2014: No Surprise, the Leading Management Gurus ALL Say Innovate to Win!

All management consultants, and many business leaders, struggle to stay abreast of the latest and most important trends in management thinking. But with thousands of business books and articles published each year, it is virtually impossible to keep up. One of the tools I rely on is lists curated by some of the most venerable institutions and publications. Over the course of the year, I will summarize some of the most popular lists for you in the hope that I might streamline your own investigations.

One of my favorite lists is The Thinkers50, published every two years out of London by two business journalists, Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove, who aim to identify the thinkers and theories that are most impacting business leaders. The Harvard Business School newsletter first brought this list to my attention a couple of years ago.

Published at the end of 2013, the prominent themes—innovation and strategy — are largely the same as previous years. The most notable difference compared with 2011 is the inclusion of more thinkers whose business theories go outside the traditional management box into other realms, including digital communication, women and career management, and what climbing to the highest mountain peaks can teach us about teamwork and the meaning of life. Additionally, the top thinkers are increasingly applying business management ideas to public sector challenges, such as healthcare and education reform in both western economies and developing nations.

And the Winners Are…The Top Five of 2013.   Disruptive innovation, value innovation, reverse innovation— these buzz words, and the well-known thinkers who coined them, remain at the top of the Thinkers50 list.  Here are the top five:

  1. Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation made him famous in his book The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997). Christensen describes a winning formula when new products or services take root initially in simple applications at the bottom of the market and then relentlessly move up the value chain, eventually displacing established competitors.  
  2.  W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne encourage companies to break free from the pack by creating products or services for which there are no direct competitors through value innovation explained in their book Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space.
  3. Roger Martin proposes integrative thinking as a skill that differentiates great problem solvers. He has a new book, Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works, coauthored with Procter & Gamble CEO AG Lafley, who placed 26th on the list.
  4. Don Tapscott, in fourth place, focused on the power of digital technology. Tapscott believes that the openness of digital communication is transforming the way we communicate in a way that is as profound as the impact of the printing press.
  5. Vijay Govindarajan in fifth place (last year he placed 3rd) leveraged his work on General Electric’s reverse innovation model and examined how products and services designed for emerging markets are imported into western economies, marking a shift in the organizational structure of many multinational corporations.

Notable New LeadersThere are fourteen new names on 2013 Thinkers50 list, with women and international business leaders featuring prominently, leaving their mark on a list once dominated by western men. The list of new thinkers also includes renowned executives, such as:  

  • Procter & Gamble CEO AG Lafley (26)
  • Liu Chuanzhi (31), founder of Chinese computer company Lenovo
  • Sheryl Sandberg (34), COO of Facebook and author of Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead
  • Liz Wiseman (48), a former Oracle executive
  • Wang Shi  (50), the Chinese founder of the world’s largest residential home developer who also wrote Ladder of the Soul (2011), which offers general wisdom from his climbs to the top of Mount Everest and other peaks.

What Can You Do to Increase Innovation?   For decades, researchers have studied the factors which drive the most radical innovations. Over many years, I have developed my own list of principles and behaviors critical to innovation thinking. They are relevant in the hundreds of organizations I have encountered over the years.

  • Balance decision making that emphasizes predictability (based on past experience) with an orientation for validity (reasonable hypotheses based on deep research of customer motivations and behaviors).
  • Celebrate failure as a necessary byproduct of innovation and risk taking.
  • Experiment endlessly to manage the cost of learning.
  • Change the decision-making process to emphasize alignment versus consensus.
  • Reframe conversations to enhance ambition by focusing on opportunities and possibilities.
  • Speak Up! Talk Straight, embracing conflict as a necessary adventure in the pursuit of new directions. 

The Thinkers50 list reminds us what we already know: Innovation is more than just a hot buzz word; in today’s ultra-competitive and rapidly-paced business world it’s the difference between failure and success.

 

 

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