The AACSB's (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) magazine BizEd just published an article on Harvard Business School and London Business School visiting professor Gary Hamel entitled "The Innovation Generation". In the article Hamel argues that "business educators must become inventors, innovators, and experimenters to help business meet the challenges that lie ahead." In addition to having co-authored (with C.K. Prahalad) the management classic Competing for the Future and numerous other books and articles, Hamel is also author of the new book The Future of Management (published by Harvard Business Publishing). He is the founder of the consulting firm Strategos and the Management Innovation Lab and was recently named the #1 most influential business thinker in the world by the Wall Street Journal. This blog entry will give an overview of the BizEd article.
The abstract for The Future of Management gives a good frame of reference for Hamel's perspective on where business leaders need to focus:
"The Innovation Generation" article is a nice overview exploration of those same themes. Hamel argues that managers need to resist traditional "command and control" approaches -- historical "tools and technologies of financial performance, paper performance, job and task design" -- that only exist out of inertia and because they serve the interests of the "bureaucratic class." Instead, companies will need to mobilize human labor in new ways. He notes that "as knowledge itself becomes a commodity, a company's success will depend largely on its ability to create more value per employee than any of its competitors."
And he believes that today's young managers, schooled in the ways of Web 2.0 mash-ups and social networks that provide every person with input into the folksonomy and crowd wisdom, will not accept their input or quality being judged on antiquated models of bureaucratic stature. "It's unlikely that these people will be content to work in companies where senior executives have extra credibility simply because they're higher up the hierarchy."
To survive, "companies must reinvigorate their employees' creative D.N.A." and "commit to revolutionary goals...but take evolutionary steps." Hamel stresses that this isn't an insurmountable task. He urges business educators to think of management as a social technology, thereby open to reinvention. Experimentation is the key to that reinvention. He recounts how scientific progress historically was most pronounced when researchers were confronted with anomalous results from experiments. "There's a kind of learning and progress that you simply cannot make intellectually if you're not engaged and experimenting in the world of practice. That's how W. Edwards Deming launched the quality movement, how Bob Kaplan created the Balanced Scorecard, why Peter Senge founded the Society for Organizational Learning."
And to do this, to truly experiment, Hamel claims that business educators need to stop focusing on improving incremental effectiveness and instead envision and pursue larger, "romantic" goals. He understands that this type of outlook does not come naturally to business faculty, whereas "when I go to [a school's] computer sciences department, engineering school, or medical school, I find faculty who really see themselves as inventors...but in business schools, few faculty see themselves as experimental scientists. They study best practices...codify and share those practices, but they don't see themselves as active participants who are really affecting the future of management practice."
To that end, Hamel co-founded the Management Innovation Lab (MLab) to study and ultimately challenge inherited management orthodoxies and dogmas that curtail managers' ability to expand the scope of their goals and innovation. Specifically, it seeks to bring together two groups that when combined form a recipe for progressive advances in management practice: theory-oriented practioners (executives and managers who are in teh world of practice but ahve a passion for new ideas and a willingness to experiment) and practice-oriented theoreticians (academics who have a real desire to change the world of practice).
And he urges business leaders and educators alike to challenge their current models. Regarding business school deans transforming their curriculum to stay relevant with this changing world order, he cautions: "when we look at business model innovation, we learn that the things that ultimately make a difference were often seen in their inception as practically crazy by the incumbents. If you're not trying at least a few of those 'out there, on the edge' experiments, your business school is not embracing innovation." And he sees the management education landscape changing over the next decade, with more online and diploma programs that are focused on particular needs. (This dovetails with Clay Christensen's thoughts on the disruption of education -- see earlier blog post.)
Ultimately Hamel thinks that the opportunity is there, and now it's just a question of execution. "I do think there will be many opportunities for business schools to reinvent themselves. To what extent those opportunities are going to be exploited, I don't know."