Thought Leadership Has An Upside And A Downside

A thought leader is similar to a bellwether:  it is a person who is sort of a leader of the pack.  They are people who are often at the forefront of a movement or a set of ideas.  It is important to realize, though, that being a thought leader has upside but also has downside risks.  For example, the cutting edge idea that you may espouse may not make it to prime time.  Being at the forefront of your field has a lot of benefits and it’s important to recognize the downside risks of you possibly getting behind an idea that fails spectacularly.


How does one become a thought leader?  A thought leader is often someone who represents a non -consensus viewpoint.  Note the key elements of this include that they represent this idea or cutting-edge thought.  They need, in short, an audience.  Finding and growing an audience is one of the biggest challenges of becoming a thought leader.


In healthcare, particularly Surgery, there are many mechanisms in which to do this.  In Trauma and Emergency Surgery, for example, giving talks at professional meetings, participating in committees within professional organizations such as the Eastern Association of the Surgery for Trauma (similar national trauma surgical society), or networking via online communities can help you establish yourself as a thought leader.  Other routes include social media visibility, and yet another includes publishing papers in journals or even becoming an editor for a journal.  These are just some of the ways to be at the forefront of research in trauma and emergency surgery, and in healthcare being at the forefront of research is often equated with being a thought leader.  However, these are not the only ways in which you can become a thought leader.  You can even provide consultant work to hospital service lines, be the messenger or proponent of an idea that is already in existence or basically establish your name and reputation as someone at the forefront of the field.


As mentioned, one of the other important elements of becoming a thought leader is representing a non-consensus viewpoint.  That is, if every speaker represents the same view point it is unlikely that anyone will be perceived as a leader.  Looking at a problem or issue in a new way, focusing on an issue that is common to people in the field, and clearly representing this non-consensus viewpoint in a non-confrontational way can help establish you as a thought leader.  Representing a unique viewpoint makes being a thought leader very different than just being an expert on some topic.


In our angel investment practice, one criterion on which we evaluate new potential business models is the presence of a non-consensus viewpoint.  We are interested in a team that thinks the market, or a solution to some issue a consumer has, is going in a different direction than what many others think.  They need solid data (experiential or otherwise) to substantiate their claim.  If a business team demonstrates a non -onsensus viewpoint that has sustainable competitive advantage, that is it, the position can be protected, established, and grown, the idea is much more attractive.  Clint Korver, from Ulu Ventures, also described the search for non-consensus viewpoint in a recent online course on entitled Venture Capital 101.


In short, being a thought leader requires multiple facets including finding and reaching an audience with your unique, non-consensus viewpoint in a non-confrontational way that demonstrates the utility of this non-consensus viewpoint. Having a novel or interesting viewpoint on a topic that doesn’t matter about which you can tell no one is exactly the opposite of becoming a thought leader.  In business model innovation, becoming a thought leader can have significant utility as you look to influence stakeholders to get on board with your business model.  Representing a non-consensus viewpoint in an effective way can help propel you into a position where you are much more likely to get funding for your business model or be looked up in your field as an important thought leader. Such a visible position has a strong upside yet also has downside risk.