Up Close with Two Very Different Thought Leaders

Pope Benedict XVI in Rome, Italy, May 2012It was a most unusual week. On Sunday I attended a service in St. Peter’s in Rome, Italy, and found myself standing quite close to Pope Benedict XVI as he left the service of ordination for some select new priests and headed to an upstairs palace window to say a multilingual blessing for the crowd gathered in Vatican Square.

Then on Monday night at the GWI Global Water Summit gala dinner, Dr J. Craig Venter was the keynote speaker. The first person to sequence the human genome and a renowned scientist who is now pioneering the development of synthetic organisms, he told the water industry leaders that this will be the ‘Century of Synthetic Life.’

You could say these two men are as different as chalk and cheese, and you’d be right. But what they have in common is that they are both respected thought leaders, even if you disagree with the views of one or both of them.

Will you ever command the respect due to the Pope or to the ‘Father of Synthetic Life’? Probably not. But you certainly can be better recognized as a thought leader in your own particular field. Ask, assess, then ask.

pope benedict xvi mobile phone video capture

From St. Peters in Rome, Italy: A low-fi view of Pope Benedict XVI from my mobile phone

Leveraging (and Losing) Luck in Business: More About Your Professional Jar of Luck

Luck and business leadershipIn the previous posting Luck versus Experience: Pushing Boundaries in “Extreme Business”, I referred to the jar of luck and the jar of experience that thought leaders draw from when running an “extreme business.”

Venture capitalist Anthony Tjan recently wrote a blog for the Harvard Business Review that discusses “How Leaders Lose Their Luck,” which was based on his upcoming book called Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck. Luck can actually be cultivated in a business, he believes. He listed seven attributes and attitudes of lucky people in business.

Are you demonstrating the right attributes and attitudes to help you open your business life – your jar of luck – to serendipity? Ask, assess, then act.

From the Harvard Business Review article, How Leaders Lose Their Luck
While researching our forthcoming book — Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck — my co-authors and I made a fascinating discovery: a surprising number of company founders and business-builders attribute much of their success to luck. Almost 25% of those we surveyed came out as “luck-dominant” on the Entrepreneurial Aptitude Test we devised; many more gave luck at least partial credit.

As we dug deeper, it became clear that it was not just random chance that these people were talking about. Luck in business can be cultivated, through the combination of what we call a lucky attitude and a lucky network. A lucky attitude is a disposition open to serendipity and, well, luck. A lucky network is a wide network of relationships that may at first have little to do with any business objective, but somehow later come into great relevance. We can all think of an example.

Here’s the paradox, though. Once they have made it to the top — after they’ve reached high levels of entrepreneurial or corporate success — leaders often become disconnected from the crucial lucky qualities and relationships that helped get them there in the first place. By definition, the top is less of a journey and more of an arrival point. A newfound reputation is difficult to risk.

Photo credit

Luck versus Experience: Pushing Boundaries in “Extreme Business”

Jeb Corliss and Karina Hollekim are extreme athletes doing extreme sports. Jeb’s YouTube video is called “Grinding the Gap” and includes some amazing footage of the hang-glider’s maneuvering mountains and the narrow gaps between them. It takes experience – and luck – to survive such a glide.

Karina is a Norwegian base jumper or more accurately a B.A.S.E. jumper. B.A.S.E is an acronym the stands for Building, Antenna, Span (a bridge, arch or dome), and Earth (a cliff or other natural formation), which are the types of fixed objects these athletes parachute from – and often don’t live to tell the tale. Karina is still alive and a film about her called “20 Seconds of Joy” won the Best Documentary on Mountain Sports at the Banff Mountain Film Festival in 2007.

Karina is lucky – an extreme athlete who proclaims on her film’s website, “I don’t want to die – I want to live.” But she recognizes that she has to have both luck and experience to stay alive. It’s described as taking a piece of luck out of your “luck jar” and putting it in your “experience jar.”

In the world of “extreme business,” you as a thought leader also have a jar of experience and a jar of luck – are you using your experience to ride your luck? Are you pushing the boundaries inside your organization? Are you grinding the gap and “flying” close to danger but still succeeding? Ask, assess then act.

The Challenge of Clarifying Ideas – Part 2

business thought leaders should consider alternate viewpointsFollowing up on the last blog on Franklin Roosevelt, I wanted to refer to a book about ideas that need clarification in the nation today. The book, Why Nations Fail, by M.I.T. economist Daron Acemoglu and the Harvard political scientist James A. Robinson, is getting a great deal of publicity right now. The authors wrestle with some ideas connected to political and economic institutions in the United States.

If you don’t have time to read the full book, Thomas Friedman recently wrote a compelling editorial piece that covered some of their key concepts. At the end of the article, he made the point that

“When one person can write a check to finance your whole campaign, how inclusive will you be as an elected official to listen to competing voices?”

Are you acting inclusively and allowing alternative voices inside your organization to be heard? Have you institutionalized the practice of considering points of view that differ from your own? Ask, assess, then act.

The Challenge of Clarifying Ideas – Part 1

Roosevelt on thought leadership and clarity of ideasFranklin Roosevelt once said, “All our great presidents were leaders of thought at times when certain ideas in the life of the nation had to be clarified.”

If you substitute the word “company” for “nation” in Roosevelt’s quote, you’ll see how this concept applies to the world of business, not just politics.

Before you communicate your ideas, ask yourself whether you’re able to express your thoughts clearly and lucidly. Clearness of thought, particularly about fundamental issues inside your organization, is a prerequisite to communicating ideas in a compelling way.

Are you a great leader of thought at a time when ideas inside your firm need to be clarified? Ask, assess, then act.

A Wave of Water Thought Leadership: 2012 World Water Forum at Marseille, France

world water forum 6Thought leadership in the water industry was on full display last week at the World Water Forum 6, held from 11-17 March in Marseille, France. Inspiring speeches, interesting reports and innovative exhibitions provided a showcase for some well-known and lesser-known water thought leaders.

About 20,000 people attended the event, which is held every three years; but the forum was not without its detractors, many of whom sponsored an “alternative event” nearby.

Also coinciding with the World Water Forum was the premiere of Last Call at the Oasis, the new water documentary by the producers of An Inconvenient Truth, Food Inc. and Waiting for Superman, for example. It will debut in selected cities in the United States on 4 May, and the viral launch of the related water issue awareness campaign on and Twitter feed #knowyourwater.

Making an appearance alongside luminaries like Erin Brockovich and Jack Black were key thought leaders in the water industry, such as Pat Mulroy of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, Khoo Teng Chye of Singapore’s PUB and Professor Robert Glennon, the author of Unquenchable: America’s Thirst for Water and How to Deal with It, which has been featured on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show.

Highlights of some of the thought leaders’ ideas presented during the World Water Forum’s sessions can be found on the Twitter feed #waterforum6 and @theadiwas, including many of the Quotable Quotes that can be found here.

When you attend similar high-profile industry events, are you maximizing your exposure there as a thought leader? Are you getting the highest return on your investment at such conferences by ensuring your reputation as a thought leader is being reinforced there? Ask, assess, then act.

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Ruminations on Rodin

Among those colleagues who reviewed my website before I launched it, one commented that the Rodin statue on the homepage seemed a bit too traditional an image for this progressive company. My instinct told me it was the right image so I kept it.

rodin observes monument to victor hugo

Auguste Rodin observing work on the Monument to Victor Hugo at the studio of his assistant Henri Lebossé in 1896

Then in a book I just finished, a reference to the 19th Century sculptor again made me question the use of photos of Auguste Rodin’s “Thinker” on the site. Michael Cunningham in By Nightfall wrote:Now Rodin has been and gone and yes, of course, he’s a part of history, but new artists don’t revere him, no one makes a pilgrimage, you learn about him in school, you pass his sculptures on your way to see the Damien Hirst.”

So I’ve now given more thought to whether Rodin is an appropriate muse to have on a website about thought leadership, and I’ve decided it’s definitely staying. Here’s why:

Many of the concepts on this site are traditional, tried-and-true techniques for leadership. But added to those “Rodin” ideas are some trends and contemporary “Damien Hirst” techniques that you can tailor to build your own thought-leadership skills in this modern-day world.

Rodin may now be recognized the pre-eminent French sculptor of his time, but his ideas weren’t always accepted in a world unaccustomed to realism in sculptures. He was a trailblazer, but he had to establish his reputation as a leader in the art world over time. Eventually, however, “society”—including his clients and critics and even his competitors—appreciated his progressive point of view about sculpture.

Are your thought-leadership points of view being appreciated? Are you seen as a trailblazer in your industry? Are you tomorrow’s Auguste Rodin or Damien Hirst? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help.

Vaclav Havel — The Velvet Revolutionary

Václav Havel

Václav Havel, the "Velvet Revolutionary"

This week one of the world’s most humble heroes died. Vaclav Havel — the former Czech president, prisoner and playwright who brought about the peaceful revolution in his country in 1989 — taught us some important lessons in leadership.

As you may have read elsewhere on this site, I had a front row seat on the bleachers of reform in Eastern Europe at that time. Buoyed by the quiet heroic actions of Havel and the more ebullient Lech Walsea, protestors brought about the fall of communism I witnessed in Bulgaria and Romania.

Years later my then 14-year-old niece and I saw Havel arriving at a concert in Salzburg, Austria. She couldn’t believe I was acting so awestruck about such a normal-looking man, and I couldn’t believe she hadn’t learned in school about how this person had helped to change the lives of so many by living out his principles.

In Havel’s early years as a playwright, he was inspired by banned philosopher Jan Patocka and wrote a political essay on the “Power of the Powerless.”

He wrote about a green grocer who refused to put in his shop window amid the onions and carrots a sign with the slogan “workers of the world unite.” It was understood that the green grocer was not expected to believe the sign; but by displaying it, he signaled he would give regime no trouble. But Havel believed the grocer could “live in truth” and reclaim his dignity by taking down the sign and suffering the consequences.

Are the workers of your world truly united or are they just paying lip service to your principles and beliefs? As a thought leader, do you have followers who find it easier just to give your regime no trouble but don’t really believe the direction you are heading is the right one? Do your employees think that, according to a worker in another of Havel’s plays called “Vanek,” they are simply “the manure that makes your fancy principles grow”?

These are tough questions that should cause you to reflect on your own regime.

Is it possible to live in truth in the world of business? Are you, as a thought leader, demonstrating to those you lead that your moral philosophy is to “live in truth”? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help.

Getting unstuck, not undone

constance ward with robert tipton bookOne of the Thought Leader Zone partners, Bob Tipton, published a great book titled JUMP! Get Unstuck. Along with its strong story line, the book captures many lessons on leadership. He encourages readers to blast through their fear and uncertainty and to JUMP! into action by recapturing their passion, renewing their purpose and delivering quantum leaps in their results. The photo from Singapore attached here illustrates my taking the book title perhaps a bit too literally…But the book did profoundly affect me and nudge me into an awareness of the dangers of what Tipton calls the “Status Quo Bias.” It helped me get unstuck – and inspired me to launch Thought Leader Zone. Is the Status Quo Bias holding you back as a thought leader right now? How can you recognize that bias, deal with it and overcome it? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help.

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