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Seeing Into Gary Hamel's 'Future'

It's almost pompous to title a book "The Future Of" anything. The future usually flummoxes forecasters of all stripes, though they may get pieces of things right. In fact, an executive I was interviewing once told me he saved time by not reading anything that aimed to predict the future, and I've found that a useful tip.

Still, if you're a manager, it's hard not to at least look at a book like Gary Hamel's new book "The Future of Management," written with Bill Breen. Hamel holds up management innovation as the pinnacle of the corporate innovation process, ahead of operations innovation, product or service innovation and strategic innovation. But creating real management innovation, he says, is a huge challenge.

Part of the problem, Hamel claims, is that management is nearing an historic shift in its practice, and what it will mean.

Hem argues that management remains a top-down, 1960s affair that is not capable of dealing with the 21st century economy, with its rapid market shifts, low barriers to entry, virtualized companies, digitalization, globalization, and other challenges. Managers, he argues, are and always have been focused on efficiency.

He thinks that makes them focused on commodity techniques that any organization can duplicate. As he notes: "there is a growing swarm of consultants who work long days transferring best practices from exceptional companies to mediocre ones."

He also attacks companies for "intellectual feudalism" and "creative apartheid," which assumes that good ideas can only come from the top, or within specific departments (though he also says managers are not expected to innovate themselves, only to implement the good ideas of others).

Clever phrases like these make the book fun to read, though it does slip into management speak, like "Calibrating Your Agenda for Management Innovation." He also at one point refers to Schumpeterian competition and Darwinian competition in the same paragraph, as if to cover all his bases.

Still, he does a good job of whacking management approaches as they are. Then he shifts to Dr. Phil mode â€" how can managers break their bad habits and create innovative companies, where every employee works hard for the company?

In my next post, we'll look at whether his answers seem like they could work.

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