I’ve had one great Eureka moment in my life, sitting in a hotel room overlooking the steaming geysers in Rotorua, New Zealand. In just a few minutes I envisaged the model underlying my PhD thesis, a neat 2x2 matrix that brought together multiple lines of inquiry I had been pursuing for over a year. Ever since then, I’ve been fascinated by the what I called the Eureka process – a way of conceptualising a powerful idea based on deep knowledge and presenting it in an explanatory way that really inspires and engages an audience. Today, this is called thought leadership.
Thought leadership is the process of influencing through the power of an idea. It is the new gold standard of marketing for any engineering organisation that wants to differentiate itself from competitors or needs to cut through the noise of information to reach an audience. It’s also increasingly popular for individual engineers as a basis for developing their careers, to stand out in a field of talented candidates.
Yet, in my view, the process of developing thought leadership processes is poorly understood. The basics are straight forward enough. You identify a topic, create content that your target audience will find interesting, and publish it without overtly selling your product or service. The aim is to build loyalty and trust in your brand, so they will come to you when they are ready to buy your product or service.
However, this simplistic description skips over the crux of the thought leadership process – the ideation of the thought leadership position itself. This ideation process is difficult and rightfully so. Otherwise thought leadership wouldn’t be so valuable.
Unfortunately, many organisations assume this crucial part of the process will happen of its own accord, relying on the talent of their experts to develop the raw concepts and material underpinning their thought leadership campaigns. However, an expert’s deepest knowledge is often so strongly tacit that it is hard for them to express it explicitly. Also, experts may not be skilled in connecting insights with hard business outcomes, which is required if the investment in thought leadership is to pay off.
The answer to this conundrum is to turn the Eureka moment into a replicable process, which leverages the strengths of a team rather than relying on creative individuals. Key elements of this process include the right tools to manage the plethora of thoughts that occur during the ideation process; knowledge management processes that facilitate identification of inputs including market drivers; insight generation processes that encourage divergent thinking; and convergent thinking to crystalise a theme that will underpin your thought leadership campaign.
To be successful, thought leadership needs to be tightly integrated into the wider business environment. At its best, thought leadership is more than just a marketing process. It can be a strategic process that helps an organisation clarify its true value proposition and becomes the basis of developing a true partnership with clients – a partnership based on generating and sharing knowledge rather than the commoditised provision of products and services.
The overall process of understanding the role of thought leadership, creating a leadership position, soft-selling that position and integrating it into the business is the basis of a one-day workshop on Thought Leadership for Engineers being run by Engineering Education Australia.
Tim Kannegieter is the facilitator of EEA’s Thought Leadership for Engineers workshop. He is an electrical engineer who has become a communication coach. He is the former editor of Engineers Australia magazine and has a PhD in communication across organisational boundaries.
- Dr Tim Kannegieter