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Five big ideas from Thinkers50

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The top management thinkers gathered in London yesterday – and HR magazine listened in

HR magazine attended the Thinkers50 event in London on 9 November, which brought together the brightest brains in management thinking from across the world. Here are five things we learned.

  1. The future is co-creation
    The ability to scale used to be related to company size, but now digital connections mean size isn't everything, according to author Nilofer Merchant. “Relationships are to the modern age what efficiency was to the industrial era,” she said. “Scale can be about people; technology allows you to bring people together.” This presents opportunities for individuals to work free from large organisations, which can often quash disruptive innovation, and instead find groups of like-minded collaborators. “It used to be that you had to be part of a large organisation in order to scale,” Merchant said. “Now you have the ability to own your idea, find people who care about the same thing and mobilise. The future is co-creative.”
  2. The dark side of the 'gig economy'
    This so-called ‘gig economy’ (people moving from short-term job to short-term job, rather than being employed full time) does have its dangers, and Merchant warned of the difference between “value creation and value capture”, with users not benefiting from the value created. “Value capture has not yet benefited from the digital system,” she said. She called for stronger “social scaffolding systems” to ensure those in precarious work still have access to benefits. Author Don Tapscott also spoke on widening inequality, predicting that the use of “block chain” technology (a transaction database shared by all parties in a system) would enable platform users to share in success. “What if rather than redistributing wealth we looked at changing how wealth was distributed in the first place?” he asked.
  3. Leadership needs to focus on 'the other'
    The leadership development industry has only been half successful, associate professor of organisational behaviour at INSEAD Gianpiero Petriglieri claimed. “We have done well in terms of profits, but how have we done in terms of generating trust and social cohesion? We have only done half our jobs,” he said. He called for a redefinition of leadership to focus on connections and diversity. “How do our leaders treat people different from themselves?” he asked. “We need to define leadership as a commitment to live with and learn from ‘the other’. Otherwise we are only going to create more tribalism.”
  4. Rethink how you define value
    Who defines the value you are creating? It’s the receiver, not the giver, according to Rensis Likert professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business Dave Ulrich. “Value is not what you know; it’s how what you know benefits someone else,” he said. “Your culture is the identity of the firm in the minds of your customers, made real through your employees. Leadership is not about who you are and what you do it’s about what you do for others. Talent matters less than the organisation you create and that’s impacted by the quality of leadership. Your HR systems deliver that. HR is the enabler.”
  5. Talent: Talk whole self, not best self
    Labelling people as talent can have a dark side, said INSEAD professor Jennifer Petriglieri. Likening the experiences of high potentials she teaches to children who are told they are gifted, she said being labelled as talent “can be a double-edged sword”. “While labelling people ‘talent’ at first is an ego boost, it quickly morphs into a feeling of 'now I really have to prove myself',” she said. She added that the concept of bringing your best self to work needs to shift, as talent always has a darker side. “Organisations need to stop the rhetoric of 'bringing your best self to work',” she said. “Bring your whole self – that’s the only way to get full talent."