MT Masterclass: Thought leadership

What is it? This is the not exactly modest role assigned to themselves by management consultancies and strategy firms. We, the followers, require the great ones of business strategy to provide intellectual leadership. We simply cannot work things out for ourselves. At great expense, the MBA-touting elite will think great (or not so great) thoughts, provide wonderful graphics and flow diagrams to illustrate how dramatically everything has changed and why life would be impossible without their assistance. Thought leadership is for the supremely self-confident, who look upon us trembling business toilers and march boldly out into centre-stage.

Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Where did it come from? At first, consultants were more modest. They drew their inspiration from Frederick Taylor's work on 'scientific management'. They were the 'time and motion' experts. Many had a background in engineering, and they aimed to help clients by identifying efficiencies and cost-savings, not with profound insights into the future of humanity. But unless you're prepared to make big claims about your knowledge and capabilities, clients, it seems, will look elsewhere. Of course, one or two practitioners have genuinely original ideas.

Where is it going? Fiona Czerniawksa of the Arkimedia consultancy argues that thought leadership is receiving attention at the big strategy firms because of the competitive edge that this elusive discipline is thought to deliver. There has been a marked increase in the output of 'ideas' in recent years. But these have a shorter life-span than in the past, are broader-based, need greater implementation effort and are abandoned more quickly, perhaps because they're more difficult to put into practice. Looks like there needs to be a bit more thinking.

Fad quotient (out of 10) A vain 8.

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