Anyone Can Be a Thought Leader. Here's How.

Author and marketing consultant Dorie Clark explains the basic tenets of thought leadership.

Dorie Clark: The word "thought leader" was coined in 1994 by a gentleman named Joel Kurtzman. And originally it applied to someone whose ideas merited attention. These days thought leadership in some ways has become an overused term. Some people claim it for themselves and say, "I’m a thought leader in this. I’m a thought leader in that." And so as a result sometimes people are a little allergic to the terminology and think that no one really is a thought leader. But I actually believe it’s a worthy term and a worthy goal because what we’re talking about is something very distinct from either celebrity or expertise. If you are a celebrity, that’s really just about fame. You’re just known. Sometimes you’re just known for being known. If you were a thought leader, it is about your ideas; you're known for your ideas which is far more valuable to society. And an expert. That’s a great thing to be. It means you know your stuff. You’re knowledgeable. But if you’re a thought leader, it means you have to have followers. It means you’re engaging in the world and that means your ideas are going to have far more impact.

Some people think that they can’t have a big idea; they can’t be a thought leader because everything’s already been done. They have an idea, but somebody else got there first. The truth is every idea has already been taken. That is no excuse not to do something about it. I write business books and if you take a business book and you distill it down into a one-page summary every single piece of advice in every single business book can fit on a notecard and is going to look something like the key to networking is being nice to people. Or the key to being a good manager is to listen. These are things that are not rocket science, but yet they are things that too many people don’t know and they are things that in a lot of ways we are not ever going really to be able to fully understand unless we hear it properly with an open heart and an open mind. And the way that you do that is through stories and anecdotes that you hear and by something being conveyed from a particular perspectiveYou have something unique to offer by dint of who you are. Even if something in theory has been done before, it hasn’t been done by you in the way that you can do it. It’s time to step forward and to recognize that you can make a contribution.


Author and consultant Dorie Clark defends the term "thought leader" in this video interview by differentiating it from celebrity and expertise. A thought leader isn't in it for the fame — it's all about ideas — and being a thought leader is more than just expertise because an expert doesn't necessarily need to have followers to qualify. She then delves into how anyone can become a thought leader. The secret isn't to try and come up with radical new ideas. Pretty much everything you could ever think of has already been thought up by someone else. Instead, the key is understanding that big ideas can be simplified and that you can make a major contribution by finding unique ways to communicate those simplified ideas. Clark's new book is Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It.

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