Is the Management Guru Business Dying?

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Are business icons eclipsing the halo of famous management gurus? Do the rising sales of business biographies, both print and digital, and plummeting sales of business books support the above hypothesis?

Conferences addressed by business leaders are usually full while organizers are fi nding it very tough even to recover the cost on seminars led by many management gurus. Biographies and public lectures (even recorded) by Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Google founders, Richard Branson, Jack Ma, Narayana Murthy, Ratan Tata are clearly the rage today. Also, TED Talks and INK Talks in India are giving executives sufficient portions of intellectual salad to munch on.

The Economist’s Schumpeter (‘Twilight of the Gurus’ April 25, 2015) has captured this trend very well. He appears to have created a fl utter in the management guru business. The Thinkers50, which thrives on its ranking of management gurus every two years, is fuming at the columnist for good reason.

Thinkers50 founders Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove rubbish The Economist’s views in their post: “We disagree. Business thinking is busier, bigger and better. Its influence is now much more profound — but can’t be measured by old fashioned yardsticks.” (‘The Dawn of the Next Generation’). They surmise that growing Twitter follower numbers of gurus proves their point. Yet, their counter appears feeble and unconvincing.

Schumpeter points out how the Thinkers50 rankings have not changed much in the last two editions and there have not been any groundbreaking books in recent years – Two of the most prominent business books of the past few months have been retreads rather than new publications with new ideas: the tenth-anniversary edition of Kim’s and Mauborgne’s ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ and the 20th-anniversary edition of Don Tapscott’s ‘The Digital Economy.’

Even Vijay Govindarajan’s ‘Reverse Innovation’ (2012) and Michael Porter’s ‘Creating Shared Value’ (2012) are clearly a spin on C K Prahalad’s and Stuart Hart’s concept ‘The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid’ published in 2002. Porter has not had the equivalent of a number-one hit since ‘The Competitive Advantage of Nations’ 20 years ago.

What’s more, the last two “Thinkers50” rankings of the world’s leading management pundits, published in 2011 and 2013, show no change at the top, with Clay Christensen of Harvard Business School and the duo of Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne of INSEAD ranking first and second respectively. It won’t be a surprise if a majority of the top ten-guru ranking in the 2011 and 2013 may repeat in their 2015 edition as well.

Clearly, a majority of the gurus who made it to recent ranking are those whose ideas made a big impact in the 1980 and 1990s. Today, many of their ideas have either become obsolete or are being re-packaged brazenly.

So, is the guru business reaching the end of a long cycle of creativity and those who continue to hang on are simply in denial? Is the business of business thinking gone stale?
Mini Gurus
It is easy to spot dozens of mini-gurus who are specialists in their areas and this number will only grow. Is the era of gurus like Peter Drucker, Tom Peters, Michael Porter, C K Prahalad – who could see the interconnectedness of everything and off er theories and ideas that were relevant for all businesses, coming to an end?

Schumpeter takes a hard dig at the mushrooming of the ‘the thought leadership’ culture which is breeding more followers than igniting new sparks for the dearth of new big ideas. “Whenever companies treat thinking as “content” and deploy their marketing and PR people to pump it out, the result is bound to be cliché or gobbledygook.”

Pay Pal founder Peter Thiel, who wrote ‘Zero to One in 2014,’ could be the new kid in town. Although the book is written for start-up entrepreneurs, it has a lot of fresh and counter-intuitive insights on Economics, talent and technology management and, of course, financial risk management.

Clearly, trends such as the internet of things, smart phone, autonomous machines, networked organization, the responsible business movement, conscious capitalism have changed the way business is done today, something alien even five years ago.

But the world still needs big ideas to fight very tough  challenges such as climate change, sustainability, terrorism, unemployment, global poverty. They all have major impact on business outcomes in the future.
The guru industry, as Schumpeter suggests, does not need only disruption to revive, it may have to make a new beginning.