THE SEARCH FOR SAFETY
That starts with Amy Edmondson, the Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management at Harvard Business School. Academically, Edmondson was initially trained to be an engineer before moving into psychology and organizational behavior. She started her teaching career at Harvard Business School in 1996, with her passions gravitating towards organizational learning, transformation, and team development. Over her career, she has penned seven books and numerous research articles and cases. In 2011, she made her first appearance in the Thinkers50 at #35. She has since collected the Thinkers50 Talent and Breakthrough Idea awards in 2017 and 2019 respectively.
Her best-known work is The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. According to Edmondson’s research, a fear-based climate often filters out the most innovative ideas and voices due to these people’s fear of being mocked or suffering retaliation. In place of these fears, Edmondson suggests developing a culture where participation is invited, candor is valued, and asking for help is expected.
“I am sometimes struck by the anxiety people seem to feel about creating psychologically safe organizations; perhaps we’re naturally comfortable living with the devil we know – organizations where self-protection quietly crowds out much of the creativity, learning, or belonging that lies under the surface without our noticing,” Edmondson writers in her book. “And the devil we don’t know – unusual workplaces where people can be and express themselves, confronting greater conflict and challenge but greater fulfillment as well – awaits.”
In September, Edmondson further expanded upon these themes in her new book, The Right Kind of Wrong, a primer on turning so-called failures into opportunities to explore and grow. “Amy’s work continues to be repeatedly cited by the practitioners we talk to as practical and inspiring,” writes Thinkers50 cofounder, Des Dearlove in a press release. “The impact of her work on psychological safety resonates throughout organisations around the world.”
GIVING MORE THAN YOU TAKE
Adam Grant, ranked 2nd in this year’s Thinkers50, has bridged the biggest gap in academia. Not only has his research broken out into the mainstream, but he also remains one of the dedicated and talented teachers on the Wharton School roster. Just 42, Grant has published 5 books and ranks as Wharton’s highest-rated professor for seven years running. The voice of original thinkers, Grant’s work is designed to help employees find purpose so they can be more productive. He views people as works-in-progress who are constantly fending off the menaces of conformity, procrastination and arrogance to maintain their optimism, connectedness, creativity. This spirit – which produces an unexpected accessibility – is one reason why Grant is so popular with undergraduates.
“Professor Grant goes out of his way to make time for his students and deliver ideas in a way where all people can learn and apply,” says Dipak Kumar, a 2019 grad who served as a research assistant to Grant. “Despite his success, he is still always working on ideas, ideas that he lets students like myself take part in influencing.”
Beginning in 2021, Thinkers50 stopped ranking top minds below the Top 10. This saved them from differentiating experts by often opaque and miniscule differences. It also made the Top 10 all the more prestigious. The splashiest Top 10 debut comes from Andew Winston and Paul Polman. Two years ago, they published Net Positive, a call to leave behind a better world. The book draws from Polman’s decade-long stint as CEO of Unilever, where he argues that “People with purpose thrive, brands with purpose grow, and companies with purpose last.” The situation, Polman says, goes far beyond quarterly returns.
“Our current economic system has two fundamental weaknesses: it’s based on unlimited growth on a finite planet, and it benefits a small number of people, not everyone.”
His writing partner, Andrew Winston, also positions the book’s premise in stark terms.
“All businesses now face a profound choice: continue pursuing the shareholder-first model that forces shortsighted decisions, hurts business, and endangers our collective well-being … or build businesses that grow and prosper over the long haul by serving the world—that is, by giving more than they take.”
A LOOK BACK
Amy Webb, a futurist and NYU Stern adjunct, landed at #4 in Thinkers50; a Radar Award winner in 2017, she debuted on the Thinkers50 list in 2021. Columbia Business School’s Sheena Iyengar debuted this year at #6, while a third professor, Harvard Business School’s Tsedal Neeley, joined the proceedings at #10 thanks to her work in remote work.
Overall, Harvard Business School placed eight faculty members on the Thinkers50 list. They were joined by INSEAD and MIT Sloan with four professors and Columbia Business School and London Business School at three each. The Wharton School and IMD Business School also boasted two professors on the Thinkers50.
How much has the Thinkers50 changed in the past two decades? In 2001, the list only included two women: Rosabeth Moss Kanter and Meg Whitman. The Top 5 (in order) featured Peter Drucker, Charles Handy, Michael Porter, Gary Hamel, and Tom Peters. The list also included Nelson Mandela, Alan Greenspan, and Lee Iacocca – not to mention Jack Welch, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson. Dilbert’s Scott Adams even popped in at #31. Fast forward a decade and the list had grown decidedly more academic. The 2011 Thinkers50 list was helmed by Clayton Christensen – though W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne ranked 2nd – the only leading thinkers found on both the 2011 and 2023 Top 10 lists. Back then, the luminaries included Vijay Govindarajan, Jim Collins, Marshall Goldsmith, Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, and Stephen Covey.
This year, you’ll find several luminaries falling out of the Top 10, including Whitney Johnson, Dan Pink, and Linda Hill. In addition, Francesca Gino, embroiled in a research controversy at Harvard Business School, dropped out of the Thinkers50 altogether.
Next Page: Listing of Business School Professors Ranked Outside the Top 10
Page 4: Other Award Winners
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