Thought Leadership – A Way Forward?

thought leadership

The fast pace in the current digital age means that businesses and business models are changing more rapidly than ever. Combine that with the current coronavirus pandemic and the need for rapid change and swift decision making and you have a recipe for ‘excitement’. Thought Leadership is most definitely required.

New technologies and innovations will quickly sweep away well established and seemingly solid business models within just a few months. There are plenty of examples, Blockbusters, and Kodak to name just two.

In the latter case, Kodak failed to adapt to the growth of digital photography and the decline of photographic film, and a company that had traded for more than 100 years was forced to file for bankruptcy.

Blockbuster, which had itself been a disruptive company that saw the growth in home video and DVD during the 1980s, failed to see the decline of video and DVD and the potential for streaming.  It failed to adapt to change and fell by the wayside while players like Netflix dominate the same space today. In a cruel twist of fate, Blockbuster passed on the chance to buy Netflix in its early days.

To further underline the pace of disruption,  just 12% of the Forbes 500 from 1955 still existed in 2015.

So how can businesses remain relevant to their customers in these circumstances? The answer is to do what Blockbuster and others failed to do and adopt innovation in order to survive.

The impetus and thought leadership behind this needs to come from the top.  Senior staff must lead from the front, and encourage their teams to think progressively and kick start innovative thinking within the business.

This isn’t thought leadership as it’s often portrayed: featuring in guest blogs and conferences, but rather actually inspiring people within a business with innovative ideas and practical steps to turn these ideas into reality.

Thought leadership is a powerful way to inspire people both inside and outside of your company. Telling a credible story around a shift in your industry using real-life disruptive examples or builds authority and a consistent view across your organisation – driving innovative thinking and alignment.

The challenge for executives, CEOs, Marketing Directors, Directors of Strategy, etc is to remain up to date with trends in fast-moving industries when they already huge demands on their time, tight budgets, and competing priorities.

This has to be overcome for businesses and their executive teams though, as the ability to remain on top of events and how innovation and technological changes have the potential to affect their markets and clients is increasingly important.

The next stage is how executives can embrace thought leadership within their organisations and find and disseminate key information to help them stay on top of events.

1. Set a goal. Educate others.

Like any initiative, the first question to ask yourself is “why.” Why do you want to be a thought leader? Is it to get promoted, change careers, raise funds or boost brand awareness for the company?

2. Position yourself.

Personal positioning is very similar to corporate positioning. How do you want to describe yourself so that people know what you do? Ask yourself what you’d want to be known for and how you can support that image. This is actually branding as opposed to simply just advertising your position within the organisation.

3. Demonstrate credibility. 

Similar to the corporate or product messaging process, ask yourself the tough questions. What makes you an expert and why should others care? Once you’ve identified your area of expertise and the value that you bring, the next step is to prove your expertise to build credibility.

Use examples and stories to support your claims and highlight your aims.

4. Build a story to humanise your brand. 

Having a personal story will give your company a face and a human touch. People often love personal stories, which allow them to relate to your journey, challenges, and successes versus just hearing about a product and its features or functions. The stories you tell could be about you but they are more likely to relate to other businesses in your market niche. like the Blockbuster and Netflix examples above.

5. Be a resource.

Now that you know how you want to be perceived and have a narrative, think about how you are going to leverage tools to share tips, tricks, and best practices. Perhaps there is new research in your industry. Leverage that and use your know-how to add insight to the report. Always provide insights not just reports. Remember you are a thought leader not a follower.

Boosting Your Creativity

boosting your creativityThere are loads of different ways you can consider boosting your creativity – from small changes you can implement in your daily life to exercises that can help you develop your creative mindset.

Here are 5 very simple things that you can do to start off:

1. Change your workspace. There are many small changes you can implement in your office and daily life, to encourage creativity. Did you know that 60 % of the creative people operate in 2 or 3 different workspaces? Occasionally changing your environment allows your mind to see ideas from a different perspective and even formulate new solutions. Try to change your office workspace, or, if that’s not an option – maybe try working from a local coffee shop, library or even your home office just for a day.

2. Get inspiration from external stimuli. A simple way of encouraging inspiration and creativity is filling your office with various visual stimuli, especially if they aren’t related to your industry – interesting furniture, plants, paintings, photographs, different magazines.

3. Wellbeing and creativity. Our health and wellbeing can significantly influence our creativity. The healthier we feel, the more creative we tend to be. Consider standing desks, sleep-in policies, a corporate gym membership, fruit deliveries, add indoor plants or organise walk-meetings. According to studies, compared to sitting, walking while brainstorming can demonstrate a 60 % increase in the creative output. So, next time you need to come up with new ideas, consider taking a brief walk around the neighbourhood.

4. An office that supports creativity. Many hours are spent in our workplace, so naturally, it has a significant impact on our creative thinking. Even the layout of your office can contribute to everyday creativity. If you can arrange the office in a way that constantly makes people run into each other, it will encourage more interactions and conversations. The more people interact with each other, the bigger the chance for new, creative discoveries. Try and engineer those coffee machine and watercooler moments.

You can also set up different workspaces that support creative thinking: quiet rooms, chill out zones, rooms for large teams, or one on-one-discussions. Of course, not everyone can afford a major revamp of office space – you can start with simply moving the fruit bowl or a coffee maker to a new location or rename the meeting rooms to encourage a different type of thinking.

5. Let ideas brew. Interestingly, researchers discovered that allowing your ideas to “brew” for a while or go through an “incubation period” is important when it comes to our creative success. Even taking a break and stepping away from your project for just 20 minutes can significantly enhance your performance.

No wonder it is said that the best ideas come to us while in a shower. It so happens that the relaxing setting and absolute isolation of a warm shower makes an excellent incubator for new ideas. In fact, any other activities that make us feel good and relaxed, like exercising, taking a walk or cooking,  increase our dopamine flow, and fuel our subconscious “idea generation machine”.

What Comes Next?

What comes next?

We are currently in the throes of what can only be described as a catastrophe, both on a human level and also from a business point of view. It is the latter I am concerned with now, as it seems to be the thing that is most puzzling for us all. What comes next?

First of all, many people seem to think that we are having some sort of blip and then things will go back to being as they were. Well, this is definitely wrong. We have a virus that is killing people and for which there is no known cure.

Whether lockdown continues or social distancing stays with us for another year, things will not go back to being as they were towards the end of 2019.

Then we come to that awful phrase ‘new normal’. What is it exactly? The term implies that the old normal was not quite right and that a newer version will be more useful somehow. It also infers that a new state will be constant as though there has just been a change, a slight shift in our day to day lives.

The reality is that the post COVID-19 era will be characterised by change, constantly shifting environments, and also the need for rapid decision making.

So, you are thinking, how on earth do I create plans for my business? Ditch the plans (well the boring linear sort anyway) and create yourself a storyboard. Your endpoint is probably just past the end of the current wave of coronavirus and the intermediate points are wherever you want them to be (significant milestones).

So, at this endpoint, you need to ask yourself a lot of questions about how things will work because we will not know what things look like. Forget the products and services that you currently sell and think about your customers.

Will customers still want the things that you have traditionally provided, will they want something else, will they want more (or less), will they prefer it if you bundle more things together to save them going to many suppliers (a bit like going to local shops or getting supermarket deliveries during lockdown)?

Next, take a look to see if the competitive landscape is changing. Will any of your competitors be weakened or perhaps not be there at all? Will this leave gaps in the marketplace for you to fill?

And finally, you are always going to be able to make money is you have a solution to someone’s problem(s). So, try to think about potential customers who are just popping out of the other side of the pandemic. What extra things might they need, what things might they not be able to do, or what might they be afraid of?

At this point you might be thinking that there are a lot of questions to answer. Things do get harder though. Remember I suggested that our new world will be characterised by change and the need to make decisions quickly. Imagine that your business has to adapt in the same way a chameleon adapts to its surroundings.

You cannot wait to be told what to do, your business must be constantly scanning the environment around it and make decisions accordingly.

In the future, you will need to be nimble. Where you work will be immaterial, especially as technological advances will make remote working seem like we are all together. Factories will still exist but may be staffed by relatively few people.

Organisational structures will change and become flatter and more fluid with greater value placed on knowledge than job title.

For more ideas on structure and infrastructure please also read Soft Infrastructure Post Coronavirus to get a better idea of what comes next.

How Will Coronavirus Change The World?

how will coronavirus change the world
The events which are unfolding across the world mean that post coronavirus, the world will never be the same again. Is this a good or a bad thing?

At a superficial level we have shown that if we stop driving, taking planes and in some cases manufacturing, we can actually reduce the number of toxic emissions in the air. It still leaves us with a whole load of problems to solve but it demonstrates that it CAN be done.

The coronavirus is affecting just about everyone on the planet, it is a major disruption. So will things return to normal after this?

The answer is most definitely not, but why? Well a number of things have been observed such as:

  • People being more caring towards those around them (mostly)
  • The mood of the people is playing a big part – do they want more restrictions or are they happy with what governments are doing
  • Some companies have shown that it is possible to be incredibly flexible
  • There are vast untapped resources of knowledge and expertise in our communities
  • Forced remote working can have huge benefits
  • The media can have a huge effect on the people

By and large, there have been plentiful supplies of food despite panic buying and some holdups in the supply chain. When it became obvious that there WAS enough to go round, we (in the UK at least) became British once more and queued peacefully.

Some questioned what the government and the police were doing but by and large, the people gave them a smack over the head!

So collectively we entered survival mode, realising that we had to get on in order to survive. Ignoring neighbours and panic buying food was not going to work long term.

So many of us would like to be able to work from home more (if not permanently). Just think if online shopping was cheaper and easier, we could create more leisure time for ourselves. What our UK government described as non-essential shopping would probably form the bulk of our shopping in the future.

Well, that is people taken care of but what about businesses? All businesses are in trouble right now but it should be survival of the fittest. Let us not subsidise poor businesses. For instance, airlines that treat customers badly and have poor service offerings might find themselves at the mercy of those who treat people better.

In the case of our own domestic supermarkets, those that took action early to adapt and look after vulnerable people will have a much-enhanced reputation when all this is over.

I have heard it said that the coronavirus spells the end of globalisation. I do not believe that this is so. The current globalisation is ‘globalisation of greed’, making profits anywhere and exploiting countries and their populations.

It is impossible for any country to be self-sufficient in everything so we will all have to ‘play nicely’ and there will be ‘globalisation of cooperation’ with know-how (rather than toilet rolls) being valued as a commodity.

Many businesses will be able to carry on, maybe with changes to their products and services. After all, we still require food and clothing. But the major shock to our world will also present opportunities for those that are ready and looking for them.

Nobody knows for sure where these sectors are but think of the following:

  • If people were happier to be at home, what sort of leisure activities would they favour?
  • Social distancing might mean that we don’t want to get too close but it might also force a drastic change in public transport systems
  • Companies would mainly be identified by groups of people and their values, not by buildings and equipment
  • There could be a huge demand upon the internet
  • If knowledge is a global currency will be tempted to travel more for work? If so, how can we reduce this?

Try asking yourself what has changed in your life and also look at the world from the point of view of a consumer. What would you like to see or not like to see?

Soft Infrastructure Post Coronavirus

post coronavirus soft infrastructure
What is soft infrastructure? We all understand the term ‘infrastructure’. It is a collective term for roads, railways, airports, ports, telecommunications networks, supply pipelines, etc. It is all to do with movement and these networks are all ‘hard’ i.e. they are made out of steel, concrete, and copper and they can all be touched.

Infrastructure is not quite the same as structure in an organisational context. Structure implies rigidity, a silo mentality and in many cases adherence to the past (especially in terms of behaviour). The new Organisational structures of the future will be more like infrastructures, offering support and guidance rather than controlling. Unlike the past, future (infra) structures will be wildly different, varying according to culture, market niche, company size, etc. They will, of course, all have one common theme – people.

Let us just take a break there. We could wander off into the future with some great ideas about what organisational structures could look like based on the opinions of experts and our own experiences.

There is just one tiny problem, something that is happening right now. We have a global pandemic and the measures that we are all taking are forcing us to work in very different ways compared to just a few weeks ago.

As a result, organisations might prefer to adopt some of these ways of working and as employees, we might prefer some of them too!

People need to be connected together in all sorts of ways. They are the valuable assets of the organisation and must be looked after by Human Resources, connected by IT and rewarded by the boss. But there is more, due to our dependence on intangible assets such as creativity, know-how, and culture as well as social interaction to create and exploit ideas.

For our businesses to function successfully, these things too must move around. Attempts have often been made in the past to codify these ideas, transmit them to another place and then try and extract both the message and the meaning of what has been received. Try having an email exchange with an angry colleague and you will understand the problems.

In order to have some sort of remote working, hierarchies will need to be flattened. Human nature means that those who imagine themselves with power like to be able to survey their empire and are not always comfortable viewing it remotely.

With many people away from work ill it will become apparent that a lack of employees at the coalface might reduce the capacity of an organisation to deliver a service of produce widgets. Capacity will not be reduced quite so much when those calling themselves ‘managers’ are taken out of the workforce or reallocated to other duties.

We need things to travel in ways that are not constrained by boundaries and which certainly do not travel in straight lines. Just like the ripples on a pond we might wish some things to be broadcast, such as company culture. And like a networked computer system we will need some sort of storage and perhaps some form of maintenance function to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

When thinking of communicating within a corporate environment we often think of sending things out (pushing) or receiving from others (pulling). What about when things just sort of slosh about, and proceed at their own pace or when disruptive events occur and we need a system that repairs or heals itself? We need a new type of infrastructure, one that is invisible and which connects everybody to everyone else. It must allow meaning, intuition, creativity and emotion to flow with no bottlenecks and no burst pipes. What we need therefore is the right sort of ‘network’ – a soft infrastructure rather than a hard structure .

So what does this soft infrastructure actually look like? The best metaphor I have come up with is a bowl of soup with croutons!

The soup represents the entire organisation and its culture. It is organic and simply ‘exists’. The soup contains other ingredients and most importantly – croutons. The croutons are important but are not on a higher level, they are the leaders and managers of tomorrow.

Within this organisation, pay and rewards will depend more on what you know and who you connect with rather than your job title and position in the hierarchy.

So managers and leaders will be ‘expert’ i.e. good at their job, not just promoted for long service. Other employees will also be experts in manufacturing, finance and logistics. Yes employees can move around and change functional areas but only if they are good. No more ‘Peter Principle’.

If you are thinking about change right now you might like to read When The Threat Is Here, It Is Too Late To Change! For other recent articles visit Latest Blog Posts.