How to write thought leadership articles

Cats on Youtube and Kim Kardashian. The competition for attention is tough. How will you cut through?

For professional service providers the popular approach is “thought leadership,” with the hopeful aim of growing a reputation for your pithy insights and wisdom.

If this sounds like you then you should read a paper published in 1971 by sociologist Murray Davis, called That’s Interesting!

“It has long been thought that a theorist is considered great because his theories are true,” he writes. “But this is false. A theorist is considered great, not because his theories are true, but because they are interesting.”

Truth and facts won’t help your cause. They’re not motivating or memorable. What people want, above all, is something worth remembering. Your audience is wired for counterintuitive thinking. They’ll look up when you tell them that what they thought was good is, in fact, bad; that random events are, in fact, related; that some rare phenomenon is, in fact, quite common.

I will always remember the shark expert who was asked one summer during a spate of shark sightings what holidaymakers could do to stay safe at the beach. His response: “Drive carefully”.

It was his counterintuitive response that made him interesting and memorable – not the statistical fact that beachgoers were more likely to be maimed or killed driving to the beach than they were swimming with sharks.

Now, down to business. You want to be a thought leader? Here’s my advice.

Choose your subject wisely. What is it you want to talk about?

Go for something special and idiosyncratic in your domain.

Next, construct your argument. Define your position; your simple one line assertion.

Conduct Google research to see what’s been said and how your argument stacks up against the prevailing view.

Perhaps you’re taking a contrary position or extending a generally accepted view. Both approaches are right.

Compile your body of evidence: prove your assertion, using observation and metaphors (and the odd fact) to put your case beyond all doubt.

Now you’re ready to talk to the writer.

Thought leadership musts 

Novelty. Your view must be unique and break new ground. Link the new to the old. Adapt and reshuffle existing ideas into a new package.

Focus. Your view must have a single, overriding message that can be stated in one or two sentences. All explanation and evidence should reinforce the main message. Create a new context or lens for your readers.

Relevance. Your view must highlight a critical need. What questions are your clients asking? Demonstrate a case for action; the reader must believe they share the problem and your advice is the way forward.

Clarity. Use language and concepts that your readers will understand – not industry jargon or company terms

Don’t sell anything except ideas. Selling during a thought leadership presentation, discussion, or post, is a sin. Your audience is too smart for that caper.

Know your audience. Your readers are people. Most people are busy, work and have little appetite for new ideas … unless those ideas improve their life or work. The best thought leadership helps people in an industry, or more likely, in a role within an industry, to do something better or to improve their understanding of their work.

Once you’ve got that straight call me and I’ll poke you for answers.

I’ll do the writing (and some thinking) but remember this: by all means outsource the task of writing, but don’t outsource your thinking. You are the subject matter expert. Certainly, I’ll test your thinking, prod for holes and ask questions that will extend your ideas and perhaps create new sparks. But I can’t pull a rabbit from a hat I’ve never worn.

Lastly, by all means gather interesting facts, but spend more time on packaging those facts in a way that tells your audience something new. How interesting, they’ll say.