We’re often asked about what makes good thought leadership, and while we’ve got a well-established view on that, we’re not the intended audience. It sometimes makes sense to deflect the question towards the people who are, to see what they say. So that’s what we did in a recent survey. What emerged was a clear sense that, against the backdrop of the many challenges presented by the COVID crisis, the first thing people want is content that helps them to stay informed about general developments—though they are (perhaps understandably) more likely to look to the likes of The Economist, Harvard Business Review, or mainstream media than to consulting firms for that content.
That need for currency creates a problem for consulting firms, who don’t have a long-established business as providers of “news” to fall back on. The good news is that they still have an important role to play: Where senior executives are more likely to turn to consulting firms than to other providers is for more future-focused content—material that could help them prepare their businesses for the future, and even help them understand what the future might look like in the first place.
While it’s positive for firms that they are seen as the go-to source for this type of material, the current environment presents some particular challenges. Predicting the future has never been easy, but the COVID crisis has made it even more difficult. Change has accelerated over the last few months—virtual meetings have become the norm, there’s been a rapid need to digitise, and out of necessity, investment decisions that might have been expected to take many months have been addressed in a matter of days or weeks. All this means that ideas that, just a few months ago, would have been considered too “out there” to make it onto the corporate to-do list, have suddenly become an on-the-ground, working reality—in other words, the “future” has just happened. It’s exciting, of course, but it means that long-held views about what might be tomorrow’s reality are now redundant.
The good news is that this provides consulting firms with the opportunity to be really bold and challenging in their thinking. If the world has managed to change this much, this fast, what could be next? But there’s also a very real need for that thinking to be relevant in the here and now. Another clear message from our survey was that senior executives want and need content to provide them with practical advice that they can take away and implement. While this has long been a requirement of good thought leadership, it’s likely that it’s even more important right now. Many businesses have been hit hard by the pandemic, investment capability is constrained, and they need help working out the actions they need to take to prepare them for whatever might come next.
So, bold future focus plus practical advice. No one said it would be easy, but at least it helps to answer the question: This is what makes good thought leadership right now.