The term “thought leadership” was first coined in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, editor of Strategy+Business, with a narrow focus in mind. He wrote:
“Thought Leaders are those people who possess a distinctively original idea, a unique point of view, or an unprecedented insight into their industry.”
Since then, the meaning of thought leadership has devolved into a catch-all term that is interchangeable with pretty much any sort of content, whether or not it’s “distinctively original”, “unique”, or “unprecedented”. There are more people than ever claiming the mantle of thought leadership.
Edelman and LinkedIn have been tracking the state of “thought leadership” the last few years. In 2020, they found that 89% of decision-makers believe that thought leadership is “effective in enhancing their perceptions of an organization”, yet only 17% of them rate the quality of most of the thought leadership they read as very good or excellent.
In 2021, they observed that a “pandemic-induced glut of low-quality content is diluting the perceived value of thought leadership.” And 71% of decision makers now say that less than half of the thought leadership they consume gives them valuable insights.
The widespread practice of producing quantity over quality creates an opportunity to raise the bar. Aiming for Joel Kurtzman’s original criteria of “distinctively original idea, “unique point of view,” and “unprecedented insight” would be a good place to start.
We can’t break through the clutter by adding to it.
Here are a few related cartoons I’ve drawn over the years: