by Alison Bass

Learning Creativity: Teaching Radical Innovation via the Web

Dec 01, 20002 mins

Consultant Gary Hamel goes online in his effort to teach innovation.

Gary Hamel and his consulting company, Strategos, make a lot of money telling companies how to transform their corporate cultures so that really innovative ideas—the kind that produce an eBay—have some chance of making it to the boardroom.

Hamel also offers a streamlined version of his insights at corporate “boot camps” every year. But the evangelist of business strategy wants to convert an even larger audience, so he is going online. Starting in mid-2001, Strategos and Quisic, an e-learning company, will teach radical innovation via the Web.

The venture is not without risk. While e-learning is the fastest growing segment of the corporate IT education market—capturing $3 billion in revenues last year—until now it has filled a relatively narrow niche: training technical personnel in Java or teaching employees how to navigate Microsoft Excel or Lotus Notes. Menlo Park, Calif.-based Strategos, partnering with Quisic (formerly UniversityAcess) in Los Angeles, is the first to try to teach creative thinking over the Web.

As Hamel notes in his new book, Leading the Revolution (Harvard Business School Publishing, August 2000), it’s hard enough to get traditional corporations to even acknowledge that the way they’re doing business—incrementally improving products, for instance—is no longer sufficient to survive in the new economy. So convincing those corporations to change their entire mind-set in order to harness the brains of everyone in the company for creating truly radical innovation and thus new business wealth—well, that’s a formidable task even for highly paid consultants.

Hamel is banking on his online academy’s reaching sufficient numbers of employees in a given corporation that change can sprout widely, like an overseeded vegetable patch. “One company may not be able to afford to send 10 people to one of our conferences, but I can get 10 people online to absorb our ideas,” Hamel says with supreme confidence. “I’d like to close the yawning chasm between [having] new ideas and putting them into practice.”