Gary Hamel: The Future Happens on the Fringe

How do we move from the theory and practice of management that were invented 100 years ago to building and running organizations that are fit for the future? Gary Hamel, in this short lecture, points out that we are the first generation of managers and leaders who has had to deal with an exponential rate of change;  our companies face hypercompetition; and any knowledge advantages dissipate quickly.

How can we then build organizations that are fit for the future? Today, “for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, you cannot build a company that’s fit for the future without building one that’s fit for human beings. Hamel suggests three mindsets. Have high aspirations (see the “reverse accountability” put in place by Vineet Nayar at HCL Technologies); challenge dogma, be a contrarian; and learn from the fringe. Because “the future happens on the fringe”. And the fringe – at least of you look at it from the perspective of a Fortune 500 corporation – is the Web: the Web with its openness, meritocracy, flexibility, collaboration: the greatest operating system for innovation ever invented.

“The values that today characterize the Web, we’re going to have to bake them into our organizations.”


Meet Francesco Marini Clarelli, European Business Angel of the Year

There are business angels in Europe: they are less visible than the Silicon Valley super-angels, but they do invest in early-stage enterprises, they work to make the business environment more open to entrepreneurs, and they believe in the power of entrepreneurship to add dynamism to our tired economies.

On May 12 Francesco Marini Clarelli, an Italian, was honored as Business Angel of the Year by EBAN, the European Association of business angels, seed funds, and other early stage market players. As an angels’ lobby, EBAN has committed to a few notable efforts, such as producing the white paper on Women and European Early Investing and launching a range of initiatives to support women and early stage investing. Italian Angels for Growth, the network that Francesco founded a few years ago in Milan, has been selected by EBAN as a pilot organization in its effort to bring women from 5% to 20% of early stage investors in Europe by 2015.

I have known Francesco for a few years, not just in my role as a mini-angel and member of Italian Angels for Growth, but also as a family friend. He prefers to keep out of the limelight. But in wine connoisseurs’ circles, he is best known for returning to Christie’s a bottle of 1784 Château d’Yquem, which they had mistakenly shipped to Francesco, instead of the 1904 he had bought: still a fantastic vintage, but not as phenomenally rare as the 1784, which may or may not have been a legendary “Jefferson bottle“.

Congratulations, Francesco! I hear you opened the 1904 with some friends a few years ago, but I am sure your cellar offered a choice of other worthwhile bottles to celebrate the EBAN award in style.

Lunar mining: “Limit” and “Moon”

Fiction, as you know, is one addiction I nurture with pride. Over a recent long weekend, I was able to read Frank Schätzing’s Limit, at 1,300 pages a doorstopper of a science-fiction thriller that I am told is the author’s worst book so far, but that I rather enjoyed, to the point of claiming that Schätzing was Dan Brown for people with brains.

Limit is set in 2025. Its earthly locations are Shanghai, Berlin, and a few others; notably, a remarkable digression projects into 2025 the wretched history and politics of Equatorial Guinea, which I recommend you read about in Ken Silverstein’s recent Foreign Policy story. But much of the action takes place on a colonized Moon, where Julian Orley, a distinctly Richard-Bransonish entrepreneur, is giving his VIP guests a preview of an unprecedented space tourism experience. Orley has also set up a massive and successful mining operation on the Moon to extract helium-3 from lunar regolith, largely solving our dependence on terrestrial fossil fuels and leaving the world’s oil companies to scramble for an alliance with him or wither and die. Things, of course, will go wrong; but I won’t spoil them for you, dear readers.

In our reality, according to contributors to the Wikipedia page, it turns out that the premise of helium-3 as a power generation fuel has been explored, that the isotope is indeed present on the Moon, and that Chinese and Russian sources have expressed an interest in mining it.

A few days later, I watched MoonDuncan Jones‘s well-regarded film debut. In Moon, there is lunar mining of helium-3, just like described by Schätzing in Limit, but there is no space tourism; and indeed, the loneliness and isolation of the astronaut manning the mining operation plays out in a rather unexpected plot twist.

The connections between book and movie do not end here. Jones’s father, David Bowie, appears as a character in Limit, playing guitar in the evening for his friend Julian Orley and declining an invitation to join the trip to the moon. He is just too old, he says, and he has found that his calling was on Earth all along. Limit, as fiction, does have its limitations; yet, Bowie’s wistful appearance lends it a true touch of poetry.

Amazon.co.uk, order updates, revised delivery dates and apologies (Updated)

On March 20, I placed an order on Amazon.co.uk.

For a physical book. (I know: for my own consumption, I’ve only bought ebooks for the last six months or so. But this is a richly illustrated book, and it’s meant as a gift, so I want it in its full physicality, its cellulosic, tree-killing, chemically enhanced glossy incarnation. Plus, it’s not sold in ebook form.)

In the space of 40 days, I have received 10 order updates from amazon.co.uk.

The first (April 6) told me:

“We regret to inform you that your order will take longer to fulfill than originally estimated.”

On April 14, I received a new estimated delivery date: April 29. On April 15, I was told “We are pleased to report that the following item will dispatch sooner than expected”, i.e. April 21-22.

On April 18, a new delay (estimated delivery date: April 23-30), together with an appropriately contrite apology statement:

“One of Amazon’s aims is to provide a convenient and efficient service; in this case, we have fallen short. Please accept our sincere apologies.”

On April 20, a new estimated delivery date (April 27 – May 4), with the same statement. Again, on April 22 (estimated delivery date: April 28-May 5), April 24 (estimated delivery date: April 30 – May 6), April 27 (estimated delivery date: May 4-9), and April 29 (estimated delivery date: May 5-10): all with Amazon’s sincere apologies.

Then, the apologies stopped. On May 1, “We are awaiting a revised estimate from our supplier, and will email you as soon as we receive this information.” On the same day, two minutes later, another email with a new estimated delivery date: May 6.

I wonder if I’m heading into another loop of apologies, revisions, notifications and estimates. I have tons of respect for Amazon’s operational abilities and I like knowing what’s going on with my order, but this is starting to feel like a case where making the catalog item available for ordering was perhaps premature.

And in terms of communicating with the customer… more than, say, one update per week feels like too much information. It’s a book, after all: not a kidney, or a new set of corneas. Just get it to me when it’s ready, OK?

Update, May 22: Since writing this post, I received  13 more email updates from Amazon along the same lines. The 14th was different: “We regret to inform you that we have been unable to obtain the following item… We apologise for the length of time it has taken us to reach this conclusion.  Until recently, we had still hoped to obtain this item for you.” After 24 emails, it’s almost a relief.