On Monday night the London offices of lawyers Allen & Overy hosted the inaugural award ceremony for “The Laurie Young Global Prize for Thought Leadership 2014”. It was a veritable business hall of fame with participation from such prestigious organisations as Harvard Business Review (HBR), London Business School (LBS), Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and IBM. The line-up included the man who coined the term “thought leadership”, Joel Kurtzman, an international economist and former editor-in-chief of HBR, a former business editor of the New York Times and a member of the Wharton School’s Board.

The winner was entrepreneur Steve Blank’s short but astonishingly clear and practical paper on lean start-ups. I remember reading it and being so impressed (particularly as it blew away so much I learned on my MBA) that I immediately applied the principles to a small business I was working with at the time. No doubt there will be shrieks from lawyers with regards to the proposed process and its advocated open-source and collaborative approach.

A video of Laurie talking about his book was shown https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RQaIbm9svw.  Then, as well short presentations from senior representatives of the majority of the 10 shortlisted papers (see below), the panel discussion covered topics including:

  • how thought leadership topics are chosen
  • how the research is organised, financed and measured
  • the research methods used – experimental observation, finding puzzles that need solving,  hypothesis development, hypothesis testing approaches and sample surveys
  • blending academic and commercial consultancy approaches to create more transparency and to reach both educators and entrepreneurs
  • the need for a recognised individual as the author(s) to show personal commitment, add authenticity and focus the ongoing debate
  • packaging and promoting material through digital methods, different diagrammatic forms, infographics and social sharing and how thought leadership can help to provide a “uniform brand” to a knowledge business

The future of thought leadership

Dr Fiona Czerniawska (co-founder of Source http://www.sourceforconsulting.com/ which assesses the quality of thought leadership by the leading consulting firms and co-author of “Business Consulting: A Guide to How it Works and How to Make it Work”) gave an excellent presentation on the future of thought leadership.

She shared some key statistics relating to thought leadership:

  • 76% of clients believed that thought leadership was the most important way to market professional firms
  • 30% of companies indicated that it was an important criteria for shortlisting firms – “Why invite a firm to consult for us on a topic where they haven’t published any research?”. She commented that thought leadership had moved from the marketing function to the strategy table.
  • 4,000 pieces of thought leadership are published by the top 25 consulting firms each year through videos, podcasts and reports. It would take 250 days for a person to read all of this information.
  • The average quality rating for this thought leadership was 9.41 out of a possible total of 20 which suggests that the quality needs to improve (as Laurie indicated in his book).

The key trends she felt would be important for thought leadership in the future included:

  • Time – As well as demanding brevity (a maximum of two pages) the topics needed to be relevant and the material presented in an entertaining way
  • Digital – Increasingly, people needed it in “flip format” for tablet use and in multi-media format and focused and personalised
  • Resilience – Thought leadership should enable better informed decisions by businesses and to do this there needed to be collaboration and quality control (e.g.  peer-review)
  • Insight – Great thought leadership should enter the mainstream and have wide influence. She cited the “magnetic middle” as a good example.
  • Action – Thought leadership should promote action.

The 10 shortlisted entries

I made a few notes about some of the papers as they were introduced. I also tried to find public links to the material to help you take a look if the topic is of interest.

Beyond the echo chamber – Sandy Pentland http://hbr.org/2013/11/beyond-the-echo-chamber/ar/1 Decision making through social exploration and social learning

China’s e-tail revolution – McKinsey http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/asia-pacific/china_e-tailing

Forget the entry form – The three-minute guide to three-minute guides – Deloitte http://www.deloitte.com/view/en_US/us/Services/additional-services/deloitte-analytics-service/forget-entry-form/index.htm Three minute video animations to convey complex ideas

From transactions to relationships – Connecting with the transitioning shopper – IBM http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/gbs/thoughtleadership/transitioningshopper/

Lean start up changes everything – Steve Blank http://steveblank.com/2013/05/06/free-reprints-of-why-the-lean-startup-changes-everything/ An approach for start-up businesses who need different planning and development tools and approaches to large, established businesses to find new business models and cope with continuous disruption

Legal Risk Management – Berwin Leighton Paisner http://www.blplaw.com/expert-legal-insights/articles/legal-risk-management-framework/ External research with in-house counsel was commissioned to obtain themes and best practice and then networking groups were established to build on the knowledge base

Making time for the work that matters – Julian Birkenshaw http://hbr.org/2013/09/make-time-for-the-work-that-matters/ar/1 Helping knowledge workers become more productive through time management, delegation and out-sourcing

Shale gas boom now visible from space – Financial Times http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/d2d2e83c-6721-11e2-a805-00144feab49a.html#axzz37ZCt1wTh The infographic was the primary point of interest

The future of bank branches: Coordinating physical with digital – Capgemini http://www.capgemini.com/resources/the-future-of-bank-branches-coordinating-physical-with-digital

The innovation bottom line – Boston Consulting Group  https://www.bcgperspectives.com/content/articles/sustainability_energy_environment_innovation_bottom_line/

On a personal note, Laurie Young was a great friend of mine. Whilst devastated at his sudden death in September 2013 I was pleased to have played a very small part of Richard Chaplin’s (Managing Partners Forum http://www.mpfglobal.com/  and Professional Marketing Forum http://www.pmforum.co.uk/ ) development of this amazing award to commemorate both Laurie and his last book on “Thought Leadership” and to be one of the 50 judges who reviewed the shortlisted entries. I think Laurie would have been impressed and delighted at the event last night – especially as his family, friends, colleagues, clients and students turned out in such force.