In today’s economy, it is important you are recognized as an expert in your field/niche. Being recognized as an expert will give you competitive advantage; because when you are an expert in your field or niche, people want to do business with you and your company, hire you and spread ideas. Being an expert is great. You need to become more than an expert in your your field or niche.
In today’s world, it is very important to be a thought leader. A thought leader is one who is:
- known for his or her ideas
- has followers
Thought leaders strive to make impact, and that requires them to move out of their usual environment to get their ideas across to others.
The term “thought leadership” coined by Joel Kurtzman in 1994, when he was the editor-in-chief of Strategy+Business Magazine, regarding thinkers whose ideas merited attention. Thought leaders bring in change through their radical ideas which usually runs countercultural to the prevailing received wisdom. They question the status quo. They question the prevailing assumptions and test them. If a longheld assumption doesn’t stand the test, they reject it in favor of what measures up.
It is a fact of the human nature to dislike change. The status quo is usually more appealing even when it doesn’t serve well. Thus, the ideas of would-be thought leaders are not usually welcome in the first instance. They are labelled as troublemakers who are out to upset the normal order. But many thought leaders have persisted in the face of resistance. Eventually, resistance progresses to slow change. And in persevering with their conviction, true change finally arrives. When Galileo Galilei challenged the heliocentric model of the Universe (meaning that the sun revolves around the earth), the church labelled him a heretic. He was persecuted and put under house arrest. But Galileo was just cooking up things. He had the fact to back up his assertion. He had looked through his newly invented telescope and found out that rather than a heliocentric universe, what is the fact is that the earth revolves around the sun. But Galileo’s persistence won the day as today it is taken for granted that indeed the earth revolves around the sun and not otherwise.
What it Doesn’t Take
Many are of the opinion that it takes geniuses to discover a new or radical idea in an established field or niche. Our minds usually gravitate to people branded as geniuses; those special breed of people whose IQ is in the astronomical range. We think of people like Isaac Newton, Richard Feynman, Shakespeare, etc. But the truth is far from that. In fact, in reading about Richard Feynman and others, I realized it wasn’t because they were super-talented; but because they cultivated the mindset and discipline which the majority do not care about. Thus, the average Joe with the right mindset and action can discover world-changing ideas and become a thought leader. We’ll look at what it takes in the next section of this article.
What Does it Take?
It takes courage to share your idea with the world especially when that idea is contrary to received wisdom. I like what Dorie Clark says in his book, Stand Out. He wrote: Whatever your course, or perspective, or point of view, we can’t afford for the best ideas to remain buried inside of you. The world needs your insights. Whether it is reducing crime or predicting election results or imporving a manufacturing process or stopping spam e-mails, there are an infinite number of ways to make a contribution. We don’t have to settle for following orders and keeping to the work we’re expected to do. Our value isn’t as robots executing tasks. It’s as thinkers, who make connection and spark new insights and change the world by seeing things in new ways.
What does it take to more than an expert? To be a thought leader? It takes:
Asking questions. Thought leaders are those who question the assumptions taken by for granted by others. They are curious and are alert for inconsistencies in systems or beliefs. They are not content to shrug away unease at inconsistencies and will not rest content until they find answers. It is usually such pertinacity and tenacity in looking for answers to questions that distinguish thought leaders or geniuses from the mediocre majority. Sure, it takes work to questions and seek answers; but it is the reason why so called geniuses are rare; why thought leaders are not the staple of the society.
Seeking first hand information. The casual person is contented with only second hand information, perhaps from sources such as the media or gossips. But thought leaders are those who go out of their way to verify information. They prefer actual experiences; to experience how things work themselves rather than rely on hearsay. They work with those at the frontlines and get a feel of situations themselves. This can be considered cumbersome as if re-inventing the wheel but it is this painstaking approach that makes would-be thought leaders get a deeper understanding of how situation is. I read of a famous Indian Mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan would solve problems by hand; by the long route rather than just plugging values into a given formula. He, by so doing, got a deeper understanding. Same thing applies to any field or niche. Eschew the shortcuts. Stay close to where the action is and get a feel of the situation yourself.
Drawing upon your own experience. A few things can be said to be unique about you. You fingerprints, your personality and then, your life experiences. No two life experiences can be the same in all regards even those of identical twins! This uniqueness about every individual shapes our perspectives and helps us to see situations in different light. These differences in perspectives stemming from our unique combination of experiences can become a catalyst for seeing innovative solutions to a problem. Don’t cheapen your life experiences, whether they are good or bad. They can provide a complement to your formal qualifications. Fresh insights come from individuals with ecclectic backgrounds. For example, Wharton professor Adam Grant worked as a magician and Gianpiero Petriglieri of INSEAD is a psychiatrist by training.
Hard Work and Patience. Ideas usually don’t come as finished product the first time they arrive. There is usually the reiterative process of testing and refinement. This can take years of hard work and patience. Even then, most times these refined are not usually accepted into the mainstream. We have learned that the human nature is resistant to change. It takes patience and perseverance to stick with conviction about a new way when the noise of the majority is deafening.
Finally, we have learned that today’s world requires that we be more than experts our field. We need to come up with innovative ways to doing things. And that requires asking questions, seeking for answers and going for firsthand experience.
Ultimately, it will require courage to share whatever the idea with the world and patience to see it win the day. You deserve to be heard. The world need to hear you. Become more than an expert. Be a thought leader.
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