When a person or a company is recognized as a thought leader, other people and companies seek out these leaders in order to learn about their area of expertise. For example, Disney became known for its excellent leadership programs. They subsequently began to sell these leadership programs to other companies. In my own business, clients seek out my company in order to speed up the adoption of practical analytics, my area of expertise.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tracey Smith. Tracey is regarded as a thought leader and strategic adviser in the field of analytics. She has over 25 years of experience applying mathematics, statistics and data analysis to business problems and has worked with well-recognized brand names. Ms. Smith is the President of Numerical Insights LLC, a boutique analytics company providing numerical analysis services. Ms. Smith holds degrees in Applied Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering and Business from well-recognized universities in Canada and the U.S. Her career spans the areas of mechanical engineering, supply chain and human resources. Prior to forming Numerical Insights LLC, Ms. Smith led global strategic initiatives for FedEx Express World Headquarters, process improvement projects in supply chain and mathematical simulation creation for an automotive company. She has been recognized as one of the “Top 50 Global Influencers in HR Analytics” and one of the “Top 15 HR Analytics Experts to Follow.” She is also CPSM certified through the Institute for Supply Management. Ms. Smith is the author of several books and hundreds of articles published in industry magazines and online web sites. Every day, she actively engages with thousands of social media followers who are interested in reading about analytics and how it contributes to business improvement.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I grew up in Canada and, from a young age, loved to see what the application of mathematics could tell us about the world. It was in a time when it wasn’t popular for women to study STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math) but I was also fortunate that I was not surrounded by people who would deter me from doing so. After completing a bachelor’s degree in Applied Mathematics, I chose to apply my mathematical skills to a real-world application by completing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering.
After leaving university, I spent 10 years applying my skills to the creation of mathematical models for the automotive industry. Within the last decade, I have broadened my talents and have applied analytics to the fields of procurement/supply chain, human resources and overall business improvement.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
I have always operated in an environment where the answer of how to succeed in a project is completely unknown. That means that I have spent many years leading the way into unchartered territory and figuring out the path forward. When you become good at, and known for, “charting the path forward,” people recognize that skill and begin to follow.
The second requirement to be recognized as a thought leader is the willingness to share your knowledge. It’s one thing to figure out how to define a path forward, but if you’re not willing to share what you know with other people, you won’t be recognized for your leadership skills.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I first started my career, my job was to create mathematical models for the automotive industry. We used these models to predict how our products would perform without having to build a prototype. If we could create a predictive model, it would save the company time and money by substantially reducing the number of prototype cycles.
As I embarked on the creation of one of my first predictive models, I produced 16 pages of hand-written calculations (no computers back then) containing partial differential equations mapped over to infinite series solutions… some serious math back then. After 16 pages, I had proven the following…
Zero Equals One.
It was not my proudest moment. I tore up the 16 pages and started again, but it took some time for me to shake the reputation of proving Zero Equals One.
The lesson learned? You will fail. So, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, learn to laugh at yourself and only look forward.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?
A thought leader is someone who not only has expertise in a topic but also contributes to the forward direction of how that topic evolves. A thought leader offers original thoughts, perspectives and innovative ideas. They motivate people to truly think about the new ideas they present.
An influencer is someone who has established a large following around a certain topic. While a thought leader presents original ideas for their followers to consider, an influencer isn’t necessarily a creator of original ideas. An influencer may be very talented at curating the latest information on a topic and seen as an excellent source of the best information, but they may not be an original author of this information.
Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader? Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?
Being a thought leader requires a large investment of time and energy. However, for those that constantly seek new challenges and have the desire to share new information with other people, that investment is worth every hour spent. The reward comes in meeting new challenges and assisting others in the learning process.
Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?
When a person or a company is recognized as a thought leader, other people and companies seek out these leaders in order to learn what about their area of expertise. For example, Disney became known for its excellent leadership programs. They subsequently began to sell these leadership programs to other companies.
In my own business, clients seek out my company in order to speed up the adoption of practical analytics, my area of expertise.
Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry.
- Read everything you can about your topic or industry.
- Be able to critically discern truth from hype in what you read.
- Be prepared to publicly agree or disagree with your fellow experts, i.e. take a stand.
- If you disagree, be prepared to back up your views with facts, not opinions.
- Share your thoughts with those that desire to learn.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
The term “thought leader” is certainly overused and this overuse diminishes the value of being named a “thought leader” by others. There are many self-proclaimed thought leaders on the internet.
There is value in this phrase only when external, reputable audiences, name an individual a thought leader.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.