My blogging colleague, Bob Morris, is more able to tackle this post than I am — but here’s my try.
I was reading a couple of the speeches in the great William Safire compilation, Lend Me Your Ears. (I blogged about this before here and here, and Bob reviewed the compilation here). I read this toast: George Bernard Shaw: George Bernard Shaw Salutes His Friend Albert Einstein. It is a remarkable piece. Here is a key excerpt from the beginning of his toast:
Napoleon and other great men were makers of empires, but these eight men whom I am about to mention were makers of universes… I go back twenty-five hundred years, and how many can I count in that period? I can count them on the fingers of my two hands.
Pythagoras, Ptolemy, Kepler, Copernicus, Aristotle, Galileo, Newton, and Einstein – and I still have two fingers left vacant…
Newton made a universe which lasted for three hundred years. Einstein has made a universe, which I suppose you want me to say will never stop, but I don’t know how long it will last.
It was the phrase “makers of universes” that grabbed my imagination. I really don’t think that we can put the business luminaries listed above in the same category. (Well, maybe Drucker). But in a lesser sense, and certainly in a narrower arena, I think we can say that these business thinker/business book giants have created at least some small universes.
Here’s what I mean. When you think of “leadership,” you think of Bennis. When you think of studying successful companies, extracting their secrets, you think of Peters and Collins. Collins “hedgehog principle” has become part of our vocabulary. And Gladwell is the true master at introducing phrases that become part of our understanding and vital parts of our vocabularies, (even if he borrows the ideas from others): “tipping point,” “outliers,” the “10,000 hour rule.”
And, if you had only one you could read, you could make the case that Drucker is the one you would choose. Many have observed that in communication, Aristotle said it first, and everyone else simply provides commentary and updates illustrations. Well, in business, Drucker said it first, and everything else builds, in one way or another, on his work.
As I said earlier, Bob Morris is far more qualified to choose the names that could be called the “makers of the business universe.” But I like the quest – who are the voices, the minds, that have most shaped our usable understanding of business effort and success? Who has created our business universe?