Is it possible to be thinking too far out of the box?


One of the (hopefully many) interesting findings from our recent survey of senior executives in the US1 is that they are interested in content that applies to issues they are thinking about already – rather than exploring issues they had never even considered. When asked why they had started reading a memorable piece of thought leadership, 83% said that the topic was one they had already been thinking about. And when we scrutinised the list of subjects they wanted more advice about, what we saw was a list of issues that are affecting business right now, such as fraud detection in financial services, cost containment in healthcare, globalisation of supply chains in manufacturing, and employee engagement in retail.

Reflecting on what I choose to read (when I’m not analysing consulting firms’ thought leadership), this finding should perhaps come as no surprise. In a world of what seems like unlimited content, I typically pick out material that relates to a topic I am currently thinking about – that I hope will answer questions I already have in mind. Although I recognise that it can spark new connections, reading content that falls outside my current needs is a luxury I indulge in only from time to time.

However, addressing a topic that your reader is already thinking about, isn’t a licence to publish content that simply “states the obvious”. In fact, there’s an argument that users will be more critical of material on a topic they are already thinking about as they have already given it some thought and have probably looked at what others are saying.

So what does this mean for creators of thought leadership? We suggest:

  • Ensure that you have a robust process in place to elicit feedback from the frontline. What common themes are your consultants seeing in their conversations with clients? How could you address your clients’ concerns through thought leadership?
  • Challenge experts in your firm about what is they can bring to the topic – where, really, is your firm’s point of differentiation? And what additional research do you need to ensure you are saying something new?
  • And when you are writing about a topic that most firms have yet to consider, think carefully about how it can be positioned as a solution to the issues they are already engaging with.



1. In June 2015, we surveyed over 500 senior executives based in the US. Respondents work in organisation with 1,000+ employees in four sectors: financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, and retail.

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