The Rise Of Indian Thought Leaders

Mahatma Gandhi endorsing products!

I still remember being a bit shocked seeing Apple’s ‘Think Different’ advertisement campaign in Silicon Valley a few years ago. It was initially disconcerting to see Bapu (as he is popularly known as in India) being used posthumously, to help sell products in a foreign land.

Isn’t that branding at the highest level or was it going against branding principles?

Looking back, I now feel that was perhaps the beginning of a deeper appreciation, and acceptance of what Indian philosophy and personalities can contribute to business thought and business success, in line with today’s business processes and thinking.

The late Sumantra Ghoshal, had categorically mentioned sometime back that a very different and new kind of management philosophy is blooming, and that it will soon become the dominant thinking force and will cover the purpose, process, people and philosophy.

In fact, he was right.

We are now moving beyond strategy to purpose, and beyond structure to process and also beyond systems to people.

India has now become the place for “business process outsourcing” (BPO). Gradually, it has also become a hub for “knowledge process outsourcing” (KPO).

In the last few years, so much has been written about Business Process Management, and about technologies supporting it such as BPMS, SOAP, and Web Services. Most of these theories, tools, and techniques refer to processes of a highly structured nature.

Typically, BPM theorists and practitioners have focused on highly structured processes, like back office processes of industrial or administrative nature. These processes happened to be highly standardized and repeatable, are able to generate a consistent output, and in most cases are likely to be automated. Besides, all process instances are executed in a very similar way and it is easy to draw a flowchart detailing the sequence in which tasks are executed. It is also possible to formalize the business rules that guide the decisions, which are normally based on the evaluation of some process variables.

But recently, there are also other kinds of processes have caught the attention of process management specialists. They are known as knowledge processes, or knowledge based processes (KPO).

Knowledge based processes or KPO can be in a way defined as “high value added processes in which the achievement of goals is linked to the skills, knowledge, and experience of the people carrying them out.” Some examples of KPO could be management, R&D, or new product development processes. However, it is to be noted that knowledge processes cannot be managed by following the standard “business process management” paradigm.

However, some people maintain that knowledge workers don’t like following procedures, because they feel it limits their creativity; but most of the time they will be happy to follow a procedure as long as they see value in it, perceiving that it helps them work better and produce a better process output.

They are, in a way, more difficult to implement through discipline than administrative human centric processes (as some discipline is needed). It is better to focus on obtaining buy-in from the people affected by the processes through early involvement, communication, and expectations management. In fact, the best way to ensure process improvement is to generate an environment in which people are motivated, enthusiastic, and passionate about process management.

To ensure a smooth flow of process is to choose a person with leadership skills and an appropriate level of responsibility, and influence him in such a way that they are responsible for the continuous improvement of the process. In other words, give them a clear objective to achieve and an incentive to reach the goal. In addition, also ensure that the flow of information between executors and the process owner is fluid, and encourage people to contribute to process enhancement through incentives. View employees as a part of the process and their input as their stock value and reward contributors accordingly, in addition to monetary incentives.

This new interesting and subtle process has been fast gaining acceptance, a process that was pointed out by the late Sumantra Ghoshal, sometime back. It is now popularly known as “thought process management” and has widely gained acceptance and recognition in world business philosophy.

Thought process management, will not only shift the basic doctrine of shareholder capitalism but moderate it as well. Accordingly, it would mean that if people were adding the most value, then they would increasingly have to be seen as investors and not as employees. Shareholders obviously invest money, expect a return on their money, and expect capital growth. Now, people will also be seen in the same way. So, they will invest their human capital in the company, will expect a return on it, and expect growth of that capital.

A Thought leader is a buzzword to describe a thinker, seer, or an individual, who is well-regarded among their peers for their groundbreaking ideas, and one who demonstrates the conviction to endorse or reveal those ideas as actionable refined insights.

One of the unique characteristic of a thought leader, is the respect and appreciation from the outside world that the company has a profound knowledge about its business, the needs of its clients, and the sphere in which it functions.

Phew! Just like legal advisers, we are now going to have to hire more astrologers and tarot readers as who could be better thought-process advisers other than them! (Pardon me, and please view this in the sense that it is portrayed!)

Although, Ghoshal was right about a new management philosophy blooming in the business world, the term, “thought leadership” was incidentally first coined early back in 1994, by Joel Kurtzmanfirst coined early back in 1994, by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of the magazine, Strategy & Business. The term was used to designate interview subjects for that magazine who had contributed new thoughts to business.

Among the first “thought leaders,” were British management thinker, Charles Handy, Stanford University economist Paul Romer, Mitsubishi president, Minoru Makihara, and Gary Hamel, a professor at the London Business School. Then there is the late University of Michigan strategist, C.K. Prahalad who authored The Core Competence, in addition to a lot other management books, such as the New Age of Sustainable Capital, and Strategic Intent, being a few.

Since then, the term, “thought leadership” has spread from business to other disciplines and has come to mean someone who enlivens old processes with new ideas. As a result, there are thought leaders in the sciences, humanities and even in government.

Of course, another flamboyant figure in this field is Dr. Deepak Chopra.

Dr. Chopra left a lucrative career in medicine to establish an unprecedented hold in American thought by an Indian. Dr. Chopra combined this with ‘there is more to it than money’ theory with lessons from Yoga, Indian scriptures like the Bhagavad-Gita, and common sense Indian thinking about good and healthy living. Interestingly, Dr. Chopra adopted eastern values, while successfully linking it with western business tools. He is also a regular guest on television prime time programs and has influential friends and followers in Hollywood, and enjoys a high profile social life. He mentored and extensively inspired his students to take a more holistic view of management and leadership, so that it can be linked to a broader society.

The only other person who had such a large hold was Antony Robbins with his NLP (Neuro-linguistic programming) theory.

“The best way to describe it is inclusive capitalism,” says C K Prahalad, a consultant, and University of Michigan professor who ranked third in the 2009 Times of London poll about the world’s most influential business thinkers. “It’s the idea that corporations can simultaneously create value and social justice.”

Mahatma Gandhi also did not play within the expected rules of the day, and took his ahimsa (non-violence) strategy straight to the British using people power and the media. Such innovative and out of the box thinking, is becoming the norm given the pressures from competitiveness and need for profitability in world business.

Sometime back, Harvard’s Nitin Nohria, and Rakesh Khurana, an Associate Professor of Management at Harvard Business School co-authored the book, “management by profession.” Basically, the book is developed through a sociological analysis of elite, US business schools, it also covers these business processes in detail. They tend to view these not only as a profession in a technical sense, but in a normative sense which considers things like responsibility, mutual respect for the various constituents in a business enterprise such as employees and customers, and accountability.

They did also mention that most of these ideas were catalyzed through their discussions with the late Sumantra Ghoshal.

His legacy lives on.

The Rise Of Indian Thought Leaders
Sumantra Ghoshal

Top Indian Business Thought Leaders.

The Rise Of Indian Thought Leaders
Top Indian Thought Leaders

A Passage To India.

 Some US companies have appeared to have recognized the shifting intellectual tide. A number of business houses, now regularly send people to India, thus reversing the traditional flow of corporate knowledge. Infosys, for example, runs an intern program in which Americans go to work in India. US companies that include Intel are also now becoming more attuned to Indian culture.

Intel is not alone. Other high-tech firms including Adaptec, AMD, Intuit, and Rockwell Automation (just named a random few), are also offering Indian cultural lessons to their employees. Unlike some diversity training, which is aimed at avoiding lawsuits, Indian cultural programs are specifically aimed at boosting performance. Some companies, like chipmaker AMD, have gone further. For its Indian Global Immersion Program, the firm flew teams of Indian workers to Sunnyvale, California, and Austin, Texas, for a month of cultural training with US managers.

To put it simply, in the increasingly global world of business thinking, an American Spring could be followed by an Indian Summer.

This was a few years ago…. Now just about everything is outsourced to India. In fact, Donald Trump thought it would be cheaper and productive if he outsourced most of his cabinet to India (sic!). I am sure the thought process would be far more productive than the current scenario… (No offense to the POTUS!)

Top Global Business Thinkers.

I have been following influential thought leaders for quite some time, and it is interesting to see how they change each year, with regard to global issues. While I am sure each of us have a few thought leaders that have influenced us personally, the market thinks differently and changes each year.

You can access the leading influential Global Thinkers of 2016 here.

With so many business gurus, and eminent scholars around, it was difficult to parse down a list for 2017. Therefore, I opted for the easy way out.

I felt the ClearPoint Strategy’s list of 30 Business Thought Leaders for 2017 did some justice to it vis-à-vis the current year, although I still am lost as to whom most of them are. Perhaps, the new generation may find this list useful, and pick some great tips on about leadership, management, business and growth, reporting, economics, productivity, and more.

I have read and followed a few of them, and I can assure you that they do provide some highly sought-after insights. Likewise, I am certain the rest of them cannot be far behind.

Thought leadership is a developing specialty in its own right.

Our ability to understand its core practices, and to successfully employ them, is the key to positioning ourselves and our companies (and even nations) for their next level of growth.




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