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Surprising Advice from the World’s Top Business Thinkers

The new book Dear CEO offers guidance from a who’s who of global management experts.

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BY Soren Kaplan - 09 Aug 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Every leader wants that nugget of earthshattering insight that will propel themselves and their companies into the stratosphere of success. That's exactly what keeps top tier MBA and executive education programs, high-priced consultants, and big-name speakers in business.

If you don't have big resources to buy big name advice, you're likely to troll through articles, books, and the web, cobbling together ideas from a variety of sources. With all the self-proclaimed "gurus" of just about every topic out there these days, it's hard to sort the wheat from the chaff.

The Thinkers50 solved this problem. Every two years they create a short list of the world's leading thinkers shaping the business and management landscape. This year they've also tapped into their vast who's who network of global experts and assembled a book called Dear CEO: 50 Personal Letters from the World's Leading Business Thinkers.

I was honored to be placed on the Thinkers50 short list of global experts in innovation, and even more excited when they asked me to contribute to their book. The book contains a collection of brief letters that includes guidance, wisdom and personal insight from 50 global experts across the fields of strategy, leadership, innovation, organizational change, and more.

Here's how the folks at the Thinkers50 frame it up: The job of CEO has never been so challenging. Staying fresh and maintaining momentum is incredibly hard. We asked the world's leading management thinkers for help. Their advice? Stay curious and think in six new (counter intuitive) ways.

Their six themes and some related nuggets of wisdom include: 

1. Think people, not data

'Most leaders ascended to their current position by mastering the intricacies of today's business, making rigorous, fact-based decisions. They need to develop new skills to make decisions using judgment and intuition, replacing an optimization mindset with an exploration one.' -- Scott Anthony

'Data doesn't create meaning. We do. The executive needs to be far more than a data analyst. He should constantly strive to see the world from a customer's point of view... He must dare to trust his instincts.' -- Martin Lindstrom

2. Rethink what success looks like

'The purpose of business really is not to maximize shareholder value but to make the world a better place for everybody (through its products and services).' -- Costas Markides

'People in the C-Suite are questioning whose dream they have been living. There is nothing wrong with career success. But the responsibilities that accompany high achievement in most organizations place an overwhelming emphasis on loyalty to the institution ahead of wider life goals.' -- Jamie Anderson & Ayelet Baron 

3. Open Up

'If you're a super-smart CEO, don't spend your time proving how smart you are, be wise and spend your time helping other people be the heroes.' -- Marshall Goldsmith

'Innovation isn't just about technology, products or services - it's also about processes, partnerships, capability building and business models. Build innovation into everyone's job description to ensure innovation is embraced by each and every employee.' -- Soren Kaplan 

4. Eliminate to accumulate

'Eliminate something. Find out what practices or procedures are blocking your people from doing their best work - what rules are causing frustration - and get rid of them or at least one of them.' -- David Burkus

'Fewer priorities, less projects, more benefits, better results.' -- Antonio Nieto-Rodriguez

5. Ask courageous questions

'Without new questions there's no place for new answers.' -- Clay Christensen

'What could you start doing today to tear away the insulating layers between you and the ever-changing real world? If you were resolved to prove yourself wrong about something you believe, where might you go and whom might you talk with? And if you don't encourage the question-raising that will unlock future value for your enterprise, who will?' -- Hal Gregersen

6. Be the Future

'Leading innovation is not about setting direction and saying to your colleagues, 'Follow me'. They don't want to follow you to the future; they want to co-create it with you.' -- Linda A. Hill

'Be humble and the world will open to you. Be a steward and the world will serve you. Be kind with those in need so they will become your most loyal allies. Do not fear the future, be it.' -- Mark Esposito

Not everyone can afford to have a management guru in their hip pocket. Dear CEO may just be the next best thing.