Book: The Summit held in London on 14 July 2014 started with a short video in which Laurie Young described the essence of his acclaimed book on “Thought leadership – Prompting Business to think and learn”. It was a poignant moment for those of us that had known Laurie well to hear his voice again. Laurie also made other videos in the same session – a summary of the content, and another with his thoughts on the future of thought leadership. Delegates also found a free copy of GetAbstract’s excellent summary of the book on their seats.
Welcomes: In welcoming the 150+ invitation-only delegates, Richard Grove, Marketing & Business Development Director of hosts law firm Allen & Overy, spoke movingly of the enormous fun that he had had exploring ideas and concepts with Laurie, often to the bemusement of any lawyers in the room.
Julia Kirby, Editor-at-Large of the Harvard Business Review, was then invited to the stage to moderate the debate. She welcomed keynote speaker, Fiona Czerniawska, co-founder of Source for Consulting, who had kindly agreed to give a keynote on trends in thought leadership.
Keynote: Fiona started with some key statistics – 76% of clients are influenced by good thought leadership. Yet her in-depth research over 13 years in the management consultancy sector indicated that the content produced by the sector still on average scored only 9.41 out of 20 – technically a fail! The five key trends observed by Fiona were as follows:
- Time: With so many distractions to hand, the amount of time people are, in theory, prepared to spend looking at thought leadership is contracting. However, they’re still prepared to spend time reading novels, watching films, etc, so the real issue is not about time per se, but in making thought leadership sufficiently relevant and entertaining for people to want to spend time reading it.
- Digital: It’s impossible to talk about thought leadership these days without taking into account the variety of different channels people are using to access and the range of different formats in which it appears. But the quality of material which appears in non-traditional formats is poor (the assumption that a short piece appearing in a blog doesn’t need to be well-researched being a good example).
- Resilience: This was an area Laurie was especially interested in, because, unlike academic literature, thought leadership typically doesn’t have depth and rigour. In a business world which is increasingly looking for data and evidence, there’s a danger that the wrong metrics drive bad decisions. Resilience is expensive yet we still have a model in which most thought leadership is produced by individuals/single organisations rather than in collaboration with other interested parties. Scientists have learnt the value of standing on the shoulders of giants – the publishers of thought leadership should do so too.
- Insight: Very little thought leadership is what it purports to be – it follows trends rather than leads them – which is why the small number of pieces which produce a genuine insight stick in one’s minds. Authors and organisations need to be more ambitious.
- Action: One of the distinguishing characteristics of thought leadership is that it’s designed to make people do something, whether that’s remember a brand in general terms or buy a specific product. Yet the vast majority of thought leadership focuses on the ‘what’ and the ‘why’, neglecting the ‘how’.
Finalist interviews: Julia then conducted live interviews with five of the finalists and shared insights received from the others. More about the ten amazing papers….
Debate: Julia then started a debate on three key issues common to the process of originating and communicating thought leadership. This involved finalists, Fiona and Joel Kurtzman, a long term friend and business colleague of Laurie, as well as the chair of judges for the prize.
- How ideas emerge – Papers seldom result from a single flash of inspiration so much as from a process of conversations and observations, combined with rigorous research and analysis, leading to insight.
- The challenges involved in getting ideas to market – The culture of the organisation was seen to play a critical role. The finalists clearly worked for organisations that recognised the value of effective thought leadership, so gave it top priority. However, the majority of organisations did not appear to do this, resulting in delay, interference and a veritable tsunami of poor quality bland wallpaper.
- Demonstrating the value and impact of ideas – It was noted that no clear metrics have yet been developed for thought leadership, and there was minimal research into the perceived influence and impact of thought leadership on clients. Additionally, as Laurie pointed out in his book, most academics use it but virtually none of them study it.
Ceremony: Christopher Young gave a moving address on how proud he was of his dad and the global thought leadership prize that had been created in his name. He was delighted to announce Steve Blank as the 2014 winner, with Professor Sandy Pentland as runner up, and The Boston Consulting Group and MIT Sloan Management Review in third place. In his winner’s response, Steve commented how surprised, proud and humble he felt to have been declared the overall winner of such a tough marathon – a true World Cup for ideas.
Club: Finally, Richard Chaplin, architect of the prize, long standing friend of Laurie, and CEO of the Thought Leadership Club, explained that the new charitable Club aimed to help those who originated thought leadership by developing suitable metrics, and commissioning and sharing original research into the value and impact of thought leadership from consortia of business schools, think tanks and NGOs. He saw the Club as an organisation that would recycle waste for everyone’s benefit. He encouraged all delegates to talk to their CEOs about joining the Club. More…
Aftermath: After the formal session, most delegates stayed to renew old acquaintances and to meet new friends. Numerous copies of Laurie’s book were sold. The general view was that the inaugural Summit had been a huge success, with everyone already looking forward to 2015.