By Ken Lizotte CMC
Excerpted from The Expert’s Edge (McGraw-Hill)
To the un-initiated, the concept of transforming oneself into the leading thinker in your field might seem rather overwhelming. Others worry that they may have too few “original” thoughts. Yet creative thinking can be catalyzed and nurtured.
Before you embark upon it, however, life as a thoughtleader might also sound like a huge commitment in time and energy: researching relevant business topics, drawing conclusions, conceptualizing insights, preparing presentations, finding time for the media… woo! It would be natural to wonder: How in the world can I manage all that? I’m already running flat-out as it is.
The answer is this: It ain’t about time but “perception.” True thoughtleading weaves itself into one’s moment-to-moment thinking, new ideas arising all of an instant, in the blink of an eye. Yes, a BLINK!
Suzanne Lowe, author of two books and hundreds of published articles, puts it this way: “Does thoughtleading take too much time? Well, it shouldn’t. Rather than being time-consuming, thoughtleading should be a constant process… small steps, great gains. It’s more about an approach to thinking critically.
“If you simply focus your thinking within a framework of wondering why or how did this or that happen, then you will fix on the substance of a situation and ask critical questions,” she explains. “You’ll want to discover why this or that is, and so you will think in a way in which you will. Thoughtleaders possess an investigator’s mind, thinking like a detective moment to moment. It does not have to take any particular extra time at all. . In fact, I thought up many of my ideas for my book while walking my dog! Thoughtleading is about employing a different thought process, not just taking more time to think differently at specified times.”
Maria Thomson, author of Insurance Coverage for All… and How Businesses Can Afford to Provide It (Actex Publications), agrees, viewing thoughtleading thinking as allowing oneself to simply be curious and wonder about things. To develop forward-thinking ideas for the insurance industry which she eventually published in her book, she continually focused on the why of things, asking question after question of others as well as herself.
“It’s the analytical side of me that kept me asking things,” she explains, “questions like: What is the nature of the problem? What is the solution? It wasn’t a chore, it was stimulating. I saw it as a challenge. It did not take more time, it just caused me to use my time in a particular way.”
Jim Masciarelli, author of PowerSkills: Building Top-Level Relationships for Bottom-Line Results, adds that thoughtleading thinking should best be thought of as a powerful “mindset.” He was inspired initially to become a thoughtleader by a success poster brandishing this line: “Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know.” He translated that to mean that the best thing we could all do is attempt every day to “improve our souls on this earth by living, loving and learning.”
“The more you learn, the more you can offer other people,” he says now. “Learning is the ultimate elixir. Life as a thoughtleader is an antidote for aging.”
Can we doubt this when we watch lifetime thoughtleaders, in business and elsewhere, grow older and older yet never lose their zest? Think Peter Drucker who questioned, researched, wrote and reflected until his death in 2005 at the age of 96. Or Jack Lalanne still working out in his private gym at 97 while publishing new books on fitness and doing infomercials for his juicer?
You Literally Have to Lead
Despite all the positive glories of thinking like a thoughtleader, however, there are nonetheless cautions to consider. Maria recalls for example that “thoughtleading thinking” can leave you standing all alone, possibly too far ahead of your time.
“The original areas that I tried to take a stance on failed to gain acceptance,” she recalls. “My thinking on the new directions I was advocating for the insurance industry was too far ahead of where the market was, too far into the future.” As a result, Maria’s attempts to win business were often rebuffed.
Courage is thus a prerequisite for thoughtleading thinking. Not only must you develop new ideas on an ongoing basis but you’ll need to communicate them too, put them up for debate, inviting disagreement and even denunciation and derision.
“You literally have to lead,” insists Alan Weiss, author of Million Dollar Consulting and over 25 other books, “and not necessarily because you invent an alternative to gravity or alternative to teamwork or whatever but because you help people look at something in a new way. You have to contribute to the state of the art, and to do that you always have to be able and willing to stand out and be recognized in a crowd.”
Weiss adds, “It’s not enough for a true thoughtleader to just ‘think’ real thoughtleading is more than that. I’ve met lot of people who are good thinkers, and who I have learned from… but thoughtleadership in any discipline literally means being willing to stand out in a crowd and say “Here is the right way to do it, now take your best shot.” You’ve got to manifest your thoughtleadership, and you can never use non-original work. It takes chutzpah to put your own ideas across. But that’s what thoughtleaders do.”
Words that Kill Creativity
And now a few utterances you will not hear emanating from a thoughtleader’s mouth any time soon:
• “We tried that before”
• “It’s a good idea, but we really don’t have time to implement it”
• “You’re joking, of course”
• “That’s all very well in theory but practically speaking…”
• “Top management will never go for it”
• “But we’ve never it done it that way before”
• “I’m afraid you’re ahead of your time”
• “Has anyone else ever tried it?”
• “We should form a committee and study this idea further”
Words That Spark Creativity
And finally, a few words that thoughtleaders do like to say:
• “Imagination is more important than knowledge” –Albert Einstein
• “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind too), those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed” –Charles Darwin
• “There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only those with unexpected outcomes” –Buckminster Fuller
• “If you can dream it, you can do it” –Walt Disney
• “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” –Henry David Thoreau
• “Think before you speak is criticism’s motto; speak before you think, creation’s’” –E.M. Forster
• “Think wrongly if you please, but in all cases think for yourself” –Doris Lessing
• “A problem is a chance for you to do your best” –Duke Ellington
• “You see things and say ‘Why?’ but I see things that never were and say ‘Why not?’” –George Bernard Shaw
Ken Lizotte CMC is our CIO (Chief Imaginative Officer) and author of “The Expert’s Edge: Become the Go-To Authority that People Turn to Every Time” (McGraw-Hill) and four other books. To contact Ken, click here.