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Leading the Revolution is an important book of business scholarship. It proposes a higher standard for companies: Constantly establishing and superbly implementing improved business models for customer interfaces, core strategy, using strategic resources, and value networks. Further, it integrates the arguments of many leading thinkers about improvement methods into one set of procedures for making faster business progress. The book also makes an excellent case for this higher standard already being in operation in companies like Enron (which has obviously turned out to be a poor choice for an example), GE Capital, Cisco Systems, Nokia (which is having problems now) and Charles Schwab.
To those who have already are familiar with the literature of developing new business models (such as Digital Capital), little in this book will be new. For those who are very focused on gradual improvement, the arguments here will be foreign and puzzling. Because of Gary Hamel's stature, many will read this book and begin to grasp the changed nature of the leadership and management challenges of the 21st century. Because of ways the argument is articulated and illustrated, many more will miss the point. That's too bad.
Basically, Hamel is arguing that the kinds of changes that most people think of as revolutionary need to become everyday occurrences. This observation is based on an accelerating rate of uncontrollable change and resulting opportunities for innovation; an economic environment where fewer companies prosper while more become mediocre or below average; more pressure for performance from investors; rapidly developing business skills in business process, product, market and model innovation; broad human potential to imagine more and make it happen; and potential for improved communication and application of innovation.
As a strategist, he does an excellent job of outlining the key issues of these factors, and how to organize an enterprise to accomplish more with these opportunities. By providing an analytical context for understanding the phenomena, he helps others understand what he describing intellectually. For those who have not had these experiences, the descriptions will seem to be alien emotionally.
The book is designed to be a clone of Tom Peters' more flamboyantly-conceived works like The Circle of Innovation. The language is extreme, often bordering on being vulgar, and will make many people uncomfortable. That appears to be Hamel's purpose. The pages are laid out in vivid colors, photographs and graphics making it seem unlike most business books you have read before. This will make the book seem even stranger to many. That also appears to be Hamel's purpose. The downside of this approach is that many will simply reject the message along with the way it is presented. That's a missed opportunity on Hamel's part and on the reader's part. The message is more important and serious than the presentation.
On the other hand, I would like to give the editors at Harvard Business School Press credit for being flexible in working with Hamel to create the presentation of this book.
The book's biggest weakness is in using Revolution as the metaphor. Any student of revolutions will quickly tell you that revolutions usually lead to counter revolutions after a period of maximum turmoil. That's not what Hamel is talking about, so his metaphor will confuse many while annoying others who do not want to turn their organizations into revolutionary bands. He doesn't seem to mean to invoke Revolution in either sense, but he never makes that point clear.
The second biggest weakness is that he presents a new paradigm that is very complex and requires mastering vast quantities of new skills for most people. Many readers will be overwhelmed by the prospect. So if they hear Hamel as a herald, they may be discouraged about following the herald.
The third biggest weakness is drawing major conclusions from very limited data. For example, he asserts that companies that master this new paradigm will eventually end up taking over the assets of companies that do not, after getting their customers and top employees. He cites AOL's merger with Time Warner as his example of an asset takeover. Without going into a full analysis, that example does not fully match this argument. For example, Gerry Levin from Time Warner will be the surviving CEO. And there are few other examples where new model companies end up buying the assets of old model companies.
The fourth weakness is encouraging people to grasp the potential of powerful, underlying trends without giving them much help in understanding how to do this. That is a subject for an entire book, not just a few pages in one.
One surprise for many people will be that the book is aimed more at the rebels at lower levels in a company than at its formal leaders. The rebels will learn a lot about how to become more effective in pushing their new ideas. Those who think like the conventional wisdom will find much less guidance to help them. In fact, Hamel has a side bar about working as a consultant with Royal Dutch/Shell and the difficulties that people there had in coming up with new ideas until the consultants trained them. Conventional wisdom is based on very complicated psychological processes, and changing that conventional wisdom in useful ways is a subject well beyond the scope of a brief chapter.
You should think of this book as introducing the subject of constantly improving business models, and inviting others to follow and flesh it out. I look forward to future books by Gary Hamel and other leading thinkers in further developing the questions posed here.
While you contemplate an expanded purpose for business enterprises, you should also consider what other purposes should be added that Hamel has not addressed. Hamel's having posed such an important question should not stop us from trying to build even better ones.
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on 13 September 2000
Talking about rules for revolutionairies. Senior Managers in corporations around the world still think they can afford the luxury to ignore the impact of technology on business processes. Hamel doesn't talk about technology though, he talks about business concept innovation. And what you can contribute to that in person. A must read for everybody that thinks for themselves and everybody who forgot how to do that. I particularly like the case studies, they are about real people in real companies, like IBM. Finished reading, the pictures make it a nice coffee tablebook too. Who would have thought Harvard Business School Press would publish photobooks, now that's a revolution.
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on 5 September 2008
Many CEOs and leaders talk about the need for innovation but do not know where to start. They should read this book. In my opinion Gary Hamel is the best business writer around at the moment. He is lucid, provocative, entertaining and instructive. He gives many examples and case studies. This work will challenge you to throw off complacency and embrace innovation as the way forward for your organisation. Highly recommended reading.
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on 23 February 2014
I had the original hardback with the glossy pics 15 years ago. Eventually gave it to a friend. Now the paperback - updated and just as sharp. This is still the best framework I've seen for dissecting and building up a business model. The rest of it is Hamel and his passion for re-thinking your business and staying vibrant.
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on 19 March 2005
From the co-author of Competing for the Future and chairman of Strategos, this was one of the best selling books of 2000. Using examples including Cisco, Virgin and (unfortunately with hindsight) Enron, this is a rally cry for companies to look for the radical and not the incremental as they seek to lead their sectors.
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on 12 October 2000
This book is excellent. Black text on white paper is past history now. Hamel proves that it is not only the substance which has to be spot-on. Hereafter the way the substance is expressed is no minor issue. This was strategy edutainment galore!
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on 8 February 2001
This book gives you new perspectives on how ideas could be created in organisations. The book makes you start thinking in a different way. Never take your marketposition for granted, you never know what is around the corner.
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on 17 November 2015
VERY good book, relevant examples and engaging style
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on 17 May 2001
Gary Hamel provides many insights as to why business ideas are successful, how to shape them, how to gain support and how to capitalise on them. The book also comes in casette format which is a great summary.
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on 9 November 2000
yeah. revolutionary language and a new look for a trusted strategy guru. Hamel captures the revolutionary vibe in a better-looking-than-most business book, but stops one step short of being truly revolutionary. This is just enough revolution to keep the current leaders in business, but for the same dare-to-be-different vibe made genuinely radical and personal check out books like Funky Business (another great looking book). Closer to the imagination generation.
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