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Blowing the Cobwebs off your Mind – Thought Leadership (part-two)

February 14, 2014

In this second post on the latest and final ‘Blowing the Cobwebs off your Mind’ workshop held on the 22nd of January at the Royal Society Laura covers the output of the brainstorming sessions.

The individual groups were asked to have discussions based on three questions and report back:

  • The most significant, challenging change to thought leadership.
  • The most profound new model of through leadership emerging.
  • The most surprising new need for thought leadership emerging.

Key points identified were:

a)      Significant, challenging change

  • renting as opposed to ownership, with the concept of IP protection becoming redundant. IP is now more about speed to market and customer research is about product adaptation and change.
  • unlearning what we already know: thinking totally differently about how to approach thought leadership
  • it’s not sustainable in its current guise, although admittedly there is a debate about how you define ‘sustainable’
  • Need for  a mass-customised approach specific to the context.
  • The basic assumption in today’s world is that the ‘ connected’ world will continue unabated and uninterrupted and will allow us to do all the things we expect to do across all areas.  There would be a profound impact on thought leadership if this failed.
  • The axis of thought leadership is changing. It has traditionally been based on Western ‘elitism’ but now it’s moving toward a more democratic principle reinforced by technology and socio-demographic shifts. The challenge is to manage that massive shift
  • Changing the Western political model. Who still believes in it in a world of global communications and a greater ability to influence governments?
  • Whereas at the time of the Enlightenment, when thousands of people could contribute their thoughts because they were literate, there are now billions who can do so.
  • The paradigmatic changes that we face come from our current preoccupation with short-term financial returns, internally-driven focus and top-down management. We measure the wrong things. We have to think not just about financial measures but more about social and environmental issues too.

b)      New model

  • open working and seeking collaboration as a counter to protectionism
  • It’s very unhelpful to think about merely replacing one idea with another. It’s also a question of taking care to define the actual problems when the pervasiveness of media can skewer realities.
  • a multitude of models which may exist for a while and come from multiple sources but then dissolve as required. That means being sensitive to when it is time for the model to dissolve and find a new one
  • Collective curiosity: open innovation and curiosity without a dominant organising force.  At the same time, the great stresses which exist in society produce great leaps forward. The combination of a stressed environment and open innovation causes the dominant design paradigm to fall away
  • The emerging model is Pro-Am, because its participative nature can help deal with today’s challenges
  • Answer the dilemma of citizen vs state. Data is no longer the privilege of the few but is owned by the empowered individual. This leads to a new need for augmented humanity
  • .Evolutionary theory is critical to thought leadership.

c)       New need

  • for communities to reach out to the world to find solutions as ‘thought leadership’ is transformed into  ‘thought partnership’.
  • Collaboration will be more important that ‘leading’. Collective thinking demands not a ‘leader’ but a ‘follower’ model.
  • more open learning and working and challenging the over-emphasis on the legalistic/scientific approach. We should encourage a move to a new enlightenment that is more values-driven rather than the old parochialism driven by self-interest
  • New ‘church’ to encourage an ethos that will be pervasive and disseminate the sense of crisis that could arise from a failure of connectivity. In other words, we need to pray!
  • There are two dimensions to the resulting need emerging in terms of thought leadership. First, we have to be ready to tackle so many challenges on  many levels, both existing ones and those on the horizon. Secondly, how do you distinguish what’s really important? How do you find the real insights which have beneficial impact?
  • Pro-Wis, or the wisdom of crowds supplementing the professional-amateur relationship. This includes an emphasis on local problem-solving
  • While the internet has given us the ability to unleash a huge torrent of ideas and thoughts, it hasn’t provided us yet with a mechanism for selection and weeding out of garbage.
  • We need ‘court jesters’ who can speak truth to power by pointing out the absurdities of actions and help change from within by poking fun at what’s going wrong at the moment.

The implications of technology on society’s evolution

Dr Peter Waggett of IBM closed the session by reflecting briefly on how the interactions of humans and technology are evolving at a great rate – the subject of some fascinating discussion he had had with Laurie, he recalled.

  • First, there are forces already affecting business:
  • Moore’s Law s on the rate of change in technology.
  • Metcalf’s law on how the value of a network increases exponentially.
  • Developments like social media and their implications for the way of doing business.
  • Then there are innovations which will create a new paradigm:
  • Biometrics such as facial recognition, etc.
  • Cognitive computing: cognitive computing systems learn and interact naturally with people to extend what either humans or machine could do on their own.
  • Wetware: the marriage of biology and computing.

Creating a lasting memorial to Laurie Young

A group of family, friends and contacts has agreed to create a lasting not-for-profit legacy for Laurie Young by bringing together all the major players in the thought leadership industry for the first time. This has five inter-dependent elements.

The Laurie Young Global Prize for Best Practice in Thought Leadership.

The Thought Leadership 1% Club for CEOs.

The Thought Leadership Foundation.

The Annual Thought Leadership Essay Competition.

Annual Thought Leadership Summits.

To find out more please contact Richard Chaplin on +44 (0) 20 7786 9786 or


Dr Nicola Murphy is planning to go ahead with the book they were jointly planning, on brands. This will have up to 12 chapters from individual experts, and contributions are sought. Contact her on

 Laurie was Chairman of the Strategic Planning Society. Chris Hafner has stepped into the breach, and has agreed with Gill Ringland to go ahead with the Futures and Strategy Special Interest Group that Laurie had discussed. The first meeting of this will be on 1st April (no, really) and for more information contact

The web site set up by Debra Fox to provide a place to share memories of Laurie is at . Please do add your thoughts over the coming days and weeks.

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