Thinking big in an effort to change the world

While Occupy protesters in Vancouver think about how much the corporate world sucks, maybe they should take a cue from some real thinkers

While those Occupy protesters in Vancouver and elsewhere study their navels and think about how much the corporate world sucks, maybe they should take a cue from some real thinkers – those at the top of their game and who are considered the world’s most innovative management thinkers.

Ideas matter. That’s what launched Thinkers50, a biennial search for the top 50 business gurus, those brilliant minds able to take a concept and turn conventional business on its head.

Thinkers50 was launched in 2001 by a two adjunct professors at Spain’s top IE Business School. This year four Canadians have made it, three in the top ten. This is heavyweight stuff.

The list comes from voting at the Thinkers50 website with input from a team of advisers. The search is based on ten principles: originality, practicality of ideas, their impact, how they are presented, written communication, loyalty of followers, business sense, international recognition, the thoroughness of research, and that elusive guru factor.

Winner is Professor Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School. His book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, explores the conundrum that successful companies can fail by ‘doing everything right’. Their successes actually become obstacles in the face of changing markets, especially if what they create disrupts the market status quo. Innovation may help create new markets but the transition can throw it own curve ball.

Professors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne came second with their wildly successful Blue Ocean Strategy taking that market dilemma to a new level. They showed how to open up ‘blue oceans’ of uncontested marketing space by making the competition irrelevant. They emphasized re-defining market boundaries, overcoming organizational hurdles, getting the strategy right and focusing on the bigger picture.

Third place winner with ‘reverse innovation’ was the $300 man – Vijay Govindarajan (VG), a professor at the Tuck School of Business. His idea for starting an innovative plan is to launch in an emerging nation, then introduce it in developed countries. He challenged designers to create a house for $300, thus launching a campaign to re-invent housing for the world’s poorest people.

At No. 4 is Jim Collins, a former Stanford professor, who set out to understand why some companies thrive in unstable environments while others falter. Michael Porter (5th place) examined competitiveness and explored shared value, arguing that companies should offer value to society as well as shareholders.

Canadian Roger Martin, dean of the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto (6th place) explores how the real market – the business of designing, producing, selling – is wrongly coupled with the expectations market – the business of stocks and options trading. He compared the dilemma to an NFL event like winning the Super Bowl (reality) to winning a bet on the Super Bowl (an expected reality).

Marshall Goldsmith (7th place) and Marcus Buckingham (8th place) both overhaul mental approaches to success. Canadian digital guru Don Tapscott (9th place) with Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World reveals the mass collaboration of digital technology and the changing world of corporations and people’s careers.

In tenth place is Canadian Malcolm Gladwell writing for the New Yorker magazine and author of a string of best sellers while McGill University’s Henry Mintzberg ranked 30th with his revolutionary thoughts on managers, managing, and a company’s success from dialogue with its employees.

Visionary ideas are the hallmark of free-market capitalism, the only system, history shows, that really creates prosperity. But you won’t hear that from the Occupy bunch.

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