3 thoughts on “Getting Started as a Thought Leader

  1. Phil Agre wrote a great essay on “becoming a leader in your field” that he periodically revises. It’s definitely worth reading at

    a summary follows (ellipses added)


    (1) Pick an issue. You need an issue that the profession as a whole is not really thinking about, but which is going to be the center of attention in five years. The issue could be technical, strategic, managerial, policy-related, or all of the above. It could be a problem or an opportunity or both. It could be a new method or a whole new area of practice. It should be fairly specific, though, and should directly address the day-to-day work of people in some segment of the profession.

    (2) Having chosen your issue, start a project to study it. […]

    (3) Find relevant people and talk to them. […]

    (4) Pull together what you’ve heard. Nobody is expecting you to solve the problems. Real working professionals do have to solve problems, of course, but right now the emphasis is more on questions than answers. You will contribute simply by defining the whole scope of the problems that people are facing. Make a taxonomy and give examples. Talk about what people are doing to address the problems. Focus on practice: the actual decisions that working professionals will have to make, and the full range of considerations they will have to take into account. Most of these considerations will seem obvious taken in isolation, but many people will be grateful to have a complete list in front of them. Remember that professionals, no matter how creative and intuitive they are, have to justify their decisions in a rational way, giving reasons why they have made one choice rather than another. You’ll do a service just by laying out the choices and reasons. Talk about the consequences people see for the future. Just impose some order.

    (5) Circulate the result. Send copies to the people who helped you. Call it a draft or interim report if you want. Give credit to the people whose ideas you’ve written down. Then follow up. […]

    (6) Build on your work. […] Keep going until the issue either matures or disappears. Then find another issue and start over.

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