If you haven’t already read this book, you should read it now. It’s one of the best books on innovation I’ve read and innovation is the twelfth word in the long title. It’s also a book about strategy, that forgotten and banned word from business books. And, it’s courageous, full of things I wish I had written like, “…how many times have you heard a CEO or divisional vice president say, ’Our real problem is execution’? Or worse, tell people that ‘strategy is the easy part, implementation is the hard part.’ What rubbish! These worthless aphorisms are favored by executives afraid to admit that their strategies are seriously out of date, executive’s who’d prefer their people stop asking awkward questions and get back to work. Strategy is easy if you’re content to have a strategy that is a derivative of someone else’s strategy. Strategy is anything but easy if your goal is to be the author of industry transformation – again and again.”
The book is well written and full of gems of wisdom like:
"In a nonlinear world, only nonlinear ideas will create new wealth."
"By the time an organization has wrung the last 5 percent efficiency out of the how, someone else will have invented a new what."
"Somewhere out there there’s a bullet with your company’s name on it."
"The gap between what can be imagined and what can be accomplished has never been smaller."
We are limited not by our tools, but by our imagination.
"First the revolutionaries will take your markets and your customers Next they’ll take your best employees. Finally, they’ll take your assets."
"In the new industrial order, the battle is not democracy versus totalitarism or globalism versus tribalism, it is innovation versus precedent."
It is a call to “conscious” people in organizations to lead a revolution. The title says so in bold print on the cover. (I was walking through a hotel lobby with the book in my hand with the title clearly visible, a person that could have been someone attached to security stared at the book as I walked past.) He points out that for a company to embrace revolutionary change requires bottoms-up revolutionary thought and someone at the top supporting the change. The middle are almost always slaves to precedent. But, this is not a book aimed at executives, it is aimed at workers.
“Most of us pour more of our life into the vessel of work than into family, faith or community. Yet more often than not the return on emotional equity derived from work is meager. The nomadic Israelites were commanded by God to rest one day in seven – but he didn’t decree that the other six had to be empty of meaning. By what law must competitiveness come at the expense of hope?”
The opening paragraphs of the book encapsulate his view of the world of business:
“The age of progress is over. It was born in the Renaissance, achieved its exuberant adolescence during Enlightenment, reached a robust maturity in the industrial age, and died with the dawn of the twenty-first century. For countless millennia there was no progress, only cycles. Seasons turned. Generations came and went. Life didn’t get any better; it simply repeated itself in an endlessly familiar pattern. There was no future, for the future was indistinguishable from the past.
Then came the unshakeable belief that progress was not only possible, it was inevitable. Life spans would increase. Material comforts would multiply. Knowledge would grow. There was nothing that could not be improved upon. The discipline of reason and the deductive routines of science could be applied to every problem, from designing a more perfect union to produce semiconductors of mind boggling complexity and unerring quality.”
He continues, “We are now standing on the threshold of a new age – an age of revolution. Change has changed. No longer is it additive. No longer does it move in a straight line. In the twenty-first century, change is discontinuous, abrupt, seditious.”
And later, “It’s not that things didn’t change back there in the age of progress; they did” he continues, “But to use a metaphor from the theory of biological evolution, it was a world of punctuated equilibrium, where change was episodic. Today, we live in a world that is all punctuation and no equilibrium. To thrive in this new age, every company and every individual will have to become as nimble as change itself.”
He asks the question, “Who will create new wealth and who will squander the old?”
“Companies today are rightly obsessed with satisfying stockholders. Spin-offs, de-mergers, share buybacks, tracking stocks, value-based management programs – all these things release wealth, but they don’t create wealth. Neither do mega-mergers. These strategies don’t create new wealth because they don’t create new business models, new markets, new sources of competitive advantage or new customers. So while they may deliver onetime gains to shareholders, they don’t fundamentally change a company’s long-term earning potential. Industry revolutionaries are in the business of creating new wealth. You won’t find them playing shell games with shareholders. Any company that wants to thrive in the age of revolution is going to have to do more than wring a bit of wealth out of yesterday’s strategies. Revolutionaries don’t release wealth, they create it. They do more than conserve, they build.”
He continues, “In truth, CFOs and CEOs have been mistaken the scoreboard for the game. They have spent too much time trying to manipulate quarterly earnings and the share price, and too little time trying to build their company’s capacity for radical innovation. Shareholder wealth may be the scoreboard, but the game is radical innovation.”
Hamel makes the point convincingly that we are at the top of an economic s-curve. We’ve squeezed all incremental and imaginary costs out of present business strategy and it’s time for radical innovation, what he calls strategy decay. He also attacks the sameness of business strategies. Through the process of best practices, industries have reached centrality. All the businesses are all so close to each other strategically because they have for years determined best practices and adopted those in their own organization. Revolutionaries can break out of the pack and establish the new rules of competition.
“In the age of revolution, every company must become an opportunity seeking missile – where the guidance system homes in on what is possible, not on what has already been accomplished. A brutal honesty about strategy decay and a commitment to creating new wealth are foundations for strategy innovation. But you can’t be an industry revolutionary unless you’ve learned to see the unconventional. You won’t have the courage to abandon, even partially, what is familiar unless you feel in viscera the promise of the unconventional.”
Hamel doesn’t specifically define business concept innovation, but he does give us some of its characteristics. “The goal of business concept innovation is to introduce more strategic variety into an industry or competitive domain. When this happens, and when customers value that variety, the distribution of wealth-creating often shifts dramatically in favor of the innovator.” Later he writes, “Business concept innovation is meta-innovation, in that it changes the very basis for competition within an industry or domain.” Still later, “Business concept innovation starts from the premise that the only way to escape the squeeze of hyper competition, even temporarily is to build a business model so unlike what has come before that traditional competitors are left scrambling.”
To me a business concept innovation is a collection of product, process and procedure innovations with the right mix of incremental, distinctive and breakthrough change. If it is the right mix, i.e. the mix creates unusual value for the customer, then a shift of wealth occurs.
Hamel identifies four components of a business model – core strategy, strategic resources, customer interface and value network. He then unpacks his concept of a business model. He identifies four factors that determine a business model’s profitability (and its potential for wealth) – efficiency, uniqueness, fit and profit boosters. Along the way, he gives examples of radical innovation driven business models.
The book then turns and focuses on the individual, the revolutionary. He spends three chapters on advice to revolutionaries in Be Your Own Seer, Corporate Rebels and Go Ahead! Revolt! These chapters provide some really useful information for people who sense that revolutionary change is required, but aren’t sure what they can do about it.
He then turns his attention to revolution within old hierarchies in Gray-Haired Revolutionaries. He makes the point that an organization is never too old to change if they establish the right climate for change and provide the support and encouragement for rebels within the organization.
The book closes with Design Rules for Innovation and The New Innovation Solution. Hamel’s design rules for innovation are:
- Unreasonable expectations
- Elastic business definition
- A cause, not a business
- New voices
- A market for innovation
- Low risk experimentation
- Cellular division
“Most companies use a decidedly unbalanced scorecard – one that is heavily weighted toward optimization rather than innovation. Measures like RONA, ROCE, EDVA and ROI often encourage managers to beat a dead horse ever harder.” These and other metrics are not pro-innovation. “Without strong pro-innovation metrics, the default setting in most organizations is ‘more of the same’” He continues, “Traditional metrics do not force a company to consider how it is performing against new and unorthodox competitors in the quest for wealth creation.”
Hamel’s suggestion for a radical business concept innovation metric is a Wealth Creation Index (WCI). “The WCI lets a company determine how it has performed against a relevant set of ‘competitors’ in creating new wealth. The process of determining your company’s WCI involves two steps: defining the domain and calculating changes in the market value of your company versus the value of the entire domain.”
This is a good start but I don’t believe it’s sufficient to guide a revolution. WCI is a measure of the consequences of previous actions. The examples he gives are over a ten year period. In my experience what is also needed are predictive and present metrics – people, processes, outcomes and consequences.
Hamel ends with a real call to revolutionaries, “Do you care enough about the future to argue with precedent and stick a thumb in the eye of tradition?” He continues with other exhortations ending with, “Do you care enough to lead the revolution?”
This is a powerful book crammed full of ideas. It’s a fun book to read, but a real bear to really understand and implement. My suggestion, if you think you want to be a revolutionary, find a group like your self, read this book and create a study group or discussion group.
The book has nine chapters divided into four sections:
Facing Up to the Revolution
1. The End of Progress
2. Facing Up to Strategy Decay
Finding the Revolution
3. Business Concept Innovation
4. Be Your Own Seer
Igniting the Revolution
5. Corporate Rebels
6. Go Ahead! Revolt!
Sustaining the Revolution
7. Gray-Haired Revolutionaries
8. Design Rules for Innovation
9. The New Innovation Solution
Leading the Revolution: How to thrive in Turbulent Times by Making Innovation a Way of Life, Gary Hamel, Plume Book, 2002, Paperback, 337 pages