Posts Tagged ‘thought leadership’
I am starting to wonder if thought leadership is morphing into an entirely new terminology in this digital age — content provider. Lately it seems that people who consider themselves thought leaders, like myself perhaps, are now being confused with content providers. This latter term seems to carry even greater cache because it falls into the digital realm. I was recently mentioning this dichotomy to a friend at Forbes who writes a column on thought leadership and we came to the conclusion that anyone can be deemed a content provider but not everyone can be called a thought leader. Most people on Twitter or Facebook provide content of sorts but it is not always unique or new or truly awe-inspiring. Many times it is a rehash of what is in the news. Here is my definition of thought leadership from my first book.
“Thought leadership encompasses the development of new ideas – ideas that keep a company at the forefront of change. It can transcend sectors and geographic borders. What is perhaps most significant about thought leadership is that it distinguishes and differentiates a company from its competitors. Thought leadership often breaks with business or industry convention, astonishes if not startles. Thought leadership reflects on the company and builds reputation.”
There seems to be a continuum where simple chatter is at one pole of the continuum and true thought leadership at the other end. I would not pretend to know who would be those “genius” thought leaders but Malcolm Gladwell came to mind easily and he might be placed somewhere in the middle of original and genius. Those true thought leaders come up with thoughts that are so groundbreaking that everyone goes AHHHHHH.
chatter—>content provider—>thought leader—>original—>genius
It is hard to say what this all adds up to but the reputation of thought leadership as well as content provider needs better definition. Just providing content (even if it is more than what is contained in a press release) is different than providing new thinking that leads people to think twice or act differently or even possibly change lives. Something to ponder.
Thought leadership, according to an alert I just received from LinkedIn, is up 5% in terms of people’s skills. Apparently 38, 710 people have attributed this skill to themselves. That seems like alot and a little. Hard to say. However, I’ve written here several times on the challenges and opportunities of being a thought leader. It comes in and out of fashion depending on the economy and the industry. Yet, who can argue with having new ideas and thoughts? In my line of work, thought leadership has definitely increased in importance. Communications and public relations agencies are now expected to have the pulse on new ideas and insights for our clients and the industry as it increasingly reaches the top echelons of companies. Communications is ubiquitious and can make the difference between success and failure. Bringing new ideas to the fore on how communications and reputation are transforming the world at large (including politics) is critical.
What I find hard is coming up with new new ideas that break ground. Here at Weber Shandwick, we probably outpace the industry in developing a wide range of new ideas and launching new research endeavors that back them up. Instead of relying on one or two big thought leadership efforts, we challenge ourselves to think differently every quarter. Hard stuff. But I am personally gratified to hear that 38,709 others are doing the same.
Some people have unequaled reputations. The late CK Prahalad had one. He was one of the most influential management thought leaders of this generation. One of his books, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, was groundbreaking and foresaw the rise of emerging markets. He was definitely always a step ahead. Strategy + Business, the management journal of Booz Allen, has a wonderful interview with him from 2009 and one of his comments struck a chord. It reminded me of the courage I need whenever I embark on a new thought leadership initiative that raises eyebrows with some people.
Every one of my research projects started the same way: recognizing that the established theory did not explain a certain phenomenon. We had to stay constantly focused on weak signals. Each weak signal was a contradictory phenomenon that was not happening across the board. You could very easily say, “Dismiss it, this is an outlier, so we don’t have to worry about it.” But the outliers and weak signals were the places to find a different way to think about the problem.
To make a difference, you always have to start with the outlier or the unexpected. Recently I had an inkling to follow a particular trend and mentioned it to someone in the field. They said that they had thought about it and decided it was not going to go anywhere. It wouldn’t happen. At first, I readily accepted his point of view. Then I thought about the weak signal this trend was giving out and that perhaps I was indeed right. I could be wrong but it is probably worth following just in case. Anyhow, I am going to pursue this little idea and see where it takes me. After I read Prahalad’s statement, I made up my mind to mine my own ideas.
Before I forget. As I travel to Weber Shandwick offices around the network in Europe, some things resound in my head. One constant is that I am always reminded how much I enjoy and respect the people I work with inside our network. As colleagues, they are immensely collegial, collaborative, client-first focused and committed. Reputations are built on these types of factors and it is good to be reminded how deep it goes. But returning to a few other things that caught my eye as I traveled last week and look ahead to this week…..
• My colleagues in Berlin told me that the day before I arrived, there had been a march protesting “work.” I found it fun to think about. Down with work! How would we pay our bills? I meant to follow up with this online but forgot because I had to work.
• In a taxi back to my hotel in Berlin, I saw a restaurant named White Trash Fast Food. Wonder what that was? I think it is a place for music, food and tattoos.
• In some research our parent company IPG did on New Realities among consumers, one of the findings was that people were not suffering from data overload. In fact, US citizens and our German brethren (in a separate study) by Respondi said that they were energized by being their own researchers and not frustrated, overwhelmed and inundated as people think they are. In fact, people felt smarter and in greater control over their choices than ever before. One of my colleagues in Germany mentioned that there was a big debate in his country about information overload and that the abundance of data was making us dumber not smarter. I think not.
• In Brussels, I learned that the head of NATO is a frequent Twitterer. I also learned that the EU’s broadcast service….EbS…Europe by Satellite, provided such good up-to-date information that journalists were losing their edge in being able to report on EU news. I was told that EBS was so good that it broadcasted negative as well as positive information about itself. What’s a journalist to do?
• One well-known and large Fortune 100 company communications professional told us how the company had established an “amplification” room, not a war room, to deal with two years of criticism in order to get their story properly told.
• Another company at our lunch in Brussels had recently won approval from management to develop a word of mouth program that would allow for the negative with the positive. He talked about how hard he had worked at getting it to happen and how a pilot was about to begin that would telegraph the program in consumer language, not corporate speak. He was reading a book titled The Conversation Manager. One victory at a time.
• Our Milan office organized a superb event with the American Chamber of Commerce, a well-known journalist, one of our Milan office’s leaders and the US Consul General who spoke about the rising “green economy” in the U.S. I was there to talk about The New Normality that I mentioned in my last posting. The US Consul spoke highly of President Obama’s efforts and I have to say it felt so good to hear some pro-Obama talk after weeks of backbiting at home.
• I ran into someone in a large department store off the beaten path in Milan who had been at the event with the American Chamber of Commerce. It was Saturday morning around 11AM. Could the world be smaller? He had just bought sunglasses.
• I made it to Amsterdam despite the volcanic ash debacle. It was a long day.
• The Economist wrote an article where they mentioned “headline risk.” Since I often write about reputation risk, I think this is an increasing factor in reputation recovery….reducing headline mentions. At what point does headline risk start to dissipate? And what has to happen? One course of action is a CEO apology or CEO dismissal. That’s been proven to work but not always the best solution.
More later on the rest of my trip. Will update you on Amsterdam, Paris, London and Madrid in due time.
As a reputation watcher who gets daily alerts about reputation, I recently noticed that there are fewer alerts about reputation and its ties to SEO (search engine optimization). It used to be that nearly every alert detailed some article or company on how to maximize your reputation by managing search engines better to help lift your reputation. I do not know why there has been this decline but perhaps it is a widely known secret that many companies and brands have already mastered. Additionally, social media such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter have rendered search engine optimization more complex and harder to control. I am not exactly sure but it has been on my mind. There were moments in time when I thought that reputation had been reduced to SEO tactics so I am much relieved that my favorite topic is broadening and not narrowing. My next observation is that “personal branding” has become a major theme in the reputation space.
Lately there has been alot of requests for more information on thought leadership. One of the questions I like to ask a company leadership is …what is their “moon shot?” Today I read something that made me think of another question to ask: What’s your oxygen? What is absolutely necessary for you to breathe and thrive in the years ahead?
I am wondering if there are just too many awards out there. Several major ones were released this week. Are awards becoming commoditized because there are so many? Hard to say but they sure are “good and plenty.” (That’s an expression from years ago. You may not be familiar with it.)
Next week I am speaking at a conference on What CEOs are Talking About Now. More to come.
Marketing News’ (not available except by subscription) recent publication on Obama as Marketer-in-Chief contained evaluations by experts including Weber Shandwick’s CEO Harris Diamond. Harris made an important point that jumped out at me. He said that “The reason that you can’t underestimate Barack Obama is we’ve had very few presidents who’ve had the ability to make us listen.” Sometimes when thought leadership platforms or speaking opportunities are identified for CEOs and other top executives, we lose sight of the fact that being visible is well and good but that CEOs need to really make us want to listen to what they have to say. It is not just nabbing the panel or keynote opportunity but making sure that the CEO truly says something memorable, important and tied to our collective future. I agree with Harris that Obama makes us want to listen, regardless of your political persuasion. Perhaps that is also why I regularly read Vital Speeches of the Day.
Despite BP’s downfall and ouster of Sir John Browne, he made you want to listen to what he had to say about global warming and carbon footprints. Thought it was worth reminding myself as well as others that Harris is right, that reputation-building today is built on no less than saying something that we want to hear.