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This is my bird dammit

Here’s the story that encapsulates Gary Hamel’s keynote at the first general session of ASAE & The Center’s 2009 Annual Meeting and Exposition:

You know the cliché: a bird in hand is worth two in the bush. Hamel disputes the saying, noting that, when it comes to the archaic ways leaders run their businesses, the bird in hand is actually all scrawny and you’ve been squeezing so hard for so long, it only has a few feathers left—it couldn’t fly away if you threw it. The two in the bush are much more worthwhile.

Why the reinterpreted cliché?

Hamel’s message is that organizations without a fine sense of adaptability are doomed, and almost every organization is based on a structure designed for efficiency. It’s an interesting take, just about every organization with a hierarchy is based on the industrial management model—one that had at its heart the purpose of turning human resources into robots. Unfortunately, the same structure isn’t much of a friend to adaptability, and leaders just don’t recognize it—they hold on to the bird they have wring it until there’s nothing left.

When it comes to human resources, Hamel has his own hierarchy of needs, and it goes like this: obedience, diligence, intellect, initiative, creativity, and finally passion. Once again, management and leadership in today’s organization focus on the first three things (obedience, diligence, and intellect), all of which can now be outsourced to anywhere on the globe. The last three things are what leaders need to focus on. It’s no longer the job of a leader to get people to serve an organization’s mission, it’s the job of a leader is to try to create a place with a mission that people feel good about serving.

So let’s just say you’re willing to let go of that bird—and beat the bush to try to find the new business model that will enable your organization to be adaptable, how do you do that?

Hamel had a lot of thoughts, but nothing is quite so simple that you can follow a recipe—add this ingredient, a dash of that, stir, and voila—so here are things to think about:

-Clearly Hamel is anti-hierarchy. He says nothing kills an idea faster than having to send it up the chain, so that it faces each person’s set of assumptions and biases. It’s bound to be shot down at some point, especially ideas from the front line people.

-Being effective adaptors means having both freedom and discipline, things that may sound like the opposite but shouldn’t be thought of that way. He used the example that a university staff is pretty high in the degree of freedom in the workforce, while a Fortune 100 company is high in discipline. He poses it as a question, how can you get discipline other than in the organizational forms you currently have?

-We have a tendency to want to focus on an idea, build a plan, and work it. Hamel’s alternative is to spend much more time on looking at different ideas. He says it takes a 1,000 wacky ideas to get 100 work examining further; from that 10 are worth running some experiments around, and then there’s 1 or 2 that will be worthwhile.

Hamel talked fast, and I missed much. Drop me a comment and let me know what needs to be added.

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Comments

There's always that baby-making analogy...but I'm not going to repeat it! He had the four imperatives needed to get over denial that anything's changed and move forward:

1. Look at everything you believe as a hypothesis, not an unchangeable fact.
2. Challenge orthodoxies that have grown up over time. (Great example here about hotels being full of orthodoxies, like giving people those tiny bottles no one can read first thing in the morning. Best line: "The lotion in the hair can be interesting, but the mouthwash will leave your hair minty fresh all day.")
3. Realign talent and capital, which is hard because there aren't a lot of slack time for talent to be nurtured, and no one wants to lose resources to exploring new things, because to lose resources is to lose status.
4. Change management principles, which you talk about--the efficiency vs. innovation dilemma.

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