Everybody wants to be one, and, if you define thought leadership loosely enough, most anyone can be one. But what does it take to play at the highest level, the Harvard Business Review level?
H. James Wilson, a senior researcher at Babson Executive Education, set out with others to answer this question. Here's his guide "for anyone — from bloggers, to academics, to strategy consultants — looking to produce world-class thought leadership."
Tune Your Idea to the Zeitgeist.
Zeitgeist, German for "spirit of the time," is the complex interplay of economic, technological, political, and social forces that can determine which ideas will flop and which will fly in a particular moment. Again and again, we found that HBR writers learned to sync their ideas with the zeitgeist to deeply resonate with their savvy, connected readers.
The zeitgeist doesn't have to be a vague and intangible notion, though it tends to remain so unless you intentionally look for it. Read widely and systematically scan sources, from new consulting reports to business headlines, to discern the zeitgeist. It can even be quantified. For example, a British study showed the precise ways in which management gurus in the 1980s U.K. effectively connected their ideas to the particular national moods aroused by Thatcher's economic policies.
Similarly, scholars in the U.S. have found strong correlations between an idea's popularity and economic indicators such as trade deficits, consumer confidence, and unemployment rates. As the U.S. trade deficit with Japan grew through the 1980s, for example, influential thinkers increasingly focused on how managerial innovations used in Japanese firms might be imported and adapted in the U.S.Pick an Apt Objective.
Underneath the varied thickets of research and rhetorical styles, some universal truths persist. In particular, our research revealed that HBR's authors consistently took aim at one of three core business objectives: improved efficiency, greater effectiveness, or innovation of products and processes.
Since these gurus were paying attention to the zeitgeist, they knew which of the three objectives to select in order to maximize the demand for their ideas in the reader's mind — and in the organizations where their ideas might be adopted.
During difficult economic times, organizations often seek ideas on how to cut costs or perform operations more efficiently. In better times, companies are attracted to ideas that help them do their work more effectively. In transition periods, during big technological shifts or the ends of recessions, companies often turn their aspirations to growth through innovation.More at the link.