Every two years, a leading group of management thinkers from around the globe convenes for a special event: the Thinkers50 Awards Gala. The aim of the event is to celebrate those who are pushing the envelope in management thinking and to provide a forum to share the current top ideas in business and management.
Over two days, we met at the majestic and historic Guildhall in the heart of London to hear from thinkers on topics surrounding leadership, coaching and mentorship, diversity, artificial intelligence, and sustainability. In the building’s ornate Great Hall, where royalty and state visitors have gathered for centuries, the speakers extended the boundaries of our current thinking, challenging us to question our assumptions and biases.
Here are a few of our top takeaways from the event:
1. Leadership is learned
Julie Carrier, authority on leadership development and confidence for girls and young women, asked elementary students to draw what they thought a leader looked like. This is what they drew:
From our work with heads of strategy, innovation, and transformation at Fortune 500 companies, we know that leadership looks a lot more diverse.
As a society, we have a challenge. If students don’t see themselves as leaders, they’re less likely to take on leadership roles and opportunities to improve their skills. Leadership is learned. That’s why Julie founded the Leadership Development Institute for Young Women, a program to equip students with the right skills, from an early stage, to recognize themselves as leaders.
2. Mentorship matters
Ruth Gotian—educator, author, coach, and speaker on optimizing success—studies extreme high achievers: Olympians, executives, Nobel Prize winners, etc. One thing they all have in common is having a mentor. And usually, it’s not just one but a team of mentors. Mentors provide multiple perspectives, expand your network, and can introduce you to new opportunities.
To build your mentoring team, look for others in your field, retirees, contacts outside your field or industry, and senior or junior peers.
3. Nail your networking
“Croissant, don’t bagel.” No, it wasn’t snack time. It was a networking tip from Dorie Clark, recognized as the No. 1 ranked communication coach: Make sure the shape you form when networking leaves room for others to enter the conversation.
Key takeaways from Dorie’s networking session: Find common ground and nail your opening. Before events, consider what you want to be known for, then work that into answering common questions like, “What do you do?” and “What are you working on right now?
4. Seek innovation in and outside the box
For an upcoming podcast episode, we’ve been digging deep into the six-step method to come up with your best ideas from the book Think Bigger by Sheena Iyengar, world expert on choice and decision-making. Key to her framework is searching in and outside the box—look at best practices and experiments that have been tried in your industry. Simultaneously, look for options outside your industry. Combine tactics from both sides to create new innovative solutions.
5. Fail fast but smart
Amy Edmondson, champion of psychological safety and now the No. 1 ranked management thinker in the world, reminded us that what looks like “intuition” is really pattern recognition. To achieve success, you need to increase your failure rate. Make failure intelligent by tracking your experiments and recording your learnings.
6. Do more for diversity
As companies and leaders, we’re all talking about diversity. We want to do better, but we’re not doing enough. Diversity and inclusion experts Ruchika Tushlyan, Modupe Akinola, and Rukasana Bhaijee took on this challenging topic. While looking for common ground can help to connect us, it also risks leaving out people who haven’t always been included.
We should seek to celebrate differences just as often—check your biases and talk to someone you might not usually talk to. Read fiction by diverse authors. Simple inclusion practices like offering wearable microphones to match darker skin tones make people feel safe and truly welcome.
7. Ask critical questions of AI
The session on artificial intelligence and the digital revolution—led by tech and AI experts Martin Lindstrom, Sinan Aral, and Kate O’Neill—blew our minds and made us think. With an exponential technology like AI, we can’t even conceptualize the future possibilities from our present viewpoint. We risk information polarization and losing sense of what is real. As you work with these technologies, consider: Who is training the algorithm? How do the creators of this technology make money?
8. Think long-term to improve the short-term
The existential threats of climate change demand that companies evolve beyond short-term shareholder value to become sustainable and solve our current climate challenges. According to trend expert Andrew Winston, innovation and transformation guru Scott Anthony, and e.l.f. Beauty’s Chief People Officer Scott Milsten, focusing on the long-term actually improves the short-term. To survive, companies must transform to profit from solving problems, not creating them, providing net positive value to society and the environment.
9. Bid goodbye to bureaucracy
It was an honor to meet with Chairman Zhang Ruimin, founder and CEO of the Haier Group and winner of this year’s Thinkers50 Lifetime Achievement Award. Zhang discussed the evolution of RenDanHeYi, the management ideology he developed to break down bureaucracy and turn siloed organizations into fast-moving, innovation centers.
We’ve studied RenDanHeYi extensively over the past two years and it is a clear front-runner for unleashing intrapreneurship in large organizations. Gary Hamel did an expert (and entertaining) job breaking down Zhang’s method.
The insights garnered during the sessions and conversations were too many to list. It was a pleasure this year to recognize so many familiar faces in the crowd as guests on the Outthinkers Podcast. Congratulations to all the winners and thank you to everyone who attended – we look forward to continuing to push the boundaries of organizational thinking with you.