Gary Hamel had been a business school professor for nearly twenty-five years when the ego-pummeling epiphany came to him: His kind weren’t of much use. Students trained in the best management innovation weren’t the best managers of innovation. In some cases, business school training was actively harmful.
Hamel had just completed an investigation of Google, interviewing the Internet company’s top executives, charting its history, and obsessively probing how its employess delivered a stream of world-changing products. He spent time with then-CEO Eric Schmidt, met with middle managers, and went into the trenches to talk to rank-and-file employees. His big insight came as he was writing up his case study for the Harvard School of Business, recounting in amazement how Google seemed perpetually on the “brink of chaos,” how its “20 percent time” policy fed an orgy of personal experimentation and a slew of innovative, and sometimes quite profitable, new business lines. In a world where the pace of change was relentless, Google was one of the few businesses that could keep up.