The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get the old ones out.
- Dee Hock
Does your organization have a thought leader … or maybe two? Or do you rely on thought leaders outside your organization? We often wonder what creative thinking skills are required to become a valued thought leader. That will be the question this post seeks to answer.
A thought leader is a person or an entity that is recognized by peers for having progressive and innovative ideas. Successful thought leaders have proven themselves in the business, academic or political sphere through successful implementation of their ideas.
Thought leaders usually demonstrate thinking that is directional in nature or offers clarity to ambiguous perceptions. Thought leaders frequently present contrarian views or radical interpretation of situations which can build a considerable following to their commentary. Thought leaders are by nature mentors and are sought after strategists.
To Michael Brenner at Forbes, Thought Leadership is simply about becoming an authority on relevant topics by delivering the answers to the biggest questions on the minds of your target audience. We like the simplicity of this definition.
So here are the creative thinking skills we believe are most critical to becoming a valued thought leader:
Be great at understanding your target audience.
Identify all the questions your audience are concerned about and understand their concern priorities and interrelationships. Answer those concerns across multiple formats and multiple channels in a way that adds value to your audience. Start with the most important concerns and work your way down the list. You must “Give to Get” so do not promote or put registration hurdles in front of your content.
Adept at incorporating both logic and emotion into their thinking
While there’s often an organizational premium placed on left brain thinking — the quantitative, analytical, logical processing that moves toward definitive answers — the best creative thinkers are skilled at using both a left brain and right brain integration. Right brain thinking incorporates a qualitative, connecting, and a more abstract view of market threats and opportunities. Rarely do important questions get answered succeed or fail solely through an analytical and logic-based analysis.
Continually questioning both the familiar and the new
Many people are fine questioning what they don’t agree with. As a result, you have people clamoring for change who are excited to question everything about the status quo. People who are completely comfortable with just the way things are right now suddenly discover their questioning when the possibility of dramatic change rears its head.
The best thought leaders are skillful at questioning yesterday, today, tomorrow, and everything in the future. Additionally, the more they explore future options, the more new questions they generate. Creative thinking skills of the best thought leaders are about exploration … about imagination and curiosity.
Comfortable thinking beyond today’s reality
The best thought leaders are able to free themselves from today to consider multiple possibilities for how their audience’s questions may play out in the future.
When trying to view a current situation dramatically differently, people need to be able to think in ways that have only loose connections to what today actually looks like. This makes many people uncomfortable with their standard ways of thinking. A creative thought leader is fine with that type of thinking.
Open to not answering or resolving every issue
While successful executives are largely rewarded for moving things to a successful resolution — and that’s vital for business performance — effective thought leaders have to be able to moderate any tendencies to prematurely resolve strategic issues.
It’s imperative for organizations to be nimble enough to adapt to changing conditions. That means it can be important to leave certain options open fur future consideration. An adept thought leader isn’t rattled by that possibility.
Open to valuable perspectives from multiple sources
Some elements of creative thinking skills are certainly enhanced by seniority. Importantly though, great thinking is about the right combination of three diverse perspectives: front-line subject experience, broad functional knowledge, and creative energy. These three mindsets are important because each will process and develop perspectives in different ways.
Any of these groups, working by themselves, will create thinking direction lacking in some essential way. Working together, there’s the potential for game-changing moves.
Some people have one of these perspectives; others have two or all three. No matter how many ones have, the more open someone is to considering perspectives he or she doesn’t possess, the stronger their creative thinking skills.
Remember … a great thought leader is always curious and keeps refreshing his sources. He knows the problem is almost never the problem. The problem is invariably the response to the problem.
Mike Schoultz is a digital marketing and customer service expert. With 48 years of business experience, he consults on and writes about topics to help improve the performance of small business. Find him on G+, Facebook, Twitter, Digital Spark Marketing, and LinkedIn.