Everything Thought Leadership – A Frank PoV on Thought Leadership with Tech Services’ Malcolm Frank

Everything Thought Leadership – A Frank PoV on Thought Leadership with Tech Services’ Malcolm Frank

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[Music] You have to be on the right platform, and I think there are two platforms. One, obviously, is academia. The second, though, is if you’re at a very large tech firm. The point is that you can see patterns and issues at scale. So, when I was at Cognizant, I remember distinctly spending time with clients on their particular challenges.

Next up on Everything Thought Leadership is Malcolm Frank, among the foremost strategists and visionaries in the technology services space. I met Malcolm back in the mid 1990s at the dawn of the client server computing era. A few years later, we were reunited at Cognizant. Malcolm provided the vision, funding, and senior level support needed to build a world class thought leadership program.

Malcolm co-authored two bestselling books with the CFOW’s Ben Pring and Paul Roehrig on the rise of artificial intelligence. In this episode, Malcolm and I will discuss the evolution of the thought leadership profession, the role of thought leadership in new and established B2B organizations, what it takes to build a high-powered thought leadership program and the obstacles that must be circumvented, why tech companies--tech services firms in particular--struggle to create and benefit from thought leadership, and advice for budding thought leaders and their organizations. Malcolm, thank you so much for joining us today on Everything Thought Leadership. Thanks for having me. So let's start with a softball question. You're an astute observer of knowledge business and their use of thought leadership to drive expertise and the pursuit of revenue recognition.

How has the thought leadership profession in your eyes evolved and changed over the years? You said that was a softball; there's a lot in there. I'll tell you what, I'm very disappointed with what's been happening in the last several years. What's that old Stevie Wonder song?-- "Love's in Need of Love Today," I think.

I think thought leadership is in need of thought leadership today. So what you and the team are doing, I think it's fabulous. We really need a lot more of it. And I got to tell you, I grew up working with and learning from these titans of thought leadership. And when I entered the industry over three decades ago, it really blew my mind. For example, when I read Ted Levitt's “The Marketing Imagination,” and then Michael Porter had the “Five Forces” model in value chain analysis.

It was as if I was walking through this business landscape and trying to make sense of things, and then these lenses got put on top of it and all of a sudden everything made sense. You could make decisions and understand how firms compete and what steps to take next. And I got to tell you, when I was in my twenties, I thought this was just a remarkable cheat code. And it was that value of thought leadership really coming to bear. And, you know, it wasn't just them. I mean, obviously BCG really made a name for themselves and drove a lot of revenue with their Growth-Share Matrix.

Geoffrey Moore led marketers in the B2B context with “Crossing the Chasm,” which was a really seminal piece; Michael Hammer with business process re-engineering; Clayton Christensen-- we could go on and on. The point is that there was extraordinary value that came from that form of thought leadership. And here's what's peculiar: right now when you look at what's happening with AI, it is so transformative.

It is the biggest wave we've ever seen. Everything is up for grabs. And at an atomic level, how work is delivered, and how companies are formed and build value, how you compete, how industries are going to be re-architected, and how commerce itself is going to be transformed-- we need thought leadership today more than ever. And weirdly, we have so little of it. Yeah, that's a great point. I think when I look at what's going on, there's a lot of uncertainty out there.

You look at generative AI, I mean, there's so much news being reported on a daily basis that it's hard to put your mind around it. A lot of business leaders and technologists that we speak to are still trying to come to grips with its implications. Business is complex, I don't think there's any getting around that. So I don't know if people are spending the time really thinking through these issues.

They just seem to be knee-jerk responding. The markets are dynamic product and service life cycles are compressed, so it's hard to get out ahead of these things. And you mentioned a litany of folks, Christensen, Porter, Hammer, our friend Geoffrey Moore: you always seem to have your finger on the pulse of the up-and-comers. I mean, you introduced me to people like Pranav Mistry, who was the MIT researcher who developed breakthrough technology, all types of intelligent devices that could be controlled with hand gestures. And NYU professor Scott Galloway, I think just has the most mind-blowing takes on what's going on in the business technology space.

So what do you think makes for good or maybe even great thought leadership in this context, looking at it from a B2B lens, of course? Yeah, this is just a guess, Alan, but part of the reason that we're not seeing this-- it could be how people are educated. So if you look at folks that grew up early in a social media context, it's all about a quick burst. It's winning the immediate argument as opposed to stepping back and understanding exactly what's going on and building the thesis and models against that.

So you talk about Scott. He's a professor. It's interesting to watch him because he falls in both worlds: he goes and gets in all sorts of Twitter or X battles and is part of that social media mindset. But at the same time, like with his "The Algebra of Happiness" and other things, he will take a step back and try to understand what's going on. But right now, that's few and far between.

So, I think that it could be a function of educational systems. It could be a function of how people build credibility in their markets. But I've never seen a greater opportunity for true thought leadership when you see A, the demand for it is so significant, and B, on the supply side, if you're good at it, you're not going to have a lot of competition these days. Yeah, that's a great point. I know you're lamenting the lack of good thought leadership and good thought leaders these days, and you're right. In these uncertain and sometimes fact-free times, thought leadership is more important than ever.

It's not just for established companies, but for the startups trying to be heard through the din and have an impression in the marketplace or make an impression in the marketplace. So do you have any thoughts on how to cut through the BS and and make this happen? Well, you said two important things in there that I think are a scourge of our time: fact-free and BS. And when you see people put things out that are quote unquote thought leadership, I think it's not that thoughtful, and you're really not leading. Actually, what you're doing is just pitching your book. And so thought leadership is--you need to go where the facts lead you.

You need to be completely objective. You may find things that are a bit controversial or that you may not like, but you've got to be in the truth- telling business and have the discipline to follow a process to get there. And what you see now is so many people are trying to shortcut that process to score quick wins.

As a result, I think of it sort of like ‘can of Coke thought leadership,’ meaning it may taste great initially, and then 15 minutes later you realize there was no value to that, there was no nutrition in it whatsoever. And so, again, I think we just need to get back to that discipline of building true thought leadership capabilities and assets. You know, it's a great point when you think about it. You were in the front lines of this with “Code Halos” and “When Machines Do Everything.” You really need to do a lot of upfront research.

You really need to understand what's going on. You've got to collect hard data, soft data. You've got to interview people.

So what is your impression of where things are going wrong today, and what would you recommend? What are the best ways of going about understanding what's happening so you can really lead and have unique perspectives that will drive awareness, create recognition for your firm, and hopefully build some business streams for you as well? Yeah, well, I think the first is this is not an individual pursuit. It really takes a team to do it, and you have to be on the right platform. And I think there are two platforms: one, obviously is academia. The second, though, is if you are in a very large tech firm, typically services, though it could be consulting. These would be McKinsey, Accenture, Capgemini, Infosys, Cognizant, or sometimes you'll see from some of the large software firms. So, there are things that a Microsoft or a Google or an SAP, Oracle, ServiceNow may see that others would not.

The point is that you can see patterns and issues at scale. So when I was at Cognizant, I remember distinctly just spending time with clients on their particular or challenges. I'll just pick one: ten, 15 years ago when retail banks really needed to get into digital banking. So instead of somebody going to the branch, they could just do everything off their mobile device.

That was new back then. But the point is every time you met with that client and helped them with that issue, they would say, This is the first time we're doing it. But then they would look at us and say, You've done it 50 times, you've done it a hundred times: tell us what the best practices are, tell us what the worst practices are, what technologies, what methods, how do we do things in sequence, and so forth and so on. So when you start to see those things at scale, you can recognize the patterns.

So I think thought leadership, number one, has to come from those organizations, those platforms that have that visibility where they can aggregate all of these issues and then understand exactly what's going on. That's number one. And then number two: do you have the people, the leadership, the budget, the time and the culture that really enables that? So I think that those are really important ingredients. Yeah.

I mean, I think you've talked about in the past as creating this value chain or supply chain to build your thinking, to go back into the lab and say, This is what we've heard, let's stress-test it. Let's do some research around this. Let's then show it to the client, let's see what the client has to say. Let's then make improvements to our thinking. Let's go out and find some best case examples, and then let's write something up that will reflect what's really going on in the world and provide a prescription; a vision for how to go forward. If you remember our friend Bruce Rogow, he used to say, “You can't just sit around and admire the problem. You gotta have a way to solve it and work through it.”

Well, I got to tell you, you bring up Bruce-- he was a mentor, just an incredible person and one of the greatest intellects in our business. And for folks who don't know Bruce, he was one of the people that really built Gartner and Magic Quadrant. So whether you love him or hate those things, you can thank Bruce. But he still has his fastball.

But what he did, and he's usually the smartest person in the room: he has this intellectual humility and he calls it “The Odyssey.” So what he does is he actually goes on a journey. He physically gets on the road and spends lots and lots of time, often half a day, with CIOs to understand what their biggest challenges are, where they're seeing success, what their frustrations are, and how to help them. And over time, the patterns emerge. So he's a wonderful model on how to do this properly. But if you abstract it, there is a value chain, and it has very distinctive steps.

And if you skip these steps, you're not going to produce anything of quality. So the first (step) may be a thesis. You just stumble across something and go, Well, we've seen that five or six times, maybe there's something going on. Maybe this is a change in the market and we need to share this insight. But then you take that thesis and you have to go do the research.

And then coming out of the research, you get back to the lab and you start to formulate it. And then the next step is to market test, and this may be the most important one, and I would do this all the time: strap an airplane to your back and go meet with clients. What I love about clients, Alan, is they are the first people to tell you you're completely full of ****. They'll say, Maybe that works in the ivory tower, but let me explain to you why that's going to fail inside my organization. Or

this would really give you a lot of motivation and optimism--is when you would get the second date, meaning you'd go meet with that client, share a model with them, share your research. And then they would say, Whoa, my boss needs to hear this, I'm going to schedule a meeting with the CEO and the whole management team or the board of directors. Then you really know you're onto something. Then you come back and you tighten it. And if you think of those that have been most successful, you need to reduce the sauce to a model or a sentence or two that could be explained at a cocktail party.

And that's hard, that really takes a lot of effort. But that's what the best (practitioners) have done. And then you need to write the darn thing and then market it properly. So if you miss any of those steps, you're simply not going to be successful.

And you kind of touched on this: I mean, when you look at this process, it's not inexpensive to create thought leadership. You really have to make an investment if you want to have breakthrough ideas that are going to resonate and propel the organization forward and help your clients solve their business challenges. So how do you convince the senior leadership that it's worth making the investment when ROI is-- like with many marketing expenditures, it's hard to measure. It's a little squishy, it may take time to really crystallize.

Well, just on the cost piece to start, there is a direct cost, but there's also an indirect cost because often these will be your best people. And so taking your best people out of the field where they're not delivering to clients, they're not making rain, they're working these ideas through, but it's a bet. It's a bet that this is going to--instead of them working on two projects today, it's going to generate 100 projects a year out. So it's really pretty simple in my mind, Alan. It's a perspective on return on investment around marketing. And even though this is not a marketing discipline, what you'll see is when product marketers come into services firms, they start to do product marketing activities.

They will-- I don't need to go through the whole list, we know what those are. The point is it's a really, really noisy world. It is very hard to distinguish service firms, and you get a 1-to-1 ratio on that spend.

But if you can get thought leadership right, you're going to get a one-to-20, one-to-50 ratio. So it's a rare CEO, CFO, or management team that understands that. But boy, those that do and support it properly are handsomely rewarded. Yeah, it's interesting.

We did some research last year and we focused on thought leadership across a variety of market segments. And what we found was very interesting relative to the tech services space: that tech services respondents, the executives who answered our survey essentially did not value or appreciate thought leadership as much as their clients did. And, you know, it wasn't the experience I had at Cognizant, obviously.

But looking around the industry, I can understand it when I'm now with a more dispassionate view looking at the quality of what gets produced. I'm not going to name names, of course, but it goes from bad to worse sometimes. Why do you think that tech services firms, at least at a leadership level, struggle with wanting to really push thought leadership as much as they can? It's weird.

I think there's just budgetary pressure. I'll tell you what, just managing a publicly traded services firm, particularly when it matures, there's a lot of pressure in the system. You live 90 days at a time.

And particularly in sectors that are maturing, how do you create the room to allow this to be built out properly? But let's take a step back because you said something really important there. There's this mismatch between what clients desire and what the providers are giving. And clients right now are confused. I spend a lot of time in the marketplace, and I've never seen this level of confusion. [V.O.] In research we conducted last year with our partners Phronesis and Rattleback, we found that thought leadership exerts significant influence on how companies buy high-end products and services, particularly technology-related ones.

In fact, of the 5760 execs that we surveyed, 55% said they use thought leadership to inform which IT services firms to work with. 45% said they use thought leadership to inform the purchase of technology products, both hardware and software. Yet IT services execs don't seem to value the importance of thought leadership as much as their customers do. The executives we surveyed rated the importance of being viewed as a thought leader and solving client challenges at 3.8 on a scale of 1 to 5, where five was the most important. This was the lowest rating category of the six that we studied. Conversely, tech industry executives ranked thought leadership the highest at 4.8.

Go figure. And it's almost-- you remember those old films where you have the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. That's what clients are feeling right now.

They can build scenarios where it's going to be this incredible, positive future or others where they may be out of business in a few years. They need help, and instead these vendors just enter the breach and ask, Can I give you some more HRM? Can I help you with your... It's a bit maddening. But let's play a game.

You and I are sitting in the cheap seats, and let's look at EY, PWC, KPMG, Deloitte: can you distinguish between them? Not a lot of differentiation, no. There's almost none. Let's pick another category. INFY, TCS, Wipro--if you really are inside the space, you'll say, Oh, there's some nuance here around culture or in some of the industries that they serve, but... there's a lot of sameness in messaging and positioning and the way they articulate what they do--the value prop and whatnot. It's amazing. Go to their websites, any of these firms, any of these categories, and just spend 10 minutes on each website.

And then an hour later ask who was whom: you can't figure it out. It's like those those magnetic stickers that you put on refrigerators of words. They just all have the same 20 words and they just recombine them. And there's really very little distinction in today's market. So everybody's competing around the edges as opposed to-- remember the power that CSC Index had with champion (Michael) Hammer around reengineering, you couldn't compete with them in those markets. They had the catbird seat on most every project.

The discussion, whenever you got into the C-suite, was you realized you're so thrilled to be there and you realized they were there three weeks ago setting the agenda. So when you've lived through it, you understand how powerful it is. It's peculiar that we're just not seeing a lot of firms compete properly with thought leadership. Well, you look back, you talked about the models that drove real breakthrough thinking, and you mentioned Hammer and Porter and folks of that ilk.

We believe strongly that thought leadership can help to inform and shape product and service innovation. And you kind of touched on that a little bit in your supply chain, value chain discussion. How do you do this and do it well? You mentioned that you have to listen to customers.

You have to pressure test things with your clients. But then sometimes getting the whole organization to get behind it and start building things is not easy. I remember with “Code Halos” wonderful breakthrough thinking-- very hard to translate that into real true product service innovation that really made a difference with the clients.

It opened their minds, maybe opened their pocketbooks, but I’m not so sure if companies are able to really step in and take advantage of it. Associates, they want to do great work, they want to have pride of place. It's a tough industry, being in professional services because you are going to work those 18 hour days, you're going to take those red eyes, you're going to have a runaway project.

It can really be difficult at times. But the point is you want to have pride of place. And in this innovation economy, you want to be in a place that's really building the future. And that can be very exciting. So you may be on your own individual project and you don't see that, but when you recognize what the firm is doing overall, it can be very engaging. And when you talk about “Code Halos,” when we published that, we had many accounts where--I'm just trying to think between the three of us--we got pulled into a dozen board meetings within the first two months.

The phone would just ring off the hook. And so that was such a shot in the arm for our associates who maybe, on those accounts, were buried in IT operations. And then all of a sudden, boom: we're talking to the whole board. We had many cases where CEOs would take the book and make it required reading. They would just buy it for their leadership teams, hand it out and say, I'm going to give you a month: I expect you to read this thing and then figure out how we implement these ideas inside the company. So to see the power of that, where you may have been toiling inside that account for years on end, and then all of a sudden your firm is thought of in a very different way, project opportunities and doors are opening that you thought you couldn't open-- it's interesting. It's not just for building reputation and getting eyeballs and all of those things.

It's actually more valuable in terms of employee engagement. Interesting. Very interesting Thinking back over our time at Cognizant, one of the things that struck me as curious is you presided over both strategy and marketing. And I think the way you handled that was very adroitly. But to me, it seemed like thought leadership really fits better with strategy. Sometimes when you think about it in terms of if it reports to marketing, it ends up to some degree just supporting some insipid mottos rather than doing the deep research that reveals your company's best and brightest thinking and how it solves a client's thorniest challenges.

What's your thinking on where thought leadership should report, and how to make it so you can actually unlock its true value for the organization? Yeah, it needs to sit in one of two places. It either sits in strategy, where it could be centralized, or it can sit inside a practice. If you get a large practice, and it could be in a technology, it could be around something like organizational change management-- I think those are the two places it would typically sit. The strategy houses are very good at making this much more organic coming out of the practices. And then you may have

two or three partners say, We've got lightning in a bottle, can we go off and build this thing out? But Alan, just getting back to the value chain, the first five steps or so: building the thesis, doing your research, formulating the ideas, market testing them, tightening the model... Marketing is counterproductive in that it's just a different discipline, it's a different culture, it's different people. But when you get into how we write it, what is the right language, there's always this balance: you can be too inside baseball, too technically focused, as opposed to, What is the mindset of our reader, who's the archetype that we're going after.

How do we distill these ideas properly and communicate them properly? And then how do you market the darn thing? So that is a marketing discipline, those last couple of steps. But the first few are absolutely more strategically focused. Just a final thought on that is look at what's been happening with generative AI, and these firms are just falling all over themselves to build leadership in that segment. But boy, it just falls so flat because it's being marketing-led, there's a lot of taglines, there's a lot of sloganeering, and then you get three clicks deep, and you're like, There's really not much here. I think you're exactly right on where it should reside. So let's transition over to AI.

Let's look at what's going on thought leadership wise at TalentGenius. I see you're publishing a lot of timely and relevant thinking on your LinkedIn handle and on Medium, and you're driving readership and creating community through a newsletter that curates the best thinking on AI from a variety of sources. How is that working out for you, and how do you see that evolving over time? Yeah, well, this gets back to what I've been looking at for the last ten, 15 years: just the nature of work and how it's been transformed by technology. And so at TalentGenius, we are trying to empower individuals with AI: putting AI on their side because you look at this wave that's crashing over knowledge work, and you may have seen Elon Musk last week at the Bletchley AI Summit. He was saying AI is going to eliminate every job, and I think he had some comments such as, Well, if you just want it as a pastime, I guess you could keep working. But I could do that work anyway.

But I think more seriously Goldman Sachs was outlining that 300 million jobs are going to be severely impacted by AI over the next several years. So we are empowering individuals in the tech industry on what exactly is happening with their jobs. How is AI going after specific skill sets and eliminating them or enhancing them? Or it may just be neutral. It may have no impact on them. What tools should they be using, and just how do they stay ahead of the game. So it's a platform to empower individuals and help them optimize their careers going forward because your career is your number-one economic asset, and most people spend more time figuring out what they're going to binge watch on Netflix as opposed to what the next three steps in their career are. So, it's tested incredibly well.

We think we're onto something, and we're going to be releasing it next month. In terms of the thought leadership, it's helped us immensely because we need to contextualize what this is all about. And when we’ve put the thought leadership out there, we've had great feedback where people are like, You've really given voice to the problem. Yes, that is exactly what we're dealing with. And so we can then outline and understand exactly what people are thinking and feeling and then build product against that. So it was a startup.

It's all about getting a product market fit, and thought leadership is helping us significantly in terms of making sure that we fit that need. So how do you balance in terms of the tone and tenor and substance of it all, given the fact that you're right, people fear that AI is going to eat their jobs. And you want to be honest with them but not overly dystopian, you want to provide a song of hope. How do you achieve that? Again, it's following the facts. I think now you see people-- and you can read it by the second paragraph, they're spinning, and they're trying to make this a song of hope.

And you're like, This is too Pollyannaish. You could say--we feel like, Oh, it’s going to be... There's a line that 'people are a thread,' that people always start to go after or pull on: that AI is going to increase our humanity. Really? But that is somebody who's trying to spin the case. Or you get the fear porn where people are saying that it's going to be a very dystopian thing.

Look, we lived through this 100 years ago. I think there's a parallel, and when industrialization and the assembly line hit American society, there were ice harvesters. That was an enormous industry. In fact, there were over 5000 ice trucks in New York City alone. So in the winter you'd harvest the ice from lakes in New Hampshire and Maine, and you’d put it on boats and take it to major cities for the summers. And then you also look at farming, and then you look at Teamsters or truckers.

And so this wave of automation hit: what did it do to those three sectors? Well, it's interesting. We don't even know what an ice harvester is anymore because you just buy a refrigerator, and you make ice in your kitchen. Boom, gone. Farming is fascinating.

100 years ago--actually, 110 years ago, 40% of all workers in the US worked on a farm. Today, it's 1% because there were enormous improvements in productivity, but the output was pretty much the same. I won't get into how Americans eat, but let's just say basically it was the same consumption. But when you looked at the Teamsters, the need for trucking, and again, it went from the horses to the the tractor trailers. The productivity went up 50 times, 100 times. But it created entirely new markets. It created suburbia, it created malls, it created department stores, you know, so forth and so on.

And so the employment in that category absolutely boomed. I think we're going to live through something similar. And so you need to be honest with people, to say: in today's context as a knowledge worker, are you an ice harvester, are you a farmer, or are you a trucker? And in certain categories, AI is going to create massive demand and you're going to have a wonderful 20 years. But then there are maybe other categories where people would look at each other and say, Remember when we used to have call centers? I think you need to be honest with people because that's where you give them the most value.

Yeah, I think call it like you see it as always, the best way forward, no doubt about that. Here's a topic that I know hits home for you because so much has been made of generative AI's ability to create prose that sounds as good or in some cases better than those written by human beings. Is it fair for B2B organizations to use generative AI to craft thought leadership? Given all the issues that we've read about and maybe even seen firsthand about hallucinations and fabrications-- there's a study done a couple of weeks ago that said something like 3% of everything that's created by OpenAI's ChatGPT is made up, and I think Google Bard fared even worse. I think the figure was 27%. So can we use these tools to really enhance our creativity, our productivity, our ability to scale thought leadership better? Or do we still need governance and checks and balances to make sure that we're not perpetuating fraud? Yeah, my answer may surprise you.

I think the answer is yes, judiciously: managed the right way and in the right context, in the right places in the process. Because, Alan, you can see this when we say generative AI produces prose, it produces prose that reads like it was generated by generative AI. It's just milquetoast. It's like listening to pop music. There are times where I'm in the car and something comes on, and I'm like, This doesn't even feel like music. It's just not moving me.

And that's what happens when you read a lot of this stuff that comes out of generative AI. So let's go back to our value chain. I think in terms of recognizing the thesis, that's organic. I think that just comes experientially. But doing the research, I think that generative AI may actually help in portions of that process. But then you have to formulate the idea, you need to build the models, you need to market test them. So let's just take one that we both know quite well, which is “Crossing the Chasm,” Geoffrey Moore. I think it’s pure genius what Geoff created.

How in the heck would generative AI understand there is a chasm, and that there are buyers on one side of it that are completely different archetypes than those on the other? And (how would it know) to recognize how adoption and change occurs inside very complex organizations that have their own demands and stresses within them? An AI I can't do that. So could it help in terms of finding additional data points on certain topics in a certain well-managed context? Yes. And to your point, with hallucinations, you really need to understand what the data sources were that went into that.

And the good news is there are tools now where you can start to recognize (those sources), use those tools which are AI tools on top of the AI to actually fact check it. But I think it's just another productivity tool that can speed up or scale up certain portions of the process. But the process still needs to be governed and managed by people in ideation.

But I think you just can't get around it. That's going to be just a human-driven endeavor. It all comes down to governance and permissions, and you need AI checking AI and then humans checking AI. And hopefully we can get through all of that. I heard an interesting story recently-- I won't name the company name. It's a company in the tech services space where a client partner wanted to put together some thought leadership for a client meeting and wanted it posted on the website.

They told the individual who was responsible for thought leadership that it needed to be produced and ready on Monday, and this was on a Friday. He said he was going to put it together over the weekend, and this individual said, How are you going to do that? Well, I'm going to use ChatGPT to do it, of course. And the person said it's not going to be published without checks and balances.

There still needs to be an editorial process for doing this the right way. So you really can't cut corners, to your point. I think we're all going to be heading for a major wake up call if that's what people start doing. Yeah, well, I'd love to lose 20 pounds by Monday.

It's not going to happen. So it's--you see the motivation. People are trying to shortcut, but gosh, that person's going to put their name on it and they're going to be outed and it's going to live out there forever. That's a foolish and dangerous game.

At least some publications today are noting that they're using ChatGPT for certain functions in the editorial process to gather facts, to maybe put together business results kinds of stories that are very formulaic. And you're right, I think ChatGPT can do things like that and do them fairly well and do them faster than people can because they can find all the information and put together a standard-formula presentation fairly quickly. It's not a replacement for good, creative, constructive thinking, at least not yet. No. I got to tell you, I use it all the time.

Any journal should be using it, it would be foolish not to. So one simple example is if I write something that may be a paragraph of 200 words, and it's just first-time-out, stream of consciousness, I'll just throw it into ChatGPT and say, Act like you're an editor at this magazine. So you get the voice and tighten this up and shorten it by 40%, and it's actually pretty good. And then you can go back into that and go, Yeah, I wasn't clear with that: that was run-on. And you go back and tighten it up again. That's a real efficiency gain. So, I think people should be using it in that context.

Right. It can make good thinking maybe better and tighter, more succinct, but it can't make bad thinking even good. Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So as we wind down here, what do you think is next in the thought leadership discipline? And what advice do you have for people who want to pursue this as a real job? I think a couple of things. Number one, we were saying earlier, I can't think of a better time: clients need this when there's change. When things are stable, they're really not that interested.

But when there's change, they need to understand what's happening elsewhere. They need frameworks to make sense of what's going on. And so I think there's no better time to be in this game. And as I was saying, Alan, to be in a field where there's huge need and not a lot of competition-- what a wonderful place to be.

The second thing is you need to get to the right place, and it has to be one of these large consulting firms, large services firms, or even a large software platform where you can see all of these trends at scale and see exactly how clients are making mistakes or where they're getting breakthroughs. So you need to get to the right place. And then on top of that, you need to work with a senior leadership team that’s deeply supportive of this, and there's there's no faking it. Are they devoting the teams, are they creating the budget, and have they developed the culture there really fosters this? Or is it a very salesy culture or very product oriented? Is it populated by a lot of people with product backgrounds or a lot of people with consulting backgrounds? So If you do your homework, you're going to see that very quickly. Is it motivated purely by transactional thinking or educational thinking? Do you really want to warm up the audience, nurture them, get them to see the art of the possible, and hopefully help them to get there through services and your products? Exactly. Well, thank you so much for offering your time and your insights here. This has been a great conversation, as always.

And let's keep the good thought leadership coming. Exactly. Thanks for having me. And I love the work you and a team are doing. You're going from strength to strength, and so it's great to see it. Much appreciated.

What a great conversation, Malcolm never disappoints. As he noted, in today's fact-lite chaotic world, businesses need more great thought leadership than ever before. They need frameworks and models to help separate the signal from the noise reverberating all around them. And they urgently need insights and foresight to help them intelligently respond before their competitors do. Building empirically sound, high-impact thought leadership isn't easy. There's a good deal of process discipline required to originate breakthrough ideas, and then a good deal of precision marketing needed to make them resonate and stick.

As Malcolm noted, it's all about creating a thought leadership value chain: building the thesis, doing the research-- both primary and secondary, formulating the ideas, market testing them with clients and other smart people, tightening the model, then rinse and repeat. And you know it's working, as Malcolm said, when you share fresh thinking with a client and you're told, My boss needs to hear this, I'm going to schedule a meeting with the CEO, the entire management team, or the board of directors. When thought leadership opens clients’ eyes, pocketbooks can often follow. And when that happens, the investment required to do thought leadership right is seen by executives as a growth lever that drives differentiation and business advantage.

Not surprisingly, when new products and services emerge from thought leadership development, the C-suite starts to appreciate why it's so important to put pedal to the metal. As Malcolm pointed out, thought leadership can play a vital role in elevating employee morale. But sadly, many companies these days are looking to score quick thought leadership wins. They engage in sloganeering that sometimes masquerades as thought leadership. They don't want to run the hard miles to build something novel and mind expanding. The hard miles will be eased by new technology, of course. Generative AI, for example, will accelerate thought leadership’s time to value.

Once the thesis is generated by human beings, of course, generative AI can speed up the research process and the summarization of findings with human oversight that prove or disprove a hypothesis or set of hypotheses. Thank you for joining us and Everything Thought Leadership. We hope to see you again soon. If you enjoyed this episode, we’d love it if you left a like and shared this episode with your colleagues. Everything Thought Leadership is a video and podcast series from Buday TLP. It’s for thought leaders and thought leadership professionals, the people who help experts get recognized as thought leaders.

You can find out more about Buday TLP at BudayTLP.com. [Music]

2023-12-12 01:47

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