Top Business Gurus

7 May 2008 at 4:26 pm 6 comments

| Peter Klein |

Did you catch the list of Top Business Gurus in Monday’s WSJ? Based on Google, Lexis-Nexis, and academic citation indexes, it puts Gary Hamel at the top, followed by Tom Friedman, Bill Gates, Malcolm Gladwell, and Howard Gardner. Our own Jeff Pfeffer checks in at #11. Click the picture below for the entire list. Hamel, Stephen Covey, Michael Porter, Clayton Christensen, and Tom Peters are obvious candidates for Guru Status, though the ranking algorithm produces some unlikely results too, such as Robert Reich and Myron Scholes.

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Randy Westgren  |  8 May 2008 at 8:36 am

    What a fascinating list! Some of the usual suspects (I’d add Mintzberg to your list) and some unusual suspects. In the latter category, I place the psychologists Gardner and Goleman, and Geert Hofstede — whose work still guides a large proportion of cross-national management and marketing literature. Do we know how the academic and nonacademic cites are weighted?

  • 2. Peter Klein  |  8 May 2008 at 8:57 am

    Here’s what the Journal says (probably more than anyone wants to know):

    Behind the Ranking of WSJ’s ‘Gurus’

    The Wall Street Journal’s ranking of influential business thinkers was compiled by Thomas H. Davenport, a management professor at Babson College, and H. James Wilson, a senior researcher at Babson’s executive research centers. The duo compiled a similar ranking for their 2003 book, “What’s the Big Idea?” co-written with Laurence Prusak.

    The ranking is based on Google hits, or results mentioning the person when searched in Google, media mentions in LexisNexis, and academic citations for 110 business “gurus” who ranked high in the 2003 survey or have since won a significant following. The thinkers were ranked in each area, the rankings were summed, and those sums were ranked to create the final list.

    As with any such ranking, the methodology has some limitations. To reduce the chance of miscounting, for example, the researchers searched for multiple versions of each guru’s name (e.g., with and without middle initial) and removed mentions of different people with the same name. The methodology follows that coined by legal theorist and federal judge Richard A. Posner in his 2001 book, “Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline.”

    See a full explanation of the methodology below:

    Business Intellectual List Description

    The 2008 ranking of business gurus continues the work originally performed by Richard Posner in his book Public Intellectuals (Harvard University Press: 2001) and by Tom Davenport, Laurence Prusak, and H. James Wilson in their book What’s the Big Idea (Harvard Business School Press: 2003). Following this tested methodology again, our intent was to identify the “business gurus” with the greatest public footprint and impact on practitioners. In brief, our methodology was as follows:

    1. Assemble a list of over 100 leading business gurus (from the 2003 list, plus several new candidates)

    2. Count web site “hits” using Google search

    3. Count media mentions using LexisNexis

    4. Count academic citations using SSCI database

    5. Rank business gurus according to the three measures above. Specifically, each guru was ranked in each of the three areas, the rankings were summed, and those sums were themselves ranked to provide an overall combined ranking for each of the gurus.

    Overall, our methodology replicated, as closely as possible, the approach we used in our 2003 study. However, we made a few changes and improvements to capture more efficient or accurate search techniques available today in the user interfaces and source databases in Google, LexisNexis, and SSCI. In particular:

    • The Google page search was performed by programmatically constructing a query URL to include all combinations and permutations of last name, first name and first name variations, first initial, and middle initial. By combining these into a single query, we were able to avoid the “de-duplicating” step needed when each combination is queried independently. The total number of matching pages was noted and the first 100 pages returned were reviewed for accuracy. This step, for example, would ensure that we distinguished between Michael Porter, business guru, and Michael Porter, librarian. The number of “bad” hits in the first 100 ranged from a low of 0 to a high of 98 (Garreth Jones). Finally, we multiplied the percent of good hits by the total found to yield a reasonable approximation of total mentions of the guru in question.

    • The Lexis-Nexis media mentions search was performed using the Beta version of the Lexis-Nexis Academic search tool. Though at the time of writing it was the only tool that allowed us to match the specific query rules of the original research, it has since become the primary LexisNexis Academic user interface. Again, a query was programmatically constructed to search for occurrences of the business guru’s last name and first name, first initial, and similar variations within 2 words of each other. A single query was constructed to reduce the necessity of “de-duplicating” the results. As above, the first 100 results were examined, the proportion of “good” matches counted, and the proportion applied to the total results. Though the overall search period was from January 1, 2002 through the end of June, 2007 there is a LexisNexis limit of approximately 3,000 results. For the most popular business gurus — or those with the most common names — the query had to be broken down into time spans as short as 2 weeks. Only the most recent 100 results were checked.

    • The SSCI check differed most significantly from the method used in the earlier research. Most significantly, the Dialog tool previously used is no longer available. Instead, the Web of Science tool was used to access the same set of data. Instead of simply returning a set of academic papers citing work by the business guru in question, the tool first returns a list of all of the academic works it could find by the indicated guru. As before, when searching for gurus with more common names results can be returned that correspond to other individuals — a problem more common since SSCI only support first initials, not complete names. We would carefully sift through the results, save only those that corresponded to books, papers, and other works authored by the guru in question, and then use that list to identify citing works. In this way, all items between January 1, 2002, and the end of June 2007 would be considered “good.”

  • 3. Warren Miller  |  8 May 2008 at 1:17 pm

    Methinks Davenport himself is trying to ascend to the list. Kind of like Anna Nicole Smith, who was famous for being famous, Davenport updates his list every few years AND, of course, hits HBR and Amazon with “Competing on Analytics: The New Science of Winning:


  • 4. Ali Shams  |  8 May 2008 at 2:32 pm

    Amazing list. Yet I don’t understand this tradition of guruism in management science. I mean we don’t have gurus in other branches of science. Nobody has heard of paleontology gurus or even economics gurus. Don’t you think this false tradition brings down management and organization science to something less than science?

    Basically what people like Davenport are doing is that they work in paper-fertile areas of management knowledge (for him it was first knowledge management and when that hype was over he moved to what he calls “Attention Management”). He is the pop artist of management science.

    In my opinion the list misses some great thinkers like Chris Argyris.

  • 5. Randy Westgren  |  10 May 2008 at 4:54 pm

    I’ll agree with All Shams to the extent that gurus are themselves shams or quasi-experts. The WSJ list includes some serious scholars, though. I believe that the other sciences are replete with gurus, drawn from the same pools of “high scientists”, publishers of popular books, media darlings, and the usual suspects that are seen at congressional hearings.

    Paleontology has one of the biggest characters-as-guru: Bob Bakker ( who was the model for the Sam Sam Neill character in Jurassic Park. The late Harvard prof and essayist Stephen J. Gould is a guru for all time and had several guru buddies (Richard Lewontin and Nils Etheridge) and gurus nemeses (e.g. Richard Dawkins).

    Physics has had many gurus such as Murray Gell-man, Edward Teller, Richard Feynman, and david Bohm. There are many in the fields of ecology, genetics, psychology, and cosmology.

    How do we not count as gurus (matching the style of the WSJ business gurus) such economists as Milton Friedman, J.K. Galbraith, Steven Levitt (once called the Carl Sagan of Economics!), the erstwhile guru of the Neo-cons, Arthur Laffer.

  • 6. David Hoopes  |  11 May 2008 at 12:36 am

    I think the term guru leaves open whether the person really knows anything or not. I think it implies the person is one whom others follow with cult-like devotion. Thus, we needn’t feel bad that the list hardly characterizes the most important thinkers in business or management. It simply lists the names that get bandied around the most. I think Randy’s list leans much more towards legitimate intellectual leaders.

    I forgot which journal did it, but there was an article a while back asking Nobel winning economists which papers they thought were the most important. Keynes book was the only thing on every list (including Friedman and Stigler’s).

    Perhaps our list should be the most important economics oriented strategy scholars. And perhaps the list should only include people whose contribution we believe to be positive. I can think of a few highly cited people whose work I think has largely led to reams of wasted paper (no names).

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