Deconstructing Thought Leadership


I hate to break it to you. The phrase “thought leadership” has jumped the shark.  A Social Web tsunami has spun out over the past decade and made it easier for everybody to claim an area of thought leadership. In its wake, the real meaning of thought leadership has been washed away as social publishing tools, online community platforms, and smart phones proliferate. This has been especially evident to me during our recent global economic crisis.


What exactly is thought leadership?
To my way of thinking, generosity and action are at the heart of thought leadership.  Thought leaders are willing to get very actively involved in, and to build, a community of inspired people who are working together to create a future distinctly different from the past.


The thought leader’s job is to convene the community in a way that fosters shared experience and productive conversations around opening new possibilities.  Also, a highly engaged thought leader will actively bring the gifts of fringe thinking, and members, to the center of the community.


These days, “thought leadership” — as a term — feels empty. It seems to me reduced to the status of a popular catchphrase, which is a shame.


In many ways, the efforts of creative thinkers in creative agencies and technology companies are futile when it comes to inspiring others to take a genuinely new course of action. These are the consultants and talking heads who spend too much time blogging and speaking about their ideas, and not enough time experimenting with new applications of their ideas.


Thus, today’s version of thought leadership is not commanding a premium in the marketplace. Instead it seems already contrived, manufactured, or forced.


Incessantly describing “thought leadership” to other self-titled thought leaders sorely misses the point — and in this non-stop, hyper information-driven culture, that’s a recipe for backlash, or worse yet: obscurity.


However, true innovation (and not merely your desire to show off your latest, cool Keynote presentation), is ultimately what’s going to position you, your brand, or your company for whatever it is that we refer to today as thought leadership.


Innovation is something Austin is really strong at. If you view marketing as a world community, look no further than SXSW, and it’s evident that Austin is “followed,” and is not a “follower.” There is a lot of talk around here about Austin becoming the next Silicon Valley.  On the contrary, many of us here believe Austin is “sui generis,” and to compare it to anywhere else is not only inaccurate,but probably a waste of time!


Today, we in the Austin creative and technology spaces are drawing on the unique skills and people who are part of our community to create a future that reflects our legacy and builds on how we enjoy being here. The question that keeps crossing my mind is, “What do we want to create together?”


That’s where true Thought Leadership lives.


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