I thought I was leading?




James Ralph

James Ralph, Senior Associate Director in corporate PR discusses what it takes to set the business agenda rather than follow it.

A fascinating discussion in the office yesterday on what constitutes thought leadership triggered me to do a quick search for the term on our media database.

Over the past five years, the frequency of the term “thought leadership” being pushed out in press releases has increased by a third. Of the 6,500 press releases issued that claim thought leadership – just one percent see coverage.

A scan of this output shows that the majority comes from the lifesciences, IT and banking sector. I’m far from the first to point out that “thought leadership” is all too often an oxymoron, but even to a casual reader the familiarity of the terms and concepts cropping up makes it clear the majority of this content is closer to “thought followship”.

So what defines true thought leadership – is it a genuinely original idea, or is it the ability to get people to engage with the concept? Xerox may have brought together the computer mouse and graphical user interface, but it took Steve Jobs to make it engaging to the market.

As the sadly departed Peter Watson OBE memorably hammered home to me in a review meeting; “Innovation isn’t the same as an idea. There’s plenty of people that can come up with bright ideas, there’s precious few that can make them a reality – they’re the true innovators.”

This was the conclusion of our discussion, true thought leadership isn’t only about the brightest ideas, it’s about those that can bring them to life. Ever heard of “ebusiness” – that was coined by IBM in 1996. The “war for talent” – McKinsey in 1997. “Fourth Industrial Revolution” – The World Economic Forum in 2016.

Here at Good Relations we’re doing our part for thought leadership for clients such as BSI. We worked with Cranfield University and the Economist Intelligence Unit on BSI’s behalf to coin the term “Organizational Resilience” to describe the ability to bounce back from adversity. We’re working hard to ensure this makes the grade of engaging thought leadership, but I’d be fascinated to hear tips from anyone else involved in setting rather than following business agendas.

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