Thought leadership to me is one of those oft over-used phrases that means everything and nothing all at the same time. Too often, its used as an objective, “we want to be perceived as thought leaders in the sector.” And very commonly it is the marketing or communications team that is tasked with making it happen.
In my experience, thought leadership isn’t an objective…its a whole way of thinking and working. Its about making bold, confident moves that others wouldn’t or couldn’t make. Coming at a problem or opportunity in a whole different way. Its about daring to break from the pack to pursue a vision for how things could be done differently. Its about pushing the very boundaries within which you work. And occasionally breaking through.
For Microsoft, perhaps it was pursuing their vision of a computer on every desk. One of Apple’s many breakthroughs was “A thousand songs in your pocket“. On simpler terms, I’m personally rather taken with the Mr Clean Magic Eraser these days (I think it really IS magic).
For an organization like the Foundation where I work, it could be funding an enormous piece of research that will help the whole sector advance. Or breaking from development norms and giving cash directly to beneficiaries. Or establishing a new magazine which can shine a light on the amazing scientific research being done on the continent. Or funding a longitudinal study in the form of a “Boyhood“-style documentary.
If there is imagination, creativity and a willingness to push, defend and champion, the options are endless.