Professor Gary Hamel, founder of the Strategos Consulting Firm and a visiting professor at Harvard Business School, Stanford University, the University of Michigan, and the London Business School, referred to himself as a "Gray-Haired Visionary" during an executive briefing way back in 1998.

Radical innovation is nothing new. The Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter called it Creative Destruction in his 1934 book of that title. He stated that radical innovation "...strikes not at the margins of the profits and the outputs of the existing firms but at their foundations and their very lives."

It's not that incremental innovation is not important. However, radical innovation is the silver bullet that changes the world. The inventions of the car, airplane, telephone, mobile phone, Internet, and so many other products and services that appeared to have emerged out of nowhere hav changed our world in a very profound way.

But no definition of radical innovation is as vivid and clear as Hamel's nearly two decades ago.

During his 1998 briefing he began with:

"Those who live by the sword..."

I can only guess that you would finish that sentence the way the original, from the biblical Gospel of Matthew, ended:

"... die by the sword".

However, Hamel finished the sentence with something more profound:

"... get shot by those who don't..."

The original intention of "those who live by the sword, die by the sword" was to suggest that the way you lived your life would be the way you end it. If you lived life violently, you would die a violent death. However, Hamel's modification suggested something else. It also brings a picture to mind.

In a scene from the 1981 Steven Spielberg movie Raiders of the lost ark, Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) found himself in the middle of a 1936 Cairo Square, facing an Arab assassin sent by the Nazis to kill him. The swordsman assassin skillfully waved his sword in front of Ford, challenging him to a swords duel. According to the story, the original script called for Ford to reach out to a nearby sword, and with the sword and his whip win the fight. However, with Ford himself (and most of the crew at the scene) already suffering from dysentery, feeling impatient, he realized that in this scene he still had his revolver in his side holster. Believing this would likely end up on the cutting room floor or the gag reel--he pulled out the revolver and shot the assassin. Everybody cracked up, but the director decided to keep this scene in the movie as is.

What did Hamel mean when he said "those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't"? Hamel celebrated radical innovators. Those who do not play by the rules. Those who do not innovate incrementally by creating "a better mouse trap", but rather inventing something completely different, and changing the behavior of the market, completely disregarding "the rules of the game".

For almost 20 years, this remains one of the most powerful quotes I have ever used.

This article is an adapted excerpt from my book Un-Kill Creativity: How Corporate America can out-innovate startups.

Published on: Oct 6, 2017
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