What is thought leadership?
In our busy, search-driven, and social media powered world, differentiating our brand’s point of view can be a daunting task. What do the words “thought leader” even mean when almost any question you can dream up is instantly answerable with one click?
As business communicators, we tend to rely on the depth of our company’s expertise, experience, or repositories of information to claim thought leadership on a particular topic.
But your company, for the most part, will certainly not have better access to more or higher quality information than your competitors. You may present or promote your information in a more popular way than anyone else – elevating your voice to the loudest for popular opinion. But that doesn’t mean that you are differentiated in leading thought. It simply means you make common thoughts easier to find.
A common answer to the question of how we become “thought leaders” is to adopt and share a unique point of view. But this, too, can be problematic for business communicators, because our entire goal is to find the most desired topics and be the most popular and resonant resource for the largest number of people. In other words, we look to the web to see what the world thinks a “tree” looks like. Then, we spend all our time and effort in drawing the web’s version of that tree. We may create a red version, or a blue version, but we’re still right where we started. A unique point of view is not saying the same thing in a different way.
As it turns out, it might just be the quantity of noise and the hurriedness of today’s thoughts that prevents us from leading them. The great Danish writer and thinker Soren Kierkegaard captured this well. He claimed that it is our inability to pause and think deeply that causes us to relinquish independence and instead adopt a point of view based on the “very loud talk” of the crowd. And, in today’s “hustle” culture, the voices are very loud indeed.
So, then, what is the answer?
We must take the time, and have the patience, to look inward. We have to explore and find what it is we – as a brand, as a team, as an artist – really believe. As the great artist, Agnes Martin once said “we all have the same inner life. The difference lies in the recognition. The artist has to recognize what it is.”
So, developing our brand’s thought leadership – our unique point of view – isn’t about collecting all the information we have on a resonant idea and presenting it in a unique way. Rather, we must discover the unique ideas we really believe in, and then spend our effort learning how to present that information in a resonant way.
The heart of true thought leadership is, well, heart.
Now, we certainly don’t have to abandon our agreements with the majority, or our attempts to be the loudest or most resonant voice among the popular ideas. These efforts are the table stakes of finding the people who may ultimately align with our world view. But, as popular ideas age and ultimately become common ones, people tend to search for the new. And, by speaking from our heart, we can be the source of those unique new ideas.
In other words, it’s not enough to be the loudest voice in a crowded room; you should be the most interesting, as well. And when your brand speaks its truth, from the heart, you not only lead the conversation, you lead the thought that drives it.
It’s your story. Tell it well.
By Robert Rose