Thinking about thought leadership.

At what point does one become a “thought leader”? Is the title given to a person or is it something that they decide themselves? Does this title come when you’ve reached a certain title or role in your industry or just when you decide that you have something worth saying to the masses? According to wikipedia, thought leadership is defined as “…an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.” (

I propose the question after hearing an interactive agency speak this week about their own thought leadership and the leadership team’s ongoing efforts to produce thought leadership and to write white papers. This past week my BDW cohort spent an afternoon with some of the team members at Effective UI, a Denver based interactive agency with strict beliefs in research leading design.

In the ever shifting and changing landscape of interactive design, thought leadership is a bit of mystery to me.

It makes sense that a leading agency should produce their own thought leadership based on the continually successful campaigns produced by the agency. For example, Agency X successfully wins awards for Client Y & Z and therefore they write thought leadership about their process of working with Client Y or Client Z. This type of thought leadership could be used for talent recruitment and client retention. However, in a collaborative agency environment, who is ultimately responsible for the success and therefore the best voice of thought leadership? Does the idea of thought leadership create division in the organization?

Thinking about my creative career path… there were many many books that inspired me to follow a creative career path. These books were on the theories of design, marketing and public relations… all written by people who may or may not be “thought leaders” in their respective disciplines. Prior to being introduced to the term “thought leadership” I assumed that these authors were people who just had something to say about their experience in their respective industry. And there is the conundrum of the title “thought leadership”. Thought leadership is really just another term for “I have something to say” and I am going to take the risk to put it out for my peers to review, leading to the conclusion that anyone can participate in “thought leadership” so long as it represents the person in a positive and engaging light.

Regardless of their role in an agency or firm a person who has experience in their field and has something to say based on that experience can participate in “thought leadership” and with the rise of personal digital media more people can participate in “thought leadership”. So… GO! Take a stand. Speak your mind and voice your own thought leadership. I’d like to believe that your experience could help to inspire others to see the value in their own thoughts and perhaps they too can become thought leaders.

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