radical practices to advance the cause of making all organizations more resilient, inventive, inspiring, and accountable.

The M-Prize unfolded over the course of a year and included three separate Challenges designed to surface the best practices and thinking around leveraging technology, reinventing strategy, and rethinking organizations. We asked for real-world case studies (STORIES) and radical ideas (HACKS) to address the challenges of migrating to Management 2.0, Busting Bureaucracy, and Reimagining Capitalism for the Long-Term.

Some 400 robust contributions later, we are more confident than ever that together we can tackle the big dream of reinventing management for the 21st century. To that end, we will be launching the second HBR/McKinsey M-Prize in September. This time, we aim to get you involved in the process even sooner: we want your help in crafting the Challenges we’ll put to management innovators everywhere.

Along with our partners and editorial team, we’ve zeroed in on a handful of challenges we think will help us make real strides in the overall goal of making organizations fit for the future (and fit for human beings). But this is your endeavor as much as ours, so we’re opening up the challenge nomination process to the world. We want to hear from you: what are the make-or-break challenges management innovators should focus their energies on this year?

Here’s how to play:

--Visit the “Hack the M-Prize” site to review the proposed challenges and learn more about the M-Prize

--"Like" your favorite challenges.

--Build on your favorite challenges: Use the comment field to help us refine and focus the challenge question, push us in new directions, ask questions, suggest new angles.

--Suggest your own challenge question: What have we missed? The best challenges are both aspirational enough to stir the spirit and grounded enough in everyday work (and the barriers to great work) to marshal the ingenuity of in-the-trenches management innovators. They take on fundamental institutional barriers and embedded management processes and suggest a practical way in to a big problem.

Like the M-Prize, this process is open to everyone. You don't have to be a guru or a CEO--or even a "manager" by title--to be a management innovator. You just have to be frustrated by the status quo and willing to ask a courageous "What if?" (And, to participate, you just have to register for the MIX.) And, as always, we will be sharing the best contributions widely along with our partners at Harvard Business Review and McKinsey & Company.

Hack the M-Prize will run until September 16th. We’ll announce the winning Challenge and kick off the M-Prize at the end of the month.

Life’s too short to work on inconsequential problems. Help us dream big. Help us hack the M-Prize.

Proposed Challenges


For all the talk about innovation, in business books, blogs, and boardrooms, few companies have figured out how to make innovation a way of life.  Too often innovation is still something that happens occasionally, in pockets, rather than everywhere, all the time.  What limits innovation in most organizations isn’t a lack of resources or a shortage of human creativity, but a dearth of pro-innovation values, structures, and processes.  In too many organizations one finds …

  • Few, if any, employees who have been trained as business innovators.
  • No commonly agreed-upon definition of innovation and hence no way of comparing innovation performance across teams and divisions.
  • A jumble of bureaucratic hurdles that makes it difficult for innovators to get the time and resources they need to test their ideas.
  • A lack of explicit innovation goals and line managers who aren’t held accountable for mentoring new business initiatives.
  • Compensation and promotion criteria that don’t explicitly include innovation performance
  • Innovation metrics that are patchy and poorly constructed.

Most of our management methods were designed (a very long time ago) to promote discipline, control, alignment and predictability—all laudable goals, and all potentially antagonistic to innovation.  The real innovation challenge is innovating around innovation itself.  In the same way that companies have reinvented their business processes (sourcing, manufacturing, distribution and customer support) for the sake of efficiency and agility, they must now reinvent their management processes (planning, training, resource allocation, measurement, hiring, compensation, etc.) for the sake of innovation.

The challenge question:  How can we retune our management processes so they become powerful catalysts, rather than barriers, to innovation? How do we make innovation an every day, every person capability?


The business landscape is littered with the bones of corporate dinosaurs that failed to adapt. Like Kodak, they didn’t respond quickly enough to an emerging discontinuity (digital film).  Like Nokia, they seriously underestimated an unorthodox new competitor (Apple).  Like Intel, they procrastinated in pursuing a major new opportunity (chips for mobile devices).  Or like General Motors, they couldn’t let go of a beloved but slowly dying strategy (the company’s bloated brand portfolio).  Today we live in a world that is all punctuation and no equilibrium; a world in which change is relentless, seditious and ever-surprising.  And that’s a problem—because most large companies aren’t very adaptable.  Time and again, despite their resource advantages, they surrender the future to upstarts.

Today, leaders in every organization must ask themselves: Are we changing as fast as the world around us is changing? Are we capable of regularly reinventing ourselves without the imperative of a crisis? Are we awake, alive, and tuned into what’s popping up on the horizon?

When it comes to answering those questions in the affirmative, too many organizations are hamstrung by strategic inertia—they venerate legacy strategies, ignore the harbingers of the future, under-invest in nascent businesses and over-invest in the past.

To build a truly adaptable organization, leaders will need to discover ways of …

  • Guarding against strategy lock-in.
  • Overcoming denial, arrogance and nostalgia.
  • Spotting and amplifying weak signals that portend a radically different future.
  • Generating and testing a wide variety of new strategic options.
  • Excising all those things in the company’s management processes and culture that reflexively favor more-of-the-same.

The challenge question: How can an organization build an evolutionary advantage—so it’s always proactively reinventing itself, always playing offense and never defense, always rushing out ahead of its rivals to claim the future?


We want our organizations to be “fit for the future”—resilient, inventive, engaging, and responsible.  We want every person to bring his or her full ingenuity, passion, and initiative to work every day.  Yet, few leaders and organizations have applied much ingenuity or attention to developing human beings who are fit to lead, invent and inspire in today’s “creative economy.”

Management training and development has traditionally focused on helping leaders to develop a particular portfolio of cognitive skills: left-brain thinking, deductive reasoning, analytical problem solving, and solutions engineering.  Twenty-first-century leaders require new intellectual capabilities, including …

  • Reflective thinking (consciously examining deep assumptions, getting at root causes)
  • Systems thinking (understanding and architecting complex social systems)
  • Design thinking (exploiting creative disciplines in problem-solving)
  • Emotional intelligence (an ability to understand and shape human emotions to productive ends) 
  • Spiritual intelligence (an ability to apply ethical thinking to business dilemmas, and to imbue work with purpose and meaning)
  • Social intelligence (an ability to use the new tools of the “social web” to create organizations that are transparent, flexible, meritocratic and collaborative).

These, and other, human capabilities will be increasingly critical to organizational success in a high-change, high-accountability environment.  Unfortunately, there is little in the average business school curriculum or corporate training program that cultivates these, and other, essential capabilities

The challenge question: What will it take to develop and support the sort of leaders who be capable of guiding 21st century organizations?  Or, in other words, how do we fundamentally rethink management education, training, and development (indeed, all education, training, and development) to revitalize the “supply side” of the creative economy?  


In an age when we’re asked to bring more of ourselves to work every day (more imagination, more initiative, more performance and more hours) it’s easy to feel like we’re getting less than we’ve earned (less compensation, less security, less recognition and less voice).  Today, employees are being asked to work harder and smarter and longer than ever before, but they often feel the game has been rigged in favor of a very few at the top.

Long-term, this is unsustainable.  Individuals will give the best of themselves only if they feel the “system” is inherently fair.  Among other things, this sense of equity requires that …

  • Leaders are truly accountable to the led.
  • Compensation is correlated with contribution, not hierarchical position.
  • Every idea competes on a level playing field.
  • Every voice gets heard, and every concern gets attended to.
  • Status and power go to those who add the most value, rather than to those who are the most politically astute.
  • Information is shared, not hoarded; right-to-know replaces need-to-know.
  • There is complete transparency around individual performance and compensation.
  • Decision-making processes are open and highly consultative.
  • There are no Switzerland-Somalia pay differentials.

Organizations that are equitable at their core will be the beneficiaries of the sort of dedication and passion that competitors can only dream about.  Radical fairness just might be the ultimate incentive system.

The challenge question:  What sorts of management innovation would help us to excise partisanship, politicking and the abuse of power from our organizations? How can we build organizations that are models of radical fairness?


As the environment becomes more complex and less predictable, it becomes ever more difficult for a small cadre of senior executives to anticipate the future, set strategy and make critical resource tradeoffs.  That’s why so many CEOs in recent years have seemed to fall short of expectations.  The problem has less to do with their lack of competence, than with a management model that expects too much from too few, and too little from everyone else.

Historically, there was a clear distinction in most organizations between executives, managers and operators.  Top-level executives made the big strategic decisions, middle managers ensured alignment and exercised control, and first-level operators did the grunt work of implementation.  The problem with this model is that it concentrated the responsibility for enterprise leadership at the top—in individuals who were time-starved, far removed from customers, only dimly aware of emerging trends, and overly fond of the past. 

Tomorrow’s winning organizations won’t be the ones with the smartest or most dynamic CEO, but the ones that have figured out how to maximize their total leadership endowment.  To do this, a company must distribute the work of executive leadership across the entire organization.  At a minimum, this means ensuring that team members at all levels are …

  • Equipped with the business intelligence they need to make real-time tradeoffs to maximize enterprise success.
  • Involved directly in setting strategy and direction.
  • Empowered to launch new initiatives with a minimum of bureaucratic controls.
  • Encouraged to experiment with new management methods and processes (around compensation, performance review, resource allocation, etc.)
  • Able to play a role in evaluating and selecting executives for key roles.

In a nutshell, the best way of overcoming the “leadership limits” of the top team is by increasing the opportunities for “executive” leadership everywhere else in the organization.

The challenge question:  How can we distribute the work of “executive” leadership (setting strategy, defining values, allocating resources, making key appointments, etc.) in ways that overcome the “cognitive limits” of the top team and fully exploit the leadership talents of individuals across the organization?

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rune-kvist-olsen's picture


Managing work and people. Leadingship for Everyone or Leadership for Someone.

This challenge is your choice of option in either staying behind in the past or moving beyond in the future.

I am delighted to share the launching of “The Leadingship Fieldbook” with you all. This launching took place as a lecture at the Wales Public Summer School in July this year. Feel free in forwarding this message to your contacts and throughout your network. Please give me a response on this launching. I will appreciate a notice or an initiative in promoting the Leadingship Approach towards other potential occasions and events that might be relevant.

Your change is your challenge!

As someone stated after the lecture on “Leadingship”: “Whilst I didn't feel comfortable in Rune's presentation, it created personal challenge about my beliefs and priorities. Therefore, by definition it achieved its outcomes.”.

The video is available here:

Best regards,

Rune Kvist Olsen

Tlf. 0047 90 09 45 58

ellen-weber's picture

Much work in this thought- provoking post Gary and Polly - thanks for laying it all out so well. I do have two questions:

One key conclusion here intrigues me for several reasons:. "In a nutshell, the best way of overcoming the “leadership limits” of the top team is by increasing the opportunities for “executive” leadership everywhere else in the organization."

My question 1). isn't it worth risking an approach to do this without excluding folks at the top - so that top team finds effective incentive to cross silos rather than dismiss innovations? It's happened for me.

Your challenge question states:: How can we distribute the work of “executive” leadership (setting strategy, defining values, allocating resources, making key appointments, etc.) in ways that overcome the “cognitive limits” of the top team and fully exploit the leadership talents of individuals across the organization?

My question 2). Could your question here be tweaked a bit to re-energize top teams by a very different approach than that typically used. We are rolling out several very innovative approaches at Mita Brain Center, for instance that would call for a bit of a different question here, one that holds cognitive possibilities for all levels of management.

Others likely have even better ways to accomplish what I am after here -- but I'd like to see you tackle "cognitive limitations" by raising incentive beyond these - and several neuro and congitive discoveries hold keys to jumpstarting possibilities for developing that talent across organizations:-)

Again thanks for your belief in the best - as shown in this article! Best, Ellen