The Moment I Became a Thought Leader

Diary of a thought leader: March 10, 2018

Throughout my entire career I’ve been a voracious consumer of thought leadership — conferences, panels, blogs, podcasts all continue to inform my career. I’ve never considered myself to be at the same level as the person on the stage talking to the masses. I believed that to be a thought leader you had to be an authority on the topic you were speaking or writing about. But as I’ve been increasingly focused on the implications of emerging technologies, it’s become apparent that it’s often too early for there to be an authority. The speed of development of new technologies combined with their complex convergence outpaces the formation of any singular perspective. What’s more, working on the frontier of anything new benefits greatly from considering multiple perspectives.

My heartbeat raced and words spilled out of my mouth.

I experienced the benefits of sharing my own perspective firsthand at a recent conference, when during the Q&A, I felt the speaker failed to address what I believed to be an obvious aspect of the topic being discussed. Typically I’d have kept my thoughts to myself, but given that this was something I’d been thinking a lot about, I surprised myself. My hand shot into the air and next thing I knew, a mic was thrust into my face. My heartbeat raced and words spilled out of my mouth as I shared my point of view with everyone in the room. The speaker acknowledged she hadn’t considered the topic from my perspective, but rather than be embarrassed, she was delighted to have another angle from which to explore the subject. A follow-up question by another audience member further expounded on my comment. I was suddenly an important contributor to the conversation.

I learned something valuable in this moment — we each have different vantage points, and by joining the conversation, we strengthen and accelerate our collective understanding. This isn’t a new concept. It’s a process scientists have used for ages. They develop a hypothesis and present it to the community for peer review, which further shapes their thinking.

I also learned that a good thought leader isn’t embarrassed to learn of gaps in their knowledge. While it is certainly important to be able to defend a POV, if the goal is truly to develop deeper insight on a given topic, then a confident leader will facilitate the conversation to that end. They may even encourage the audience to challenge their POV.

It turns out that the same factors that make for a good thought leader are also key to what makes Silicon Valley the legendary hotbed of innovation that it is.

I must take on the responsibility of becoming a ‘public thinker’

Technology is driving significant change at a pace greater than any other time in history. Since these changes are happening at break-neck speed, ideas can’t all come from experts at conventionally slow-moving entities like institutions. We need perspectives derived from a continuously evolving collective whole. In order to help effectively shape what the future can be, I must take on the responsibility of becoming a ‘public thinker,” someone who’s willing to join the conversation not as an authority, but as a provocateur of conversation. In this way, I can help facilitate the exploration of the multiple perspectives that are shaping the future. Understanding this aspect of thought leadership has given me confidence and inspiration as I embark on my journey.

Next I’ll share my approach.

Here are a few thought leaders who inspire me:

Stewart Brand — a long and illustrious career link
Leah Buley — good listener and presenter link
Eric Corey Freed — an engaging presenter link
Tim Wu — compelling writer link
Tatjana Dzambazova — fantastic storyteller link