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Ideas: The Only Route to Growth

Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove

There comes a point in any working life when you begin to consider the point of it all. Why do you spend more hours than appear sensible fulfilling a particular task? Why aren’t you famous/rich/happy/powerful or however you measure success? We had that moment with the Thinkers50 a few years ago.

We initially had the idea of ranking the world’s leading management thinkers in 2001. People liked it. The ranking was covered by the media worldwide and each time we produced it, the Thinkers50 became better known and more influential. It made the front page of The Times of India, the Harvard Business Reviewfeatured it, and we began developing the Thinkers50 in publishing and for events.

But there was still something missing.

CK Prahalad

CK Prahalad

And then we filmed some interviews and spent time with CK Prahalad. CK had topped the ranking and was at the very top of his game. He was an intellectual with charisma and a conscience. He wanted to make the world a better place.

We realised then that the ideas and thinkers we feature in the Thinkers50 have huge power. The thinkers can fill auditoriums and deliver knock-out keynotes but, much more importantly, their ideas have the power to make the world a better place.

CK Prahalad’s ideas of the Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid did just that. It enabled and encouraged people to think of the huge swathe of poverty stricken people at the foot of the economic pyramid in new light, with constructive compassion rather than pointless pity. Businesses and economic activity emerged due to his concepts.

The ideas and thinkers we feature are changing the world. They influence how companies and organisations are managed and led. They change how individuals practice management and leadership. Think of Navi Radjou’s work on frugal innovation, Rita McGrath on the end of competitive advantage, Clay Christensen on the realities of disruptive innovation, Don Tapscott on the blockchain revolution, or Nilofer Merchant on onlyness.

These ideas enable organisations and individuals to perform more effectively, responsibly and successfully.

Our focus had been on corporations, but as CK and others have made clear, there is no barrier to the power of ideas. This was a point made by Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter in his acceptance speech on topping the Thinkers50 in 2015. “Ideas truly do change the world. I have seen that with my own eyes all throughout my career,” said Professor Porter. “I also believe that management thinking unlocks value in every field, not just business. We all understand that management thinking allows markets to work better in delivering value to customers. We have also learned that management thinking and deeply understanding competition at the grassroots level reveal the true sources of competitiveness and what really leads to economic development. This is starting to permeate its way through our economic development thinking. Based on my recent work, management thinking unlocks value in healthcare. Medical science is not the constraint in healthcare today, it is the ability to think strategically, to organise, to measure the right way, to create new kinds of delivery systems. I also think management thinking and a new conception of how corporations relate to society is one of the most powerful tools we have in the world to address society’s pressing challenges.”

As Michael Porter suggests, ideas are the route to tomorrow’s competitiveness. This is the powerful rationale behind Thinkers50 Europe, the new and truly unique partnership between Thinkers50 and the Danish city of Odense.

Innovation in OdenseAs we have discovered, Odense, Denmark’s third city, is a fascinating and exciting place. The Guardian has called Odense “the most liveable City in Europe”. It boasts 350 miles of bike lanes and champions fair trade. Business-wise, Odense has a vibrant entrepreneurial culture and is home to an array of leaders in the worlds of robots and drone technology – including Universal Robots and Mobile Industrial Robots, a trailblazer of mobile platform systems. The city’s high-tech cluster now numbers over 80 companies amounting to 2,200 jobs. Odense is spending around 4.5 billion euros on the city’s transformation.

Thinkers50 Europe will host events featuring the world’s leading management thinkers and highlighting best practices from the Odense region.

Anker BoyeThe key realisation of the city of Odense is that economic growth is not simply driven by investments in infrastructure, low tax rates, government grants and the like. Growth can be driven by becoming a hub of great ideas, by being a focus for the exchange of the latest thinking. “It is important to Odense to develop and to strengthen our competitive advantage within the field of robots, IT, drones and welfare technology. To achieve the objective of becoming one of the world leaders in each of these industries we need to constantly focus on innovation and new ideas that will take us to a new level. With Thinkers50 in Odense, we will be able to connect with the best ideas for the future, as well as introducing the best of our ideas to the rest of the world,” says Odense Mayer Anker Boye.

“We cannot compete with Asia in low cost production, but we can compete on other parameters if we are on top of the new ideas and new ways of doing things, like making smarter robots for use in even small scale productions or making drones common property.”

Fairtrade in Odense

The reality is that the fuel for economic growth is the ideas which form the basis for new technologies and companies. But then, to scale, develop, deliver and succeed in the long term with these ideas requires management and leadership knowledge. For companies, organisations of all kinds, cities, regions and nations, ideas are the route to a better world.

Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove are the founders of the Thinkers50.