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The Rise Of Indian Thought Leaders

Updated on March 16, 2015

Mahatma Gandhi endorsing products!

I still remember being a bit shocked in seeing Apple's 'Think Different' advertisement campaign in Silicon Valley a few years ago. It was initially disconcerting to see Bapu (as he was 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 and 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 also 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 are adding the most value then people will increasingly have to be seen as investors and not as employees. Shareholders obviously invest money and 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.

According to the wikipedia, thought leadership is a buzzword or article or jargon used to describe a futurist or person who is recognized among their peers and mentors for innovative ideas and demonstrates the confidence to promote or share those ideas as actionable distilled insights.

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 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 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 economist Paul Romer, Mitsubishi president, Minoru Makihara, and University of Michigan strategist, C.K. Prahalad and his co-author, Gary Hamel, a professor at the London Business School. Since then, the term 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.

Then there is Dr. Deepak Chopra.

Dr. Chopra left a lucrative career in medicine to establish an unprecedented hold in American thought by an Indian.

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

Dr. Chopra combined this '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 best way to describe it is inclusive capitalism," says C K Prahalad, a consultant and University of Michigan professor who ranked third in a recent 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.

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 are also offering Indian cultural lessons to their employees. Unlike some diversity training, which is aimed at avoiding law suits, 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 – at $17,000 per person – to Sunnyvale, California, and Austin, Texas, for a month of cultural training with US managers.

In the increasingly global world of business thinking, an American Spring could be followed by an Indian Summer.

The Thinkers 50 List lists the most influential global business thought-leaders for the year 2007.

Hence, thought leadership is an emerging discipline in its own right.

Our ability to understand its core practices, then to effectively apply them are the keys to positioning ourselves and our companies for next level of growth

Business Thinkers

Top Indian Business Thinkers
Top Indian Business Thinkers
Sumantra Ghoshal
Sumantra Ghoshal
Top Global Business Thinkers
Top Global Business Thinkers
Top 20 Global Thinkers
Top 20 Global Thinkers


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    • profile image


      7 years ago from Mumbai India and often in USA

      Very nice article affiliater! learnt a few new things about management.

    • TroyM profile image


      7 years ago

      Interesting angle and point of view here. GOod water cooler Hub!

    • bpo-outsourcing profile image


      9 years ago

      very informative about those business thinkers..thanks for sharing about it..I can't memorize those personality but through this list I do recall all of them..:)


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