Blue Oceans dominate the world of business ideas … Renee Mauborgne and Chan Kim are crowned the new thought leaders at the Thinkers50 Global Summit 2019

November 18, 2019

The Financial Times calls it “The Oscars of Management Thinking.” Every two years, the world’s top business thinkers gather in London for a day of ideas sharing, and night of ego polishing.  This was a moment to celebrate the impact of ideas – and the people who articulate and spread them through their business books, academic programs, and also their practical implementation.

Indeed this year’s top management thinkers represent a changing of the guard. Gone are many of the grand old men of academia – Christiansen and Goldsmith, Peters and Porter, Martin and Mintzberg. In come a fresh generation of thinkers and doers, with a crop of new ideas for the digital world. More youthful, more female, more global and more practical too. An increasing number of corporate executives rub shoulders with academia – from companies like Alibaba, Buurtzorg, Haier and others.

Renee Mauborgne and Chan Kim, co-authors of the Blue Ocean Strategy, ranked as this year’s top thinkers. Mauborgne is the first woman to be named as the world’s most influential thinker, with Kim being the first person from Asia to top the list. The INSEAD professors are also the first representatives from a European business school to earn this honor. Their breakthrough idea of pursuing uncontested markets (blue oceans) in place of highly-competitive ones (red oceans) has become a business school staple over the past 15 years.

Kim and Mauborgne climbed three spots on this year’s Thinkers50 to reach the top spot in a ranking. Previous leader, Roger Martin, architect of integrative thinking, placed 2nd. Amy Edmondson (Harvard’s fearless professor, Alex Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur (of business model canvas fame), and Rita McGrath (seeing around corners) made up the Top 5.

The ranking is designed to identify the “ideas with the power to change the future” through “a clearly articulated theory or philosophy of management”. It is founded on two concepts viability (‘quality and relevance of ideas”) and visibility (“impact of ideas on the world”). This becomes the “4Rs” (relevance, rigor, reach, and resilience) along with criteria like media coverage, academic citations, public affiliations, and communication skills.

The Thinkers50 isn’t just a ranking, but focuses on awards too. Rosabeth Moss, a long-time Harvard Business School professor, earned a Lifetime Achievement Award. Santiago Iñiguez de Onzoño, former dean of IE Business School and current president of IE University received the Founders Award, which recognizes “the architects who lay the foundations for ideas to flourish.” Harvard Business School’s Amy Edmondson collected the Breakthrough Idea Award for her work on creating fear-free business cultures. Dartmouth Tuck’s Vijay Govindarajan took home the Innovation Award, while Harvard Business School’s Francesca Gina nabbed the Talent Award.

Other awards went to the following thought leaders: Marshall Van Alstyne and Geoff Parker (Digital Thinking Award), Jos de Bok (Ideas Into Practice Award), Liz Wiseman (Leadership Award), Sanyin Siang (Marshall Goldsmith Coaching and Mentoring Award), Radar Award (Pim de Morree and Joost Minnaar), and the Strategy Award (Chris Clearfield and Andras Tilcsik).

The Radar Award, in particular, honors “emerging thinkers” who possess the potential to make an impact in management theory and practice. This year’s Radar shortlist includes ten business school professors: Peter Bergman (Columbia MBA), Gabriella Cacciotti (Harvard Business School Professor), Brianna Caza (Manitoba Asper), William Kerry (Harvard Business School), Ben Laker (Henley Business School), Aneeta Rattan (London Business School), David Lewis (London Business School), Alison Reynolds (Ashridge-Hult Business School), Fabrizio Salvador (IE Business School), and Michael Smets (Oxford Said).

Whilst for me there is still too much self-congratulation going on, academic thinkers in their little bubble, this year did show some moments of inspiration. Ideas are the real champions here, not the professors. Ideas that can be embraced in practical ways by normal business folk, in the heat of everyday work, to move their organisations forwards in new and better ways. Some of the best moments were therefore Alex Osterwalder and team explaining how they actually went about creating their canvases, Zhang Ruimin talking about his 30 year journey at Haier, and people like Ming Zeng and Frederic Laloux finally cracking the ranking.

Here is the new Thinkers50 ranking:

Rank Name  School Known For… Previous Rank
1 W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne INSEAD Authors of The Blue Ocean Strategy 4
2 Roger Martin University of Toronto (Rotman) Former Dean (Rotman) and Co-Author of Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works 1
3 Amy Edmondson Harvard Business School Author of The Fearless Organization, Teaming To Innovate and Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate and Compete in the Knowledge Economy 3
4 Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur Strategyzer (Osterwalder); University of Lausanne (Pigneur) Co-Authors of Value Proposition Design: How To Create Products and Services customers Want and Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Gamechangers and Challengers 7
5 Rita McGrath Columbia Business School Author of The End of Competitive Advantage: How To Keep Your Strategy Moving As Fast As Your Business 10
6 Daniel Pink Author Author of Free Agent Nation: The Future of Working For Yourself and To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Persuading, Convincing and Influencing Others 11
7 Richard D’Aveni Dartmouth (Tuck) Author of Strategic Capitalism and The Pre-Industrial Revolution 9
8 Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee MIT (Sloan) Authors of Rage Against The Machine and The Second Machine Age 12
9 Scott D. Anthony Innosight (Senior Partner) Author of seven books and consultant who focuses on capitalizing on disuption (HBS Grad) 34
10 Adam Grant Wharton Author of Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach To Success and Top-Rated Professor at Wharton for Four Consecutive Years 8
11 Simon Sinek Consultant and Motivational Speaker Consultant and author of five books on organizational leadership 18
12 Erik Ries Long-Term Stock Exchange Pioneer of lean startup methodology 16
13 Lynda Gratton London Business School Founder of the Hot Spots Movement; Head of the Future of Work Research Consortium; and Author of Humoan Resource Strategy: Corporate Rhetoric, Individual Reality and Living Strategy, The Democratic Enterprise, and Glow. 29
14 Whitney Johnson WLJ Advisors (Also teaches in Harvard Business School’s corporate learning program) Co-Founder of Clayton Christensen’s Investment Fund; Regular Contributor to The Harvard Business Review 30
15 Zhang Ruimin Haier Group Chairman and CEO of the Haier Group (Ranked Among the Largest Manufacturers and Most Innovative Companies); Dubbed a 26
16 Hal Gregersen MIT (Sloan) Co-author of The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators and collaborator with Clayton Christensen; Developed 24
17 Liz Wiserman Wiseman Group President of the Wiseman Group; Author of Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work, Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, and The Multiplier Effect: Tapping the Genius Inside Our School 35
18 Hermenia Ibarra London Business School Author of Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies For Reinventing Your Career; Winner of the Thinkers50 Leadership Award 20
19 Pankaj Ghemawat New York University (Stern) Author of World 3.0 and Developer of the DHL Global Connectedness Index 17
20 Martin Lindstrom Lindstrom Company Author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy; Named one of the 36
21 Francesca Gino Harvard Business School Author and researcher who focuses on how talent can enhance their creativity and productivity. Author of Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules in Work and Life 49
22 Linda Hill Harvard Business School Author of Becoming a Manager and Co-Author of Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives of Becoming a Great Leader 15
23 Steve Blank Consultant, Author and Speaker (Also teaches at Stanford, UC Berkeley, Columbia, and NYU) Co-author of The Startup Owner’s Manual and The Four Steps to the Epiphany 14
24 Subhir Chowdhury ASI Consulting Group Author of 13 Books, including The Ice Cream Maker and The Power of Six Sigma; Pioneer behind Six Sigma Framework 27
25 Anil Gupta and Haiyan Wang University of Maryland (Smith) (Note: Haiyan Wang is managing partner of the China India Institute and also a Smith MBA ’95) Research and writing partners in the rise of China and India. Gupta is also a co-author of Global Strategies for Emerging Asia. 28
26 Morten Hansen U.C.-Berkeley (Haas) Co-Author of Great By Choice (with Jim Collins) and Author of Collaboration 41
27 Niolfer Merchant Author (Also a Santa Clara MBA ’00) Author of 11 Rules For Creating Value In The #SocialEra and The New How 22
28 Ming Zeng Alibaba Group The former action president of Yahoo, Zeng is now the chief strategy officer at Alibaba and author of 2018’s Smart Business. NR
29 Michael D. Watkins IMD Best-selling author of The First 90 Days, which has sold over a million copies. NR
30 Rachel Botsman Oxford University (Said) An expert in technology and consumer trust, Botsman is the author of What’s Mine Is Yours and 2017’s Who Can You Trust 46
31 Gary Hamel Strategos One of the Originators of 31
32 Erin Meyer INSEAD Along with being the author of The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, Meyer also authored 39
33 Susan David Harvard Medical School A psychologist by trade, David is the author of Emotional Agility – rated as Thinkers50’s Breakthrough Idea of The Year in 2017/ 40
34 Seth Godin Author (Stanford GSB MBA ’84) Founder of Squidoo; Pioneered the Six-Month MBA Program; Author of 17 Books, Including Tribes, Linchpin, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable; and Poke The Box 33
35 Amy Cuddy Harvard Business School (Executive Education) Developed Stereotype and Content Model (SCM); 2012 TedTalk ( 43
36 Marshall Van Alstyne and Geoff Parker Van Alstyne: Boston University (Questrom); Parker: Dartmouth (Thayer Engineering) Van Alstyne and Parker are the co-authors of the highly-influential Platform Revolution and the recipients of the Thinkers50 Digital Thinking Award in 2019. NR
37 Gianpiero Petriglieri INSEAD A psychiatrist, Petriglieri has won an array of awards for his research and teaching, including 2018’s best case in human resources and organizational behavior from The Case Centre. 47
38 Marcus Buckingham Author and Consultant Buckingham’s first book — First, Break All The Rules — was a best-seller that ranks among the 100 most influential business books of all time according to researchers Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten. An expert in developing strengths and delivering feedback, Buckingham has authored nine books, including 2019’s Nine Lies About Work.
39 Frederic Laloux Author and Executive Coach (INSEAD MBA ’02) Laloux is the author of 2014’s Reinventing Organizations, one of the decade’s most influential books, that re-imagines the organization in terms of no hierarchy, inner wholeness, and purpose.
40 Gary P. Pisano Harvard Business School An HBS faculty member for 30 years, Pisano has authored over 100 influential articles, cases, and books, with his most recent work being 2019’s Creative Construction: The DNA of Sustained Innovation. He was a finalist for the 2019 Thinkers50 Innovation Award. NR
41 Jim Collins Author and Speaker (Stanford GSB MBA ’83) Author of Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make The Leap, Built To Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, and How The Mighty Fall: Why Some Companies Never Given In. 31
42 Sheena Lyengar Columbia Business School Author of Art of Choosing — ranked among the best business books of 2010 by The Financial Times. NR
43 Stew Friedman Wharton School Founding Director of Wharton’s Leadership Program; Pioneer in Work/Life Balance; and Author of Be a Better Leader, Have a Richer Life 38
44 Sydney Finkelstein Dartmouth (Tuck) Author of 17 Books, Including Why Smart Executives Fail and Superbosses 23
45 Julian Birkinshaw London Business School Author of Reinventing Management and Becoming a Better Boss 45
46 David Burkus Author and Speaker A prolific writer, Dr. Burkus has published three books in the past three years. The most recent is Friend of a Friend, a new way of looking at how to build strategic networks. 48
47 Heidi Grant Ernst & Young A neuroscientist by trade, Grant is the director of research and development at EY after heading up research and science at the NeuroLeadership Institute. 50
48 Dorie Clark Author (Also faculty member for Duke Fuqua and Columbia Business School executive education) A graduate of Harvard Divinity School, Clark is the author of several books on personal branding, with the most recent being Entrepreneurial You. 48
49 Michael Jacobides London Business School A faculty member at LBS since 2007, Jacobides’ research focuses on how innovation spreads across ecosystems. NR
50 Tiffani Bova Salesforce.com Growth IQ NR