Ideation: The Foundation for True Thought Leadership

Dutch School of Thought, February 29, no comments

By: Dr. Liz Alexander, co-founder, Leading Thought

Reading time: 6 minutes

“The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.”

Few in our field would dispute that as thought leadership has grown in popularity, what it takes to earn this accolade has become diluted. I believe this has much to do with the co-opting of the concept by marketing professionals, many of whom think thought leadership is just another category of content. What thought leadership really signifies, however, is the ability to ideate. We should therefore concern ourselves less with how thought leadership is communicated and more with how it’s foundationally generated.

As someone who helps people develop thought-provoking ideas—outcomes that can then be promoted through books or organization – wide thought leadership initiatives — I work with rare, courageous, disciplined individuals that desire to change the world. At least, to change the way their market and stakeholders view the world. They do this by generating insights that present a new and compelling way to counter a client challenge or anticipate a broader social concern.

The five-part framework offered to entrepreneurs (and their corporate equivalent, intrapreneurs) in our book, FOUND: Transforming Your Unlimited Ideas into One Sustainable Business* (Bloomsbury, 2016), helps readers arrive at a single executable idea to support a viable business or new product. However, my co-author, Naveen Lakkur and I, also believe it has value for those seeking true thought leadership status.

Freeflow: Nobel Prize-winning chemist, Linus Pauling, once said, “The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” The most effective thought leaders (and the most successful entrepreneurs) are people with a natural curiosity, fueled by a love of reading. Their willingness to expand the boundaries of their knowledge enables them to produce a large quantity of ideas from which to identify one “winning” idea.


Orientate: Thought leadership must be relevant to the target audience. But to be effective it must also represent the personal passion of the ideator! Only individuals and organisations fired up by a very specific fascination can successfully maintain the motivation needed to develop actionable insights.

Unearth: The most successful thought leaders and their entrepreneurial equivalents concern themselves less with being “experts” and more with overcoming the curse of expertise. They continually challenge the status quo to arrive at insights that others never see. That’s because they are prepared to question assumptions that others take for granted.

Negotiate: Persuasion is tricky. People tend to become entrenched in their own beliefs and are resistant to change. Yet successful thought leaders manage this by proposing a moderately provocative approach or point of view with which to persuade others to change their thinking and behavior. They know that anything too extreme means they’ve lost their audience from the outset.

Decide: One crucial characteristic of successful thought leadership is consistency. Rather than jump from one topic to another, they execute a deep dive into one area of interest. Like the entrepreneur that has found a winning idea on which to base a viable, long-term business, taking this kind of strategic approach allows thought leaders to leverage one piece of proprietary research or compelling insight, generating content and conversations that remain valid for extended periods of time.

*FOUND: Transforming Your Unlimited Ideas into One Sustainable Business is written by Naveen Lakkur, director of the Founder Institute, Bangalore, India in collaboration with the author of this article, Dr. Liz Alexander.

The e-book is available on Kindle and can be purchased here at Amazon.


Dr. Alexander is a global ideation specialist based in Austin, Texas, USA who works with aspiring authors and thought leaders to help them discover, develop and deliver “white space” opportunities that differentiate them from their competition. She is also an active member of the DST community. Liz welcomes connections via LinkedIn ( or by email


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