Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Nurture the Freaks

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"How do you build organizations that are as nimble as change itself? How do you mobilize and monetize the imagination of every employee, every day? How do you create organizations that are highly engaging places to work in?"

These are some of the questions being asked by Gary Hamel, author of the new book, The Future of Management. The latest issue of the McKinsey Quarterly interviews Hamel along with Howell Bryan, a McKinsey partner and co-author of Mobilizing Minds. In this interview, they discuss an emerging model for management that enables organizations to cope with the need for change and innovation.

Of course, when I read questions like these, they're instantly translated to "How do we harness the imagination of every employee to design and deliver innovative and 'blow-the-doors-off' competitive solutions." Hamel and Bryan offer compelling insight into management's role, and you're encouraged to read the full interview here. Following are a few highlights.

Hamel: "When you look at companies like Toyota, you see their ability to mobilize the intelligence of so-called ordinary workers. Going forward, no company will be able to afford to waste a single iota of human imagination and intellectual power."

Hamel: "The combination of technology and talent is a powerful catalyst for value creation, but to take advantage of the Web's capacity to help us aggregate and amplify human potential in new ways, we must first of all abandon some of our traditional management beliefs—the notion, for example, that strategy should be set at the top. So I think Lowell is 100 percent right: in terms of managing creative-thinking people, you have to separate the work of managing from the notion of managers as a distinct and privileged class of employees. Highly talented people don't need, and are unlikely to put up with, an overtly hierarchical management model."

Bryan: "These thinking-intensive people are increasingly self-directed. In fact, they're directed as much by their peers as they are by supervisors. The management challenge is akin to urban planning. The art of it is that you must enable people to make thousands and thousands of individual decisions about how to live and work, but you have to create the infrastructure to make it easy for them to do so."
The ability to innovate - to generate creative ideas and deliver on their potential - is rapidly becoming the currency of our economy. Consider the rate of innovation in the consumer electronics space. I recently bought a new iPod. This handy little device sports a 160gb hard drive and costs $100 less than the measly 80gb model I bought less than one year ago. It makes me wonder. Is Apple's product this physical device, or is their "product" more the ability to conceive, design, and develop increasingly compelling and "game-changing" products. In other words, perhaps Innovation is their product and the iPod is merely a byproduct.

Increasingly, regardless of industry sector, innovation is the number one business need, and it's up to us to maximize the extent to which this requirement is satisfied in all our pursuits.

Our role as leaders is changing (see leadership - the secret sauce). Are we trading in the correct currency? Are we mobilizing and monetizing the imagination of every employee? Are we nurturing the freaks? As Gary Hamel puts it, "Going forward, no company will be able to afford to waste a single iota of human imagination and intellectual power."

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