Three major approaches to thought leadership: What can you add to the conversation?

You’re ready to share your ideas with peers and (prospective) clients to demonstrate your expertise. You’re going to do thought leadership right and develop your credibility in your field.

Deciding to invest in thought leadership is an important first step, but without a distinctive perspective or angle, you risk blending in with the chorus of voices that are already publishing in your field. And audiences don’t generally spend enough time consuming or thinking about copycat pieces to form a positive opinion of you.

The classic, faithful approach is to introduce a new way to do something, especially if this recommendation incorporates original research and insights drawn from real-world experience. If you can thoughtfully outline any risks of the novel approach and ways for readers to diagnose whether the solution is a good fit for them, all the better.

Another opportunity is to discuss the potential drawbacks of a way of doing something—especially if it’s a popular, widely adopted method. If you’re in a storytelling frame of mind, you can think of the discussion of drawbacks as the “however” factor. For instance: Many companies in industry X use technique Y to achieve smooth operations. However, studies of this approach have shown that it can motivate the workforce to disengage.

Finally, you can give your audience something counterintuitive to think about. This approach can involve floating surprising explanations to common phenomena (the Freakonomics books and their imitators do nothing but this) or reveal surprising observations or research results. In fact, “the surprising science of ___” is a hook that audiences, publishers, and marketers all love. Here are a few:

One reason people love counterintuition is that they feel like they’ve learned something after coming into contact with it. Audiences feel like they’ve added another facet to their perception of the world, authors feel accomplished because they authored those ideas, and marketers love promoting content that makes their job easier. And judging by how many academics and public intellectuals have built their careers on surprising audiences with contrarian insights, counterintuitive thought leadership presents significant opportunity.

Think about your field in a different way and engage with the ideas being shared already. These concepts aren’t just the fruit of thought labor—they’re also a path forward for your industry. Interrogate them, and your colleagues and clients just might thank you for it.

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