What Matters Now: A book review by Bob Morris

What Matters Now: How to Win in a World of Relentless Change, Ferocious Comoetition, and Unstoppable Innovation
Gary Hamel
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint (2012)

How and why knowing and doing what matters NOW will create an organization “fit for the future and fit for human beings”

I have read and reviewed all of Gary Hamel’s previously published books and consider What Matters Now to be his most valuable…thus far. There are specific reasons why he is ranked among the most important business thinkers and all are evident in his latest book: He has an insatiable curiosity to understand what makes an organization successful, what doesn’t, and why; he has a passion to share what he has learned with as many business leaders as possible; his material is directly relevant to almost any organization, whatever its size and nature may be; and his experience-driven insights invalidate the sacred premises and assumptions of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes, in Leading Change, as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

In the Preface, Hamel urges his reader to ask, “What are the fundamental, make-or-break challenges that will determine whether your organization thrives or dives in the years ahead?” For Hamel, five issues are paramount:

Values: “Not surprisingly, large corporations are now among society’s least trusted institutions…vales now matter more than ever.”

Innovation: “After a decade of talking about innovation, it’s time to close the gap between rhetoric and reality. To do so, we’ll need to recalibrate priorities and retool mindsets.”

Adaptability: “In most organizations, there are too many things that perpetuate the past and too few that encourage proactive change. The `party of the past’ is usually more powerful than the `party of the future.'”

Passion: “The problem is not a lack of competence, but a lack of ardor. In business as in life, the difference between `insipid’ and ‘inspired’ is passion.”

Ideology: “Better business processes and better business models are not enough – we need better principles. That’s why ideology matters now more than ever.”

Hamel devotes a separate Section (consisting of five chapters) to each of these five challenges in which he explains how leaders can ensure that their companies “win in a world of relentless change, ferocious competition, and unstoppable innovation.”  As I worked my way through his lively and eloquent narrative, I was reminded of one of Marshall Goldsmith’s books whose title asserts, “what got you here won’t get you there.” In response, I presume to suggest, Hamel would assert, “what you do NOW and how you do it will determine whether or not there is a ‘there.’”

In the concluding chapter, he shares a roster of 25 make-or-break management “moonshots” that are intended to inspire business innovators everywhere, compiled by 36 management experts (the “Renegade Brigade”) after lengthy discussion during a conference. (Note: Some of this material previously appeared in an HBR article, February 2009.) He hopes that one or more of these moonshots will inspire his reader to become a management innovator. More specifically, “to question your assumptions, surrender your conceits, rethink your principles, and raise your sights – and that you challenge otters to do the same. We know broadly what must be done to create organizations that are fit for the future. The only question is, ‘Who’s going to lead and who’s going to follow?’ How you answer that  question matters most of all.”

If not now, when?



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