Thought Leadership: In Search of Your New Big Idea

Putting your name out in front of a big idea for your company is a great feat of courage and originality. Yet, it doesn’t always last forever. When the fire of your big idea has gone out, it’s a signal that the business is entering its second act and needs a new one.

Big ideas shape discourses in companies and in industries, are the source of bold innovations and give purpose to what people do. Many companies were founded on a big idea that fueled their success. For some, those big ideas were original and exciting, and when companies were winning, they felt invincible.

A few companies I know well and whose leaders I have coached were the first to market with a new service and some with a new product that became very successful. The foundational big idea was significant and attracted lots of warranted attention. It became easy to attract and keep talent with the magnetic pull that being first and dominating the market offers. Yet as time passed, with competitors entering the marketplace and the accomplishment of a driving goal, being first was no longer enough. What was fresh and new and purposeful became ordinary. Nothing lasts forever.

A big idea is tied to you and your company’s thought leadership. I first heard the term “thought leadership” in 2009 when it came into usage. Those few people who talked about it then did so in hushed tones. That was because as attractive as it seemed to aspire to it, no one was sure what it really meant or how to make it happen.

When thought leadership became more widely known in marketing and strategy circles, it was unapologetically ridiculed. That’s what led me to run multiple Kitchen Table Conversations with a colleague, inviting leaders to explore thought leadership and its meaning and utility. The consistent view from one group to the next was that it was a bloated concept and that those who dared to claim themselves thought leaders did so undeservedly.

With time, its popularity gained ground globally, and it became mainstream. We can now agree that a true thought leader has earned their authoritative voice and is recognized for their ideas in a way that engages a following.

So Where Do You Start to Create Your First or Next Big Idea?

Think of your own mindset. It’s up to you to have enough belief that you can create your first big idea or something equally as exciting as the original big idea. It’s a mental mindset that is part audacity and part creativity. With the right attitude to start, it’s possible.

Have Patience

It’s called the slow hunch. Steven Johnson’s presentation “Where ideas come from” is still my favorite TED Talk. I’ve watched it more times than any online video of its type. In it, he popularized the notion of the slow hunch, that ideas develop slowly. Any speed less than warp today sounds like it’s not productive enough to be useful. But what we know about breakthrough ideas is that slow hunches are the start of the thinking process. There are many heroic narratives in our culture that suggest that ideas come fully baked as flashes of brilliance. Anyone known for a big idea will tell you they are developed over time if they are being honest.

Look For Relevant Ideas

The best big ideas that get traction are attractive, credible and relevant. When I look at the books I’ve read and listened to in the recent past, they cover ideas on preparing for a changing world of work, ways of promoting greater thought diversity, and machine learning and its impact on politics, to name a few. Each of these is either about new challenges or intractable long-standing problems. Whether you sell services or products, look to shape the future by naming, explaining, pattern-making, recommending and predicting.

It’s Not A Plot; It’s A Garden

It’s best to avoid isolating yourself when you want your thinking to develop, not only when you’re at an impasse. Ideas grow in conversation with others to become more fully formed. When we talk about our ideas, the idea grows, is enriched, pruned and finally buds. Spending time with people in your company may surface a new big idea; learning the dreams your customers have can also help you to imagine what’s next. We are in the connection economy, and your next big idea is more than likely going to come from having conversations with others.

Go Way Outside

If you’re looking for deep expertise to work out the feasibility of your idea, that’s one thing. You can seek out a specialist for that. But if you aim to originate bold new ideas, then you’re better off reaching out to people from different industries and fields. Novel information comes from bridging across groups, not sticking with your circle. “Going outside” enables new information and the combining of ideas from different sources, some of them unorthodox. Opinions are more homogeneous inside groups than outside and across. That’s why being at the intersection of several worlds is a good idea to generate new information. Getting immersed more widely to get a hold of the zeitgeist is very helpful.

Becoming or continuing your distinction as an authority with a compelling, unique perspective advances your industry, begins new conversations and gives people reasons to fall in love with you and your company and what you stand for all over again. Crafting a big idea that is timely is an act of creativity and, most of all, divergence. It’s also about reinvention.


This article first appeared on here. Photo credit, Geordanna Cordero-Field.