Thoughts on Thought Leadership

08 January 2011

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to think differently.  It’s a vague notion and I don’t want to use hackneyed phrases like “out of the box” so I started considering the term “thought leadership” and how everyone strives to be a thought leader.  According to Wikipedia, thought leader is business jargon for an entity that is recognized for having innovative ideas.  The term apparently was coined in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of the Booz, Allen & Hamilton magazine “Strategy & Business.”  “Thought leader” was used to designate interview subjects who had business ideas that merited attention.

Wikipedia also reports that “According to commentators such as Elise Bauer, a distinguishing characteristic of a thought leader is ‘the recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader marketplace in which it operates.’”  Isn’t this just basic hygiene for any organization?

LinkedIn has a relatively short section on thought leadership dating back to 2007.  And there are countless other definitions, essentials and how-to’s when one does a search online.  But it seems to be that thought leadership is one of the most mis-understood and confused terms in business.

I tend to think of thought leadership as being first to market with a truly different thought, owning the idea and then merchandising it.  How does one get there?  Sometimes thought leadership comes about from attacking and solving a challenging problem, but more often than not, it comes through reflection and identifying patterns and/or anticipating trends with a completely new idea or a new way of doing something.  It has to be authentic and of substance – not gimmicky or superficial.  And in today’s market, a thought leader has to be very quick indeed to call it out and own it.

Interested in others’ views on the subject of thought leadership.

One Response to “Thoughts on Thought Leadership”

  1. Ron Worman

    MaryLee
    We have a process for helping executives do that. We call it the Path to Value. Being first to market is probably not as important as owning the idea through the first and second wave (referencing Geoffrey Moore) At the end of the day you want to drive the 3Vs: Value, Velocity and Veracity – that what you think (the idea) can be acted upon and delivered. I would enjoy a future conversation!

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