by Elana Varon

Innovation and the Future of Management

Opinion
Oct 12, 20072 mins
IT Leadership

As I alluded to in an earlier post, I’ve been reading the new book on managing innovation by business strategy guru Gary Hamel. His basic message: Managers kill innovation because they don’t know how to do anything else.

Yeah, you already knew that. In The Future of Management, Hamel tells us why—and what he thinks we ought to do about it. The book is a worthwhile—and even entertaining—course in management consciousness-raising.

So what’s wrong with managers? It may be the 21st century, but the people in charge, from the CEO to the product manager, still look at the business from a 20th—or even 19th—century perspective. Back then, the big challenge facing companies was becoming more efficient, and managers were trained to wring as much time, money and productivity from their business processes and their employees as possible. And we’re still doing that, even though the game has changed.

We need a different mindset. So Hamel (who teaches at the London Business School and founded the consultancy Strategos) lays out the steps toward a higher plane of managerial existence. He would reinvent management altogether by replacing the senior vice president’s veto with a “democracy of ideas” to which all employees can contribute; by allocating budgets for new projects dynamically to avoid “overfunding the status quo”; by letting workers choose their assignments rather than handing out orders they might not find meaningful.

In an earlier book Leading the Revolution he promoted the idea of change from the trenches. Here we learn—through examples from companies like Whole Foods and Google, along with descriptions of emerging management techniques and some pointed questions everyone has to answer for him or herself–how management has to change to accommodate it. Hamel has a blunt sense of humor about all this: He compares how companies are managed to the bureaucracies of the former Soviet Union and says an innovative leader should “think of yourself as Oprah. Your goal is to get people talking.”

The analysis makes sense, and it won’t surprise anyone who studies corporate innovation. But it’s hard to change your world view. Hamel is something of an optimist. He assumes that you really want to work differently. Or maybe he’s simply a realist. Because if you don’t change, some else will force their idea of change upon you.