Compere: This week we proudly announce the winners of the 2013 Thinkers50 Awards. Break open the champagne, raise your glasses. Ladies and gentlemen the toast is the world's top 50 management thinkers - their inspiration and the valuable contributions they continue to make to our society.
Cynic: (Interrupting the proceedings) Excuse me. Did I hear you correctly? You mean to say that this gang of academics and consultants who earn their living from touting banal fictions concerning human enterprise, who trip over common sense and rebrand it as innovation, who help their clients manufacture growth via greed, are getting accolades? That's a bit rich. Is this some kind of joke? It's a hoax right?
Compere: Au contraire my tiresome friend. The world at large is indebted to these ideas pioneers. It would be pretty mean-spirited of you to deny the impact these celebrities have had on business today. Why our largest and most successful corporations would be totally different were it not for these gurus. You of all people should know that.
Cynic: Oh, I am not doubting their impact for one minute - just the nature of the results. From what I have seen the consequences from their ideas disrupt business, often pointlessly; connect only tenuously with the real world; perpetuate myths that are clearly flawed; and act as an intolerable burden on most of humanity - even in their own backyard. Besides, their popularity, though happily on the decline, is almost exclusively the result of gullible senior executives who are too lazy to think for themselves.
Compere: My, my. You are such a misanthropist. I don't see why I should even bother to argue with you. You appear to have such a jaundiced view of thought leadership! Can you not at least appreciate their originality and good intentions?
Cynic: Now I 'm convinced you are in jest. Thought leadership indeed! Show me the tiniest crumb of originality. Explain to me how any of these ideas help create a better world for anyone other than an elite group of fat cats. Tell me how they give hope and create a new sense of purpose for people living in rural Cambodia, Bolivia or Zaire - or Spain for that matter. As for their intentions, surely their only goal is to make more money - for themselves and their clients? I do not necessarily impugn such goals. Money makes the world go around, right? But let us be absolutely frank. Setting aside the few authentically innovative concepts that have revolutionised the field of management, like Deming's slant on Quality Control, for example, or Stafford Beer's Viable Systems Model, most new management ideas are either recycled fads or petty scams: designed to have a limited shelf life they hoodwink organisations into believing they must keep on changing, so as to keep on growing. But hello! The world does not need more growth. Nor does it need greater wealth - at least not in developed countries. The lack of genuine inventiveness displayed by these Top50 management thinkers is pitiful. They publish their claptrap because they need to satisfy the protocols of the academy. If they do not publish then they do not get promoted. But if they were in any other profession they would be held up to ridicule. Lacking any sense of a deeper social responsibility they enable the persistence of a monocultural business ethos, nearly always expressed in embarrassing cliches, that has lost all meaning - a belief system that has brought our civilisation to the brink of collapse. Perhaps a more relevant toast would be "to the successful extinction of humanitarian ideals in business!"
Compere: Bunkum. (Turns to audience, a few of whom are beginning to fidget uncomfortably in their seats) All this talk about civilisational collapse is just a scare tactic conjured up by socialist renegades and anarchists like yourself. You're unsettling our audience with such talk. I assume you also believe in all this commons guff, shared value and ethical capitalism? Now there's a fairy tale if ever there was one!
Let's get back on track. (Confronts Cynic angrily) You have disrupted these proceedings long enough. Will you at least concede the veracity of the management ideas you seem to despise in context? We are mostly indifferent to the developing world here. Without exception all the greatest advances in management have come from the US or Europe. Countries like America, England, Germany and Sweden, for example, where the entire economy is based upon the implementation of these ideas, have benefitted massively from our Top50 thinkers.
Cynic: Indeed they have. And look where it's got them. Disaster capitalism spreads like wildfire in old empires already addicted to economic growth. Driven by a mix of scarcity and greed, the enduring impulse of most Western corporations in these countries remains the creation of obscene wealth for absurdly small numbers of people. And bugger the rest.
Compere: (Protesting) But they really are the best. We scoured the world to get this ranking you realise. Most executives in this room could not possibly agree with your reasoning. Are you a communist Sir?
Cynic: (Giggling hysterically) How do you have the effrontery to call your Top50 awards "the best management ideas in the world"? I had not realised Europe and the US had colluded to re-assign themselves as such. Where are the voices representing Brazil, China, Australia, Singapore, India, South East Asia or even Japan for God's sake - not to mention the entire continent of Africa? All the best ideas come from Harvard, Stanford and Oxford. Is that what you are asserting?
Compere: Don't be silly. There are no original management ideas coming out of the countries you name, with the possible exception of Indian academcs who have been educated in the US or the UK. They invariably copy ours. Africa? Brazil? Are you crazy? Let's be sensible please. Besides, the US is still pre-eminent in management innovation.
Cynic: Is that so? Tell me then why the US economy is moribund. Why is 80 per cent of the population living near poverty or below it? Why, with 3 per cent of the world's population, does this nation have almost 25 per cent of the world's convicted criminals? Explain to me why Western corporations domiciled in these nations are still attached to ideas that defy gravity. And how is it that I throw new management texts by your superstars in the trash after reading barely a few pages because they are so predictable and corny? I admit that in the late 20th century a few interesting notions were the drivers behind much corporate change. But in truth nothing really changed. Today, creativity and invention in corporate life has been replaced by the industrial military complex and the arrogance of Wall Street. These days America is lacking in transparency, collaboration, empathy, and even resourcefulness. Meanwhile these gurus you sanctify by putting them on a pedestal incite consultants, who then advise Boards, who then preside over a domestic economy in decline. America has had its heart ripped out and trampled on by policies aimed at favouring the wealthy and marginalising the poor. Even the middle class, the traditional engine of productivity, is suffering. What terrifies me even more is that America is still hell bent on the cultural colonisation of the developing world by exporting its corporate ideology of rampant growth, consumer excess and selfishness to the rest of us. And nobody is game enough to stop it.
Compere: Stop it. We have heard quite enough. By denigrating the winners of the 2013 Top50 Thinkers in this manner you are also belittling our advisors and sponsors. (Points to people sitting at the front table) That is petty and mean. I strongly suspect your unwise critique is driven by sheer envy. Furthermore....
Cynic: (Interrupting but choking back laughter) Come off it. On your website you state that these ideas have the power to change the world. When will that happen? Let's be candid for a change. I'm sure your sponsors and advisors cannot be as naive as you claim. I know where they work. Any fool can see they have vested interests in promoting the ideas of your so-called gurus - whether through books, academia, public speaking or consulting; the method matters not. Sales is the goal. So they are not innocent by any stretch of the imagination. Complicit actors in helping you conjure the illusion you are perpetrating, their role in decking out cognitive compost as intellectual treasure is undeniable. Don't pretend to be so shocked. You must be familiar with the children's fable of the Emperor's new clothes. Voila! When all is said and done your sponsors are just endorsing a carnival of trivia. Your Emperors are naked. I realise you are only the compere, but I'm not sure how you can keep a straight face at such blatant shenanigans! (Cannot control his laughter any longer)
Compere: Perhaps you had better leave before I have you ejected. You are a disgrace Sir!
Cynic: (Stumbling out, the tears streaming down his face) Perhaps I should at that!
With sincere apologies to any friends or colleagues likely to be offended by the caustic nature of this piece. Also to those few genuine thought leaders who are not charlatans, who recognise the truth when they hear it, and who are wise enough to reject what they think on a regular basis for fear of becoming too pompous and plain wrong!