11 Apr 2012
Intuitively one senses that there are different levels of thought leadership. After all how do you compare Mahatma Gandhi,
Steve Jobs, Khalil Gibran or the IBM Smarter Planet campaign on the same level when it comes to thought leadership?
While there will most certainly be similar characteristics they are fundamentally different.
It was a response from Dr Liz Alexander to one of my recent posts that really got me thinking about this. She has been playing
around with a three-tier concept of thought leadership which she’s very kindly allowed me to share here. However, I have added one of my own and I’d be interested in your thoughts:
1. The Philosophers — Liz says that these are the meta-thinkers and in her mind, the really true thought leaders. In the environment that Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book The Black Swan, refers to as “Extremistan” (the place we live in today and will always do so as life becomes more complex and faster paced) they are better placed than most since they tend to occupy academia (like Clayton Christensen or the co-authors of Blue Ocean Strategy) or the highest realms of corporate leadership. In
Extremistan, so Taleb points out, “it takes a long time to know what’s going on” and “it’s hard to predict things from past information.” You need time, patience, the right environment, and a fixation on “why” questions to successfully navigate this terrain.
Their focus is on change at a societal level. Not for them the superficial questions of “how are we going to be more
innovative or more productive?”
2. The Problem-Solvers - Liz describes them as consultants and in-house thinkers who operate at a secondary level of thought leadership. Their focus is less high-brow than the philosophers but they are still concerned with change (hence they still deserve the “leadership” status)…only their issues are at an industry level. They’re the ones asking the “what?” questions.
3. The Practitioners – According to Liz these are the wannabe thought leaders. She maintains they operate more like “thought managers”. She questions the quality of their thinking. Why? Because she maintains they are merely content marketers, curators or those masquerading as “leaders”.
They ask “how” questions and are less likely to hit upon anything monumental because of their focus on incrementally improving what we already know.
But I have another to add:
4. The Innovators – these are people or groups who truly are innovative with their thoughts and their actions. Think of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Sir Isaac Newton, Galileo, Da Vinci and the list goes on.
They not only think and solve problems but they literally reframe our very being, the way we think, communicate and work. They lead the market. They go beyond the problem solvers, who typically operate at the level of addressing issues and challenges
faced by their market.
Innovators break the mould and create totally new discussions and paradigms e.g. they are the ones who invent the car when everyone else is thinking about faster horses.
Liz says that what differentiates these three groups (now four with my Innovators) is not just the goals they have and the questions they ask but the qualitative difference in their thought processes.
I look forward to Liz’ further thinking on this which will be published in the book she is currently writing.
Craig Badings is a director at Sydney-based, Cannings Corporate Communications. He is the author of “Brand Stand: seven steps to thought leadership” and the blog www.thoughtleadershipstrategy.net/ You can follow him on twitter @thoughtstrategy or join him on LinkedIn.
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