As a very tangible example of thought leadership that scratches up against industry leadership, I give you the ipod. But in this case, I don’t so much mean the product as the independence of thought it will have taken to imagine it. It is hard to remember how listening to music was before that, but here are a couple of pokes for your memory: Buying music would be to walk down to a store and physically get an album down from the shelves; following, one would have a disc full of tunes by the same artist, and typically, listen to the tunes in order laid down by the artist and/or record company; and notably, bringing music along for the occasional jog was at best painful – no amount of money could buy the full anti-jump function often advertised and you were best off creating a good ol’ ’mixed tape’ and fish out the walkman.
Enter the iPod in 2001. A far cry from the obvious commercial success, it represented a vision for behavioural pattern between audio content and the user. The infrastructure of how most of us buy, interact with and listen to music was changed in an all-encompassing shift. The producers of the iPod, Apple inc, allowed the listener control over content with mixing options; launched the itunes store to allow for the purchase and download of single titles; and adjusted the technology to cater for its largest potential use, jogging and individual sports.

LEADERSHIP TYPE: Thought leadership, industry leadership
GOAL: Product development and sales
CONTEXT: Blasting tech-bubble at its launch, industry outrage over widespread illegal download sites, first court cases
ACTION: Changing the behavioural patterns between audio content and the user; Allowing the user control over content and mixes
Launching the itunes stores facilitating the purchase of single titles
Adjusting technology to largest potential use: individual sports and commuting
METHODS: Full circle design from product manufacture to marketing
Eventually massive success, huge pop-culture influence, iEverthing
TRANSFERABLE PRINCIPLE: When creating a product or service that the market is not ready for, consider what you can do to ripen it


Thought leadership implies a thought leader, what does a thought leader really do? Typically a thought leader is an expert in his or her field and has the independence of mind to think about said field in an unusual way, which makes it shift, leap or turn.

A recent example of thought leadership in the world of economy is Dr Jim O’Neill’s coining of the phrase ’BRIC’, an acronym of Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Before O’Neill wrote his paper on BRIC in 2007, we were stuck in the paradigm of ‘first world countries’ and ‘third world countries’ or ‘developed economies’ and developing economies’ or ’emerging markets’ or members of the G7, G8 or G20. The trouble with these categories is that they all express the same paradigm: The cold war legacy with on side made up of a mix of North-Western countries and a grey mass of ‘developing’ countries on the other. To add to the confusion, one category includes countries that others don’t, and some have as many definitions as there were people using them.
When ‘The World Needs Better Economic BRICs’ was published as a part of Goldman Sachs’ ‘Global Economic Paper’ series, it lifted the technocratic classification ‘N-11 economies’ into the public realm. By communicating in plain English that Brazil, Russia, India and China are at comparable stages of ’emerging economies’ non-economists were helped distinguish within the bulk of ‘developing countries’ and it even changed the self-perception of these countries.

LEADERSHIP TYPE: Thought leadership
GOAL: Analyse and differentiate the variety of emerging economies, on the basis of which they can be supported toward growth.
PERFORMED BY: Dr Jim O‘Neill, economist
CONTEXT: ‘The World Needs Better Economic BRICs’, a paper written for Goldman Sachs‘s ‘Global Economic Paper’ series
ACTION: Clustering the developing economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China as N-11 economic level under the acronym. (40% world pop)
METHODS: Research, papers, advocacy
An image was created for developing economies, creating coalitions.
Yearly BRIC summits since 2009, finding voice toward G7 countries Next¬gen BRIC was coined in 2014 MINT: Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, Turkey
TRANSFERABLE PRINCIPLE: When working with disadvantaged groups, group them with comparable communities and redefine the conversation


Thought leadership can also serve an informal societal movement. I bring forward Naomi Klein to illustrate how her book No Logo managed to express the sentiment of the alter-globalism movement.

In the late nineties, the economy was going forward in most Western countries and there was a sensation of progression towards a brighter and better future. This future was notably globalised, connected and had most labour outsourced.

Amongst the young politically astute there was growing concern. Not towards brighter and better, but a nagging feeling that this progression came at the cost of disempowerment and disengagement of most people.

In No Logo, Naomi Klein voices this exact sentiment. She puts in on a foundation of sound research and especially structures the argument in to No Space, No Jobs, No Choice and No Logo.

No Logo was a huge success when it was published in 1999. It gained track record amongst the alter-globalisation movement, notably during civil protests generated media attention during the Seattle WTO Ministerial Conference. Later, it also won critics- and more mainstream acclaim as the tech-bubble blast in the early 2000´s and there is no doubt that it has influenced the thinking of many a young bright mind in power today.

LEADERSHIP TYPE: Thought leadership, societal leadership
GOAL: Raising awareness of corporate dominance of Western countries
PERFORMED BY: Naomi Klein, author and activist
CONTEXT: Civil protests generated media attention about the flipside of globalised corporations around the Seattle WTO Ministerial Conference, around the time when the book was published in 1999. It gained in reso¬nance and popularity as the tech-bubble blast in the early 2000´s
ACTION: Writing a book, promoting awareness and coining a phrase that became the voice of a concerned alter-globalisation generation
METHODS: Book (research, analysis, drafting, publishing, marketing)
Captivated the imagination of a generation
Widely disseminated pop-cultural and informal influence
TRANSFERABLE PRINCIPLE: The analytic trawling through complex societal history and presenting it in a digestible and compelling format

Leadership series: Thought leadership