Thought leader

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A thought leader can refer to an individual or firm that is recognized as an authority in a specialized field and whose expertise is sought and often rewarded.[1] The term was coined in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman, editor-in-chief of the Booz & Co magazine Strategy & Business, and used to designate interview subjects for that magazine who had business ideas which merited attention.[2]

Author and New York Times columnist David Brooks, generally considered a thought leader himself,[by whom?] mocked the lifecycle of the role in a sarcastic column entitled "The Thought Leader," published in December 2013.[3]

It can also have a negative connotation due to its similarity with dystopian elements found in the George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four which includes thoughtcrime and thought police.[4]

The term is sometimes used to characterize leaders of service clubs, officers of veterans' organizations, of civic organizations, of women's clubs, lodges, regional officials and insurance executives.[5][6]

More generally, the concept of thought leadership is frequently used in both consulting firms and technology firms as a way of reframing issues or topics and as a means of educating customers, potential customers and other stakeholders about new ways of looking at or solving a problem. In this type of use, the objective is less to establish an individual as a thought leader, but rather lay claim to innovative thinking as a marketing tool. Thought leadership is often described as a way of increasing demand for a product or service (often referred to demand creation). High tech firms will often publish white papers with analysis of economic benefits of the product as a way of educating customers. This is a different use of white papers than technical white papers that provide additional technical background. Consulting firms frequently own publications, e.g. The McKinsey Quarterly,[7] A.T. Kearney Executive Agenda,[8] Booz & Co Strategy and Business[9] (now being acquired by PriceWaterhouseCoopers), or Deloitte Review [10] where they publish the results of research, new management models and examples of the use of consulting methodologies.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "What Is A Thought Leader?". Forbes. 2012-03-16. Retrieved 2014-02-15. 
  2. ^ Kurtzman, J. (2010) Common Purpose: How Great Leaders Get Organisations to Achieve the Extraordinary, ISBN 978-0-470-49009-9
  3. ^ David Brooks, "The Thought Leader", The New York Times, December 17, 2013.
  4. ^ Cheryl Pass "‘Thought Leaders’: Orwell’s 1984 Moves To The 21st Century", Freedom Outpost, October 11, 2012
  5. ^ Carey McWilliams (1951) "Government by Whitaker and Baxter II", The Nation, page 367, April 21
  6. ^ Scott Cutlip (1994) The Unseen Power, page 607
  7. ^ "McKinsey Quarterly | McKinsey & Company". 2013-10-06. Retrieved 2014-02-15. 
  8. ^ "Executive Agenda ® - A.T. Kearney". 2011-03-11. Retrieved 2014-02-15. 
  9. ^ Ludwig, Helmuth (2014-02-11). "strategy+business: international business strategy news articles and award-winning analysis". Retrieved 2014-02-15. 
  10. ^ "Deloitte Review - A semiannual publication for business leaders". Retrieved 2014-02-15. 
  11. ^

Further reading[edit]