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April 17, 2009

4 key to thought leadership

The consulting industry is always one step away from being a commodity. And the problem with being in a commodity industry is that you can only compete on issues like price and guarantee of supply. (And the second one isn't as scarce as you would hope)

How can you stop from being seen as a commodity? There are many ways, however the principle way I know is to make your offerings both scarce and of value. (This, combined with Trust = Magic Formula consulting)

Both of these are actually more complicated than they appear once you start to dig down into them, but scarcity is the hardest one to really master.

Scarcity can be many things. It could be the IP you hold, the software you (and you alone) are able to bring with you, your experiences and your skill combinations.. heck it can be many, many things. But one of the real winners is if you are seen as a thought leader.

Thought leadership is scarce by nature. By definition there can be only one leader - so how can you make sure that leader is you?

If you follow Seth Godin  you will notice that he is often bucking the trends. He advocated permission marketing at a time when display banners (interruption marketing) were the rage on the internet, he picked up on the fact that winners actually do quit, and he has been predicting the demise of the newspaper industry since before it was trendy to do so.

Michael Gerber is another classic thought leader. He broke down the entire concept of entrepreneurship to take away the mythology and instead proposed a very practical, step by step approach to creating a great vision for your company and acting upon it.

So what are the common themes?

1. A leader doesn't do what everyone else does. That would be following.

A leader, particularly a thought leader, is evaluating what everyone else is talking about, and looking at the other side of the coin.

If everyone takes it for granted that it is true, then it probably isn't. The world used to be flat, the boom was going to last forever (every time), sub-prime mortgages were a great idea and so on.

When we got our first PC, a 286 I think it was, my Dad said "This has a 20 meg memory, we couldn't fill that in our lifetime even if we tried!" and all his computer mates agreed...

2. It must be short and concise

Great ideas, particularly great ideas that are contrary, must be able to be boiled down to a very simple and powerful statement or paragraph.

Some of the greats I recall or have coined are: (Apologies to the originators of these if I misquote them)

  • Don't try to be where they are, try to be what they are looking for - me in relation to trust based marketing
  • Don't focus on the activity, focus on the outputs - Alan Weiss on Value Based Fees (R)
  • Vertical Loyalty is dead - Daniel Pink talking about how work has changed in Free Agent Nation 
  • Change doesn't take a long time, it takes a nanosecond - Tom Peters on Excellence (I think)

There are many, many more - but you get the picture.

Short, compact, yet complex. They carry a lot of detail. How do you know? because when you tell people they inspire questions.

3. They must be fact based

"10 anecdotes does not data make" Alan Mather, phenomenal IT consultant from the UK. If you are going to make a statement against the present trend then you need to be able to prove it.

Stories, tales, research, case studies and statistics are all mediums of proof that you can use to support your version of the truth once you have it formed.

4. It must contain obvious and recognizable value

I have an opinion on just about everything. In particular I have a lot to say on raising small dogs like Jack Russells. Unfortunately nobody is too interested in this and it isn't going to help anyone make more money. (Which is what this blog is all about)

So its out...

All of the statements above, the contrary points of view that are listed, contain an easily recognizable kernel of value.

There are more, of course, but these are four elements that I have been able to use to great commercial effect when trying to stake out a scarce position in the marketplace.

If you have any others please add them below... I'm sure that being open is a strong part of thought leadership also.