To some, collaboration can seem at odds with thought leadership. Doesn’t thought leadership start and end with our own brilliant idea? Surely we shouldn’t have to rely on others to help the process along?
Our discomfort is often based on fear. We feel we’re admitting that we don’t yet have all the answers. Or that we’re putting too much faith in others without knowing where we’re going. Or that, in the process, we’re giving away precious insight for free – insight that others could feasibly run off with and make their own.
But far from being an unnatural fit, intelligence sharing and collaboration are integral to the thought leadership process. It’s rare that we go to a client with a fixed idea. Ten years of experience have taught us that working with others to explore potential white space, before committing to an approach, is the only way to truly find something worthy to say and help achieve commercial goals.
1. Firstly, test your insights with other experts in the field. As the 19th century physician and poet Oliver Wendall Holmes Sr, said: “Ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up.” Listen to their criticisms. And don’t wait until you have a complete idea to start talking to them. Find out what’s on their mind; it’ll help lead you to that great idea from which your thought leadership project will stem.
Include clients and prospects as your experts. This way, you can locate the challenges that are pressing to them, demonstrate that you value their opinion, and show off the work you do and could be doing for them. This will help you build relationships and write commercial value into the process from the get go.
2. Secondly, collaborate with people who provide different perspectives. This does not solely mean including the female voice, but also that of ethnic minorities and junior colleagues. Talking to a diverse group will act as an ‘intellect multiplier’, meaning a variety of backgrounds, expertise and experience will help you discover and push forward engaging insight.
Most thought leadership projects involve qualitative research (observation, interviews, case studies), for the reason that it strengthens the quantitative element of your work but also transforms a series of statistics into a compelling story, adding colour and making your argument more persuasive.
3. Thirdly, by involving people from the start you build relationships and automatically create advocates who are invested in your work. This makes the final part of the project – releasing your content into the world through a range of communications – a whole lot easier. Advocates have the power to amplify your message, online and in-person, thereby extending your reach and impact.
Find ways to make it easier for advocates to engage with your material: whether that’s inviting them to speak at an event or creating short-form content like videos and infographics they can easily share with their networks.
Thought leadership requires you to make a new and important argument about something that matters. Involve other people in this endeavour and you not only improve your ideas, you create champions who will legitimise and spread your word. As Charles Darwin so famously penned: “It is the long history of humankind. Those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”