Guru Gary Hamel is Wrong

Money down drain

Management guru, Professor Gary Hamel has produced this short 9-minute video: Are you really serious about

Gary Hamel’s video has three critical questions to ask everyone in an organisation:

  1. Have you been trained in innovation?

  2. How long before you could create a prototype?

  3. Do you feel personally responsible for innovation?


These are great questions. So, I am reluctant to argue with a guru like Gary Hamel, but let’s consider the answer to question one. Training everybody in Innovation is pouring money down the drain. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe even millions of dollars, have been spent on training people to think more creatively and to innovate. Most of the money spent on Innovation training is wasted because it’s directionless. What I mean by directionless is that people are simply asked to innovate, to come up with some good ideas to improve the business.

These good ideas can be anything from changing the paper used for photocopying, switching off lights when people leave rooms to opening offices in Asia. All the ideas are good, if the organisation has an endless supply of time, money and people. However, typically, organisations are short of time, money and people. So, one idea like changing the paper used photocopying may seem like a good idea by itself. However, if there are hundreds of similar ideas all with their creators enthusiastically implementing their ideas, then who will do the real work of business?

At the other extreme, is opening offices in Asia. Anyone in the business could suggest this idea. However, the investment in time, money and people and indeed the risk means that business can’t implement ideas like this without research. This research will probably be performed, not by the creator of the idea, but by someone else. However, even with only a few similar ideas all enthusiastically implemented by someone, who will do the real work of business?

In short, spending on Innovation training is a waste of money, unless there is some direction on what ideas the business needs. Training different people from different parts of the business and from different levels of the business might produce some good ideas. But to produce profitable ideas, the people must have some strong direction.

Strong direction comes from asking: What are the impossible problems your organization faces? Impossible problems are those with no obvious solutions. However if you could find solutions, then solving the problems would make a strategic difference— for your customers, against your competitors or for your organization. Solving these problems will reduce your costs or increase your productivity or improve your revenue.

Without direction, training everybody in innovation is pouring money down the drain. In today’s economy no business can afford to waste money; Yet as Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, of Harvard reminds us: “Innovation is the only way to have sustainable Growth.”