When Jonas Ridderstråle looks out the window, he doesn’t just see a tree. Instead, he sees a universe of interconnected events, epitomizing his particular blend of academic rigor coupled with imaginative thinking.
“Borrow one idea and you’re a plagiarist; borrow many, and it’s research,” says Ridderstråle, who has a knack for turning everything upside down. In fact, he has made a career of this.
Ridderstråle is a provocateur with credentials. He holds both an MBA and a doctorate in economics and business administration from the Stockholm School of Economics. He ran the Advanced Management Programme at the school for many years.
Today, Ridderstråle has put his academic robes aside, but not his academic discipline. He continues his research, writing, consulting and lecturing, and is viewed by business leaders as being at the forefront of the new generation of European-based business gurus. In fact, Ridderstråle is ranked No. 9 in the Thinkers 50, a global ranking of management thinkers.
For Ridderstråle, academic discipline means being well informed on societal trends. He writes his observations and the bits of information he wants to preserve on Post-it notes in his office. He says he currently has about 1,500 of them in a big, messy pile.
“I’ll have to sit down and make sense of it all,” he says. “It is like solving a huge puzzle.” It’s the process of connecting the dots.
Funky Business: Talent Makes Capital Dance was the name of Ridderstråle’s second book, co-authored with Kjell Nordström (an equally colourful academic colleague), which became an international bestseller, translated into 25 languages. One reviewer called the book “the groovy bible of modern business philosophy.” The authors’ follow-up book, Karaoke Capitalism: Managing for Mankind, published in 2004, met similar success.
Both books are provocative gospels, espousing a new way of thinking about the business world. In Funky Business, the authors argued how talent (meaning human resources) is the key to successful business. Karaoke Capitalism is a kind of situation report on today’s business reality. In it, the authors argue that companies, brands and people today are all copying each other without anyone really being the real thing – much like singing karaoke.
“In a world of karaoke capitalism, where pale copies of the real thing are plentiful, there is but one way in which we can succeed: We have to be 100 percent true to ourselves,” says Ridderstråle, who eschews conservative business suits for trendy black Armani. His head is shaved like an egg. He sports wire-rimmed glasses. He wears silver rings. He speaks American English.
In Karaoke Capitalism the authors trawl through a wide range of media – Fast Company Magazine, Fortune, Business Week, Science, the The Industry Standard and many more (some 500 media references are listed in the appendix) – to convince readers that things are not really what they seem to be in today’s business world. The key message: To succeed in business today, one must dare to be different.
The book is a chock-a-block full of quotes, such as this one, by Swedish journalist Mats Olsson of the Expressen tabloid, exemplifying the paradoxes that characterize the current state of the world:
“Just consider the following signs of our times: The best rapper is white. The best golfer is black. France accuses the US of arrogance. And Denmark sends a mini-submarine to a desert war.”
Ridderstråle and Nordström, in their preface, proclaim their intention: “to take you on a trip around the gutters of commerce and society as well as the galaxies of commercial inspiration.”
To be a management guru, Ridderstråle has to be a copious consumer of popular culture. He refers to management literature and business magazines in his books, but he also looks to entertainers, women’s magazines, philosophers and religious figures. No stone, movie, book or rock band is left unturned.
In the business world, Ridderstråle stands out. He is not the typical business guru. As CEO magazine pointed out in a September 2005 profile: “The standard business guru is an American academic in a dull suit who runs through a well-worn presentation, and then collects his check before departing for the airport. Ridderstråle is Swedish, irreverent and he has a shaved head. He does gigs, not seminars.”
After the success of his two latest books, and the speaking engagements that take him around the world, Ridderstråle isn’t quite sure what to do next. But you can hear the wheels turning.
“I don’t know what the next big thing is,” says Ridderstråle, who is currently collecting Post-it notes about the connection between religion and management. “All the world religions are trying to market products that few people have seen. So I am trying to find what religion has in common with corporate cultures, and articulate the commonalities.”
Another interest Ridderstråle has is psychology. “Management in the past was defined as the art of stamping out deviance, especially negative deviance. But maybe in the near future, management will be
defined as the art of making use of positive deviance. After all, positive deviance is the reason we have Microsoft and Oprah Winfrey.”