Thinkers 50 Awards … the “Oscars of Business Ideas”

November 11, 2013

London, UK

“Thinkers 50” has established itself as the world’s leading authority on business thinking, scanning and ranking all the business gurus and their ideas from around the world. 15 years ago, Des Dearlove and Stuart Crainer, two London-based journalists and authors set out to build a ranking system, to effectively curate the management brain. From the Financial Times to Wall Street Journal, they asked readers to nominate those who articulated the best ideas. The bi-annual listing has become the most treasured prize of gurus from Peter Drucker and Charles Handy, Tom Peters to Michael Porter. But only one of them was on this year’s list.

This year’s awards were held in Drapers Hall, London, the former palace of Thomas Cromwell. Many of the world’s best thinkers attended, from Clay Christensen, the guru of disruptive innovation, to Roger Martin who brought design thinking to business,Pankaj Ghemawat on emerging economics, to Rita McGrath and the end of competitive advantage. It was a battle of business schools, with Harvard, INSEAD and IE particularly to the fore. Interestingly when the rankings started in 2001 they featured many CEOs like Bill Gates and Jack Welch who have now been replaced by more storytelling thinkers like Dan Pink and Marcus Buckingham. It features many more female and Asian thinkers too.

Here is the Thinkers 50 ranking of the world’s best business thinkers for 2013:

  • 1. Clay Christensen (Harvard): “The Innovator’s Dilemma.” Idea: Innovate to disrupt
  • 2. Chan Kim, Renee Mauborgne (INSEAD): “Blue Ocean Strategy.” Idea: Find new markets
  • 3. Roger Martin (Rotman, Toronto): “Playing to Win.” Idea: Strategy is about choices
  • 4. Don Tapscott (consultant, Toronto): “Wikinomics.” Idea: The power of networks
  • 5. Vijay Govindarajan (Tuck, Dartmouth): “Reverse Innovation.” Idea: The $300 House
  • 6. Rita McGrath (Columbia): “End of Competitive Advantage.” Idea: Strategy is innovation
  • Innovation Thinker: Navi Radjou … “Jugaard is about simple, frugal, and flexible innovation”
  • Strategy Thinker: Rita McGrath … “If competitive advantage is for seconds, think bigger”
  • Global Solutions Thinker: Don Tapscott … “Network thinking can help society come together”
  • Leadership Thinker: Herminia Ibarra … “You need to be brave to lead in the world today”
  • Future Thinker: Nilofer Merchant … “The future is built on brilliant ideas”
  • Best Business Book: Playing to Win … “Strategy should be simple, fun and effective”
  • Breakthrough Idea: The Circular Economy … “Rethinking business to reuse everything”
  • Lifetime Achievement: Ikujiro Nonaka … “We need to learn to make ideas happen faster”

Clay Christensen gave a deeply emotional acceptance speech. He described how in his early 40s, and with four kids, he decided to enter the world of academia, and how he depended upon many colleagues and iterations to turn badly articulated, complex and chaotic ideas into simple, powerful concepts. We all know his disruptive innovation theory today – that whilst leaders typically stretch for ever-better products, it is the less-good but good-enough products that typically disrupt their markets, and blow them out of the water. Tearfully he reminded the world’s best thinkers that they are still human, and that family and friends matter and help the most.

There were some great moments during a day of high-octane ideas jamming:

  • How to thrive in a changing world? “Learn to relate, to choose, and to learn” Amy Williamson quoting Alvin Toffler in Future Shock, 40 years ago
  • “There are more than enough business ideas in the world. We need more people asking the right questions” Clay Christensen
  • Roger Martin “50% of business schools will be gone in 7 years as learning models change and new business models support them”
  • “We spend too much time thinking and saying what to do, and not enough time on how” (and doing it) Clay Christensen on the how matters more than the what.
  • Today’s search for “higher purpose” in business coincides with growth markets where spirituality is more part of work and life, considered Stew Leonard.
  • Quantum companies are more successful. People work in many places at once, on short, medium and long term projects” Anil Gupta
  • “European businesses have a better way of working” … Intel v ARM, EA v Rovio, Amazon v Asos … Linda Gratton on transient entrepreneurs v enduring collaborators.
  • “As competitive advantage declines, companies use people like Kleenex … temporary, cheap, disposable” Rita McGrath on the consequence of commoditisation.
  • Developing market companies will be 50% of the Fortune 500 by 2025 … and are already 25% today” Pankaj Ghemawat.

Whilst everyone likes to have their own big idea, what struck me is the convergence of ideas. In a global market, connected and dynamic, the integrating theme is “strategic innovation through agile leadership” – crossing the old functional silos into which we put books like we used to design organisations. Business needs bigger ideas to stand out and do more, to engage and inspire people, but its how these ideas connect to solve real problems, and drive growth, that matters. In the real world, where business has to make ideas happen, it is about how we build on the old ideas – from 5 forces to strategy wheels, Belbins and 360s, to be both jugaard and disruptive, circular and collaborative –  to be smart and successful in changing markets.

Personally, it was fantastic to be included in the Thinkers 50 Guru Radar for the first time, a collection of some of the emerging thinkers, including Navi Radjou and Nilofer Merchant, Alex Osterwalder of the business model canvas, Whitney Johnson who wrote “Dare Dream Do”, Hal Gregerson, Iqbal Qadir, Maya Hu-Chan and more.

Ideas can change the world … the ability to capture and articulate an idea that then infects and inspires people across the world to innovate and grow their businesses is powerful indeed.

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