Gary Hamel on How Big Companies Inhibit Employee Creativity

In this video from Techonomy 2011 in Tucson, Ariz., Gary Hamel, director of Management Lab, challenges companies to let employees have the same financial and creative flexibility on the job that that they have at home. Why, he asks, can a woman in Bangladesh get a micro-loan more readily than the average frontline employee at a global 1000 company can get a small amount of money for something experimental?

In this video from Techonomy 2011 in Tucson, Ariz., Gary Hamel, director of Management Lab, challenges companies to let employees have the same financial and creative flexibility on the job that that they have at home. Why, he asks, can a woman in Bangladesh get a micro-loan more readily than the average frontline employee at a global 1000 company can get a small amount of money for something experimental? Also appearing in this video: Marc Benioff, CEO of salesforce.com; Scott Cook, Founder and Chairman of Intuit; and Roger McNamee, Managing Director of Elevation Partners.

Hamel: At the end of the day, the speed at which anything can evolve is a function of how many experiments get run. And so, just to take a small little analogy, the thing that’s always amazed me, you see something like the Grameen Bank, you know, I can’t remember now how many millions of loans they’ve made, mostly to women, and so on  But I keep asking myself the question, why is it easier for a 50-year-old woman in Bangladesh to get a micro loan, whatever it is, to buy a mobile phone, to rent it to your neighbors, to buy a few chickens, whatever. But it’s easier for that person with no collateral, almost no paperwork, to get a little bit of experimental capital than it is for the average first level employee in a Global 1000 company? Like, it just doesn’t make any sense at all.

And so the ability for just ordinary people in organizations to start something, to experiment, I think that thing is going up. But there’s still in most organizations a huge amount of bureaucracy, there’s too many places you have to go for permission, too many rules just to allow to allow the kind of spontaneous experimentation to happen. And so this kind of, you know, it’s a soft tyranny if you like, in organizations, it’s not like a hard tyranny you had, you know, in Egypt or somewhere else, but it’s tyranny nevertheless.

You know, I think there might be the average person walking around here in Tucson, they can go out and they can write a contract to get a $20,000 car.  You put that person inside a large company, they need two sign-offs to buy a $500 office chair. Do they just become stupid the moment, like, we get put a badge around the neck. I don’t know. But I don’t think you can—you know, you can’t have that kind of experimentation unless you have an organization that empowers people in new ways, and then it unleashes all that stuff you’re talking about.

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