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The changing face of business gurus

Nov 14, 2008 Business Daily, Strategy

The Top 10 most influential business gurus:

1. Gary Hamel
2. Thomas L. Friedman
3. Bill Gates
4. Malcolm Gladwell
5. Howard Gardner
6. Philip Kotler
7. Robert Reich
8. Daniel Goleman
9. Henry Mintzberg
10. Stephen R. Covey

The Wall Street Journal, 5 May 2008

Academics might be expected to dominate the Wall Street Journal’s list of most influential business thinkers. These days, however, psychologists, journalists and celebrity CEOs are crowding them out. The ranking is compiled using Google hits, media mentions and academic citations to measure influence.

Gary Hamel still tops the list, though. He is known for his often polemical books and articles and, with fellow academic and writer C. K. Prahalad, for pioneering business ideas such as ‘strategic intent’ and the ‘core competence’. His latest book, ‘The Future of Management’, is a thought-provoking look at how the profession might change in years to come.

He is joined in the Top 10 by columnists Thomas Friedman (of the New York Times) and Malcolm Gladwell (the New Yorker). Both have authored best-selling books that can be found on the shelves of most chief executives: ‘The World is Flat’ (Friedman) and ‘The Tipping Point’ and ‘Blink’ (Gladwell). Both of these journalists bring a very fresh perspective to business thinking, using their innate curiosity about human economic behaviour.

Interestingly, two psychologists make the list. This reveals that the world is waking up to the fact that business is not about numbers and structures alone: it is driven most powerfully by the underlying emotions and capacities of the players involved. Howard Gardner pioneered the idea of ‘multiple intelligences’ – the realisation that every human being is wired to have certain types of intelligence that dominate, and others that are in the background. Some might have a linguistic or musical bent in their thinking capacity, for example; others may emphasise movement or structure. Daniel Goleman is also very well known, for his path-breaking work in defining emotional and social intelligence.

I have a lot of time for the work of these two gentlemen, and teach it on my own leadership development programmes.

Bill Gates, Michael Dell and Jack Welch all make the Top 20. These are iconic CEOs who have become gurus through their work in companies, rather than through research and analysis. And it seems you don’t necessarily need to have excelled in school to be a great influencer of business: Richard Branson is a well-deserved No 13 in the list!

What is this list telling us? That business wisdom can be derived from a variety of sources, and that we all need to be much more diverse in our sources of business knowledge. This is a point that would be well made to most Kenyan educational institutions, with their often crippling emphasis on book learning and rarefied research.

Finally: change may be happening, but is it the ‘change we need’? We also note that the list is almost entirely American; that there are no women in the Top 20; and that it may be a long, long, long time before an African will enter this list. But hey, if a skinny fellow from Nyanza can become president of the USA, what’s stopping us from producing our own business gurus? We create our own roadblocks.

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