The Financial Times dubs it, “The Oscars of Management Thinking.” Every two years, the elite gather at the Thinkers50. On November 18th, you wouldn’t have found limos and red carpets outside London’s iconic De Vere Grand. Even without flashing bulbs and Oscar de la Renta dresses, the ballroom was packed with royalty. A day-long event, the Thinkers50 Awards boasted the world’s in-demand consultants, authors, speakers, and faculty members. Like the Oscars, the event featured sweeping speeches and earnest applause (and a few snarky comments in between).
This was a day to celebrate the impact of ideas – and the people who labor in the shadows to formulate them. This year’s top management thinkers represent a changing of the guard.
‘BLUE OCEAN’ AUTHORS SAIL TO THE TOP
Renee Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim, INSEAD faculty members and 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 rank atop the list. The pair were also the first representatives from a European business school to earn this honor. Their breakthrough idea – pursuing uncontested markets (blue oceans) in place of highly-competitive ones (red oceans) has become a business school staple over the past 15 years.
“At Thinkers50 we believe there is nothing so practical as a great idea, and the concepts and tools developed by Kim and Mauborgne have been utilized throughout the world,” writes Thinkers50 co-founder Stuart Crainer in a press release. “We have first-hand experience of how blue ocean strategy has been used not only by businesses but also by schools and governments. And Kim and Mauborgne’s recent work on non-disruptive innovation provides intriguing new insights.”
Kim and Mauborgne climbed three spots on this year’s Thinkers50 to reach the top spot in a ranking laden with business school greats. Last year’s #1, Roger Martin – former dean of the Rotman School of Management and architect of integrative thinking – placed 2nd. Amy Edmondson (Harvard Business School), Yves Pigneur (University of Lausanne), and Rita McGrath (Columbia Business School) round out this year’s Top 5 – with Pigneur and McGrath both joining this exclusive club in 2019.
HARVARD, INSEAD, AND LBS FACULTY MEMBERS RANK AMONG THE BEST
Thinkers50 positions itself as “the definitive ranking of the most influential thinkers in the world.” Started in 2001, past top finishers have included Rotman’s Roger Martin (2017), Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter (2015 and 2005) and Clay Christensen (2013 and 2011); University of Michigan’s CK Prahalad (2009 and 2007); and Claremont’s Peter Drucker (2003 and 2001).
The ranking, which grew out of the efforts of two journalists, is designed to identify the “ideas with the power to change the future.” It is founded on two concepts: viability (‘quality and relevance of ideas”) and visibility (“impact of ideas on the world”). This year, Thinkers50 candidates were nominated from February through September, with nominees evaluated by a panel of advisors. Notably, their work is examined against the “4Rs” (relevance, rigor, reach, and resilience) along with criteria like media coverage, academic citations, public affiliations, and communication skills. Originally, Thinkers50 also included business leaders. For example, in the 2005 ranking, the Top 5 was populated with the likes of Jack Welch and Bill Gates. However, the criteria have since been tightened to place “a clearly articulated theory or philosophy of management” at the center of the evaluation.
This wrinkle gives a decided advantage to researchers and professors – not to mention “celebrity” thinkers like Daniel Pink who are well known to the general public. Overall, nine-of-the-ten highest-ranked thinkers teach in business schools. Overall, 28 members of the 2019 Thinkers50 work primarily out of business school. Harvard Business School, INSEAD, and the London Business School lead the pack with four faculty members each. Dartmouth Tuck, Columbia Business School, MIT Sloan, and the Wharton School each placed two members on this year’s list. NYU Stern, IMD, Oxford Said, Berkeley Haas, Maryland Smith, Boston Questrom, Toronto Rotman, and the University of Lausanne each notched one faculty member on Thinkers50 as well.
LONG-TIME MEMBERS DROP OUT…AND JOIN THE HALL OF FAME
The business school influence goes beyond these numbers too. Two faculty members who work in HBS’ executive education arm – Whitney Johnson and Amy Cuddy – are included on the Thinkers50 list (as is Susan David, who operates out of the Harvard Medical School). At the same time, Dorie Clark teaches executive education at both Columbia Business School and Duke Fuqua. What’s more, several MBA alumni are included on the list as well. Notably, INSEAD’s Frederic Laloux (’02), author of the highly-influential Reinventing Organizations: An Illustrated Invitation to Join the Conversation on Next-Stage Organizations, cracked the Top 40. He sits between Seth Godin and Jim Collins – ’84 and ’83 Stanford GSB graduates whose combined intellectual heft rival the leadership might of HBS’s legendary ’81 and ’82 classes (Jamie Dimon, Jeff Immelt, etc.).
In judging nominations, Thinkers50 also emphasizes a candidate’s production over the past two years. This shows in the substantive changes that have occurred in just the past four years. In 2015, for example, Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter and Clayton Christensen ranked 1st and 2nd. In 2019, neither cracked the Top 50, a sign (perhaps) that both are the proverbial lions in winter better suited for their Hall of Fame inductions, which came respectively in 2018 and 2019. Don Tapscott and Marshall Goldsmith also dropped out of the Thinkers50 in 2019, though both joined Christensen in being inducted into the Thinkers50 Hall of Fame. Richard Florida (Toronto Rotman), Jeffrey Pfeiffer (Stanford GSB), and John Kotter were also Top 20 thinkers who weren’t part of the list in 2019 as well.
The Thinkers50 isn’t just a ranking, however. At the gala, several awards are doled out. Notably, 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.
A NEW CROP OF TALENT EMERGES
The remainder of the 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).
Along with HBS’ Clay Christensen and author Don Tapscott, this year’s Hall of Fame class includes IMD’s Bill Fischer, Dartmouth Tuck’s Vijay Govindarajan, author Hermann Simon, and Bain partner Chris Zook.
Who are the 2019 Thinkers50? What ideas have they championed? How have they influenced academics and popular culture? Go to the next page to see who they are, where they work, and what they’ve done.