What makes a thought leader?

Blue fish going one way, being redirected by red fish.
Thought leaders change people’s questions.

Three weeks ago, I told a teacher of mine that I was working on a thought leadership project. “What makes a thought leader?” he asked.

His challenge led me to search for a common thread. I studied titans like the IBM Institute for Business Value, Think with Google, and the US Federal Reserve. Then, I discovered what they had in common. Each changed a predominant question in their field.

Google changed who to when in advertising

Before Google introduced Micromoments, the leading question in advertising was, “Who do I target with advertising?” Micromoments led us to ask a better question, “When do I target my advertising?”

IBM replaced what with who in artificial intelligence

The question, “What can artificial intelligence do?” was laid to rest one night in 2011 when IBM Watson won Jeopardy. Executives began asking, “Who is artificial intelligence as a player on my team?”

The Fed swapped how for where in economic recovery

Central banks traditionally asked, “How can we stimulate our way out of a recession?” In 2008, Ben Bernanke asked the uncharted question behind quantitative easing, “Where can we stop the meltdown at its core?”

Google, IBM, and the Fed asked new questions. Others followed them, which caused the predominant question in each field to shift. To sum up my findings, thought leaders change people’s questions.

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