Thought leadership

It actually bothers me when people claim to be “thought leaders”. As far as I am concerned, the term refers to those who use their brains to create something novel, something new. Thought Leaders are the ones that give us new theory or that can make generalisations about the obvious that helps explain things. They expand the forefront of contemporary thinking.

Thought leaders aren’t people who regurgitate interesting industry trends (though if they are the ones that spotted the trend in the first place, they are probably a thought leader).

Thought leaders aren’t industry analysts (such as Gartner and Forrester) who are little more than branded reporters of what everyone else is thinking. (I know we disagree on this Ron).

And usually, being a vendor means you automatically lose the right to call yourself a thought leader. If you sell commodity products or services, you’ve already proved a lack of thought leadership, because otherwise your wares wouldn’t be commodity. Your ability to create something new and novel would make sure you had differentiation of some kind.

True thought leaders are pretty rare, but extremely visible. People with novel and new things to say actually say them. That’s why I loved the post that Colin Henderson wrote the other day about blogging and the new A-List. All the people on his list of blogs are thought leaders that I read.

They have demonstrated their credentials.

On the other hand, when someone shows up here asking for a meeting because they are a “thought leader” (you wouldn’t believe how often this happens), I shall be rejecting outright if I can’t validate the claim in advance.

I don’t think this is unreasonable.  And, naturally, real thought leaders are always welcome here with or without notice.

3 Responses to“Thought leadership”

  1. July 16, 2008 at 3:06 pm #

    James .. Thanks for the mention. I value reading the blogs mentioned and a few others. I appreciate blogs that expand and challenge my own current thinking.
    PS .. you may have to change your ‘meeting invite filter’ … will be interesting to see how many stop using ‘thought leader’ now!

  2. July 17, 2008 at 1:01 am #

    Collin’s list includes an analyst (Charlene Li) and a comic strip (Dilbert). So if everyone on his blog list is a thought leader, I think there’s a contradiction with some of your other points 😉
    But I basically agree with your point. I think a thought leader is someone on the cutting edge in one way or another, developing new forms of thinking. I’d also be prepared to call “innovators” and “early adopters” thought leaders (these terms of course are from the “diffusion of innovations” model –
    So I’d also suggest someone with their ‘finger on the pulse’ who can spot trends and the way things are going and communicate what’s happening and influence current investments to take advantage of emerging or future opportunities can merit the title of thought leader.
    But another consideration is to what extent a genuine thought leader necessarily shares their leading thoughts with others. Because many of a genuine thought leader’s thoughts are possibly new and valuable, perhaps a thought leader might tend to be quite conservative with who they share their thoughts with while they develop opportunities related to the thoughts, unless they are primarily in an academic or publishing role. Is it necessary to the concept of thought leader that they share their thoughts widely, or is it enough to develop the thoughts regularly and start innovating around them? I imagine the concept of “leader” entails some sharing of the thoughts, but is within an organisation or small body enough or does one need to be a communicator and leader on a larger stage? I guess they would need to share with and lead some community larger than a single organisation.

  3. July 17, 2008 at 2:12 pm #

    Thanks for the mention — both direct and indirect.
    I don’t completely disagree with you. Some analysts are thought leaders, some aren’t (maybe its “a few are, and many aren’t”). But I would agree with what I think the gist of your comment is, that being an analyst doesn’t make one a thought leader.

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