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Building a Supportive Network for Thought Leadership

Unlock your thought leadership potential by collaborating, scaling visionary ideas, and influencing change by building ripple effects.

In the world of thought leadership, our networks are more than just collections of connections; they are the bedrock upon which we build our visions for change. In our previous discussion, we emphasized the pivotal role of a supportive network in empowering thought leaders. This network, much like the ripples on a pond, expands our reach, enriches our knowledge, and offers us the invaluable gift of collaboration. It’s not merely about having a network; it’s about how we leverage it. 

However, there’s an exciting twist to this tale. As thought leaders, we possess the extraordinary capacity to harness the power of collaboration within our networks to make an enduring impact. The ability to scale our ideas and amplify our influence is the true essence of thought leadership. In this blog post, we will delve into the art of cultivating relationships, fostering support, and developing strategies that enable us to build dedicated communities. This journey will uncover how our collaborative efforts within our networks can influence decisions, create lasting transformation, and shape the landscape of progress.

I understand that networking can be an overwhelming experience for many, and I can relate to those feelings myself. It’s common for people to associate networking with insincere intentions and manipulation, which can make the process seem daunting. It’s especially difficult for those of us who lean towards introversion and may find it challenging to meet new people, especially strangers. My own experience in influencing decisions during my time in China taught me that networking is an essential part of driving visionary experiences forward. Through trial and error, I learned that networking isn’t about manipulating people, but rather a responsibility we have to connect with others and create meaningful experiences.

Join me on a journey that demystifies the art of networking and its significance in shaping thought leadership and collaborative scaling. By the end of this post, you will have a clearer understanding of how the ripples of influence within your network can impact progress-driving decisions. Get ready to be inspired and enlightened as we embark on this exciting voyage through thought leadership and network empowerment.


  • Our network isn’t merely a catalog of professional contacts; it’s the dynamic and vibrant force that significantly amplifies your influence as a thought leader. It’s the bedrock upon which great ideas flourish, and transformative movements take shape. In the world of thought leadership, the power of a supportive network cannot be understated. It’s not just about who you know but how you collaborate and scale your ideas with these connections.
  • Collaboration and the scaling of ideas are the secret ingredients that breathe life into your visionary concepts. These vital elements amplify your expertise, broaden your reach, and validate your concepts. When thought leaders come together to create, refine, and implement ideas collaboratively, the impact goes far beyond individual influence. It resonates with a broader audience, gains credibility through collective endorsement, and becomes a catalyst for ongoing innovation. The transformative potential of collaborative efforts is the essence of thought leadership, turning ideas into action and reshaping industries.
  • As a thought leader, keep building and nurturing your network. It’s not a one-time task but an ongoing commitment. Authenticity, active participation, mutual value exchange, and leveraging social media are key. Foster support and mentorship, recognizing both the wisdom to gain and the wisdom to impart. Your network is the wind beneath your wings, propelling your ideas into the realm of real-world impact. Remember, thought leadership is about setting the world in motion.

Cultivating Relationships

In the intricate tapestry of thought leadership, cultivating relationships is the warp and weft that binds it together. It’s not just about the people you know; it’s about how you connect with them, how you build meaningful bonds, and how you turn those connections into a dynamic force for change.

In this section, we delve deep into the art of Cultivating Relationships and explore its vital role in thought leadership. From the importance of networking to fostering support and mentorship, we’ll navigate the strategies that empower thought leaders to weave a solid and dedicated network that resonates with their vision and values. Your journey as a thought leader is not a solitary path but a collective endeavor, and the relationships you cultivate are the threads that craft a masterpiece of impact.

The Importance of Networking in Thought Leadership

In the world of thought leadership, the path to influence and impact is paved with connections. Networking isn’t just a buzzword; it’s the lifeblood that sustains thought leaders on their journey to shape decisions and drive progress. The significance of networking in thought leadership cannot be overstated. It is the foundation upon which great ideas are shared, diverse perspectives are embraced, and collaboration thrives. In this section, we will unravel the vital role of networking, exploring how it enriches knowledge, fosters diverse perspectives, ignites collaboration, and opens doors to resources and opportunities. As thought leaders, we are not solitary beacons of wisdom but nodes in a vast network of potential change. Let’s dive into the depth of the importance of networking in thought leadership.

  • Enriching Knowledge and Gaining Diverse Perspectives: Thought leaders understand that knowledge is a dynamic river, not a stagnant pond. Networking opens the floodgates to a wealth of insights and diverse perspectives. Each connection you make contributes a unique viewpoint, expertise, and experience to your pool of knowledge. Conversations with individuals in your network expose you to a rich tapestry of ideas, expanding your understanding of your field and its nuances. From local insights to global trends, the variety of perspectives within your network is a constant source of enrichment. Thought leadership is not about standing still but evolving and adapting, and networking ensures you stay in the flow of continuous learning.
  • Collaboration and Synergy: Collaboration lies at the heart of thought leadership. Networking is the gateway to collaboration, offering opportunities to team up with other experts on joint projects, co-create content, and tackle complex issues together. When like-minded individuals come together, synergy emerges. The collective brainpower, creativity, and innovative spirit within your network can generate solutions that are far more profound and impactful than what could be achieved in isolation. As thought leaders, we thrive on the ability to work with others to create something more significant than the sum of its parts. Networking is the conduit through which these partnerships and collaborative efforts are born.
  • Access to Resources and Opportunities: Thought leaders know that their network is not just a collection of contacts but a reservoir of valuable resources. Whether seeking advice, recommendations, introductions, or assistance overcoming challenges, your network is your safety net. Each connection you’ve nurtured becomes a potential source of support. Beyond the knowledge and expertise shared, your network is the gateway to valuable opportunities. From speaking engagements to partnerships, collaborations, and even career advancements, these doors often open because of the connections you’ve cultivated. Your network is a treasure trove of opportunities waiting to be discovered, explored, and harnessed to advance your thought leadership journey.

Fostering Support and Mentoring

In thought leadership, the journey is not solitary but rather a collective expedition where support and mentorship are the guiding stars. Thought leaders understand that within their network lies not just a source of professional connections but a community of peers who offer mentorship, guidance, and inspiration. In this section, we will illuminate the profound role networking plays in fostering support and mentorship. Thought leaders, by their nature, are both mentors and mentees within their network, creating a reciprocal ecosystem of knowledge exchange and growth. We will explore how networking acts as a bridge to connect thought leaders with experienced guides, opening the doors to valuable advice and creating a cycle of inspiration where each achievement within the network becomes a catalyst for others. Let’s delve into the nurturing and inspiring world of fostering support and mentorship within the context of thought leadership:

  • The Role of Networking in Mentorship: Mentorship is a vital component of thought leadership, and your network is a fertile ground for finding mentors and becoming one. Within your network, you can identify experienced individuals who’ve trodden similar paths. Networking provides the avenue to connect with them, learn from their experiences, and gain guidance on your own journey. In turn, you can become a mentor to others, fostering a culture of continuous growth and development within your network. Mentorship is a two-way street, and your network serves as the intersection where valuable knowledge and support are exchanged.
  • Seeking Advice and Guidance Within Your Network: Networking is not merely about connecting; it’s about seeking and providing advice and guidance. In times of uncertainty or when facing challenges, your network becomes a support system where you can turn for insights and direction. Thought leaders tap into the collective wisdom of their network, leveraging the diverse expertise of their connections to navigate complex issues. Thought leadership is about knowing only some of the answers but knowing where to find them, and your network offers a wellspring of valuable advice to guide you on your path.
  • Being Inspired by the Achievements of Peers: Your network is not just a professional community; it’s a source of inspiration. Each achievement by a peer in your network serves as a reminder of what’s possible. It fuels your drive and ambition, encouraging you to reach new heights. The accomplishments of those in your network not only inspire you but also instill a sense of belonging and camaraderie. It’s a constant reminder that you are part of a collective force shaping the future. Your network is where you witness the tangible results of thought leadership in action, and it acts as a perpetual wellspring of motivation.

Operational, Personal, and Strategic Networking

Most people acknowledge that networking—creating a fabric of personal contacts to provide support, feedback, insight, and resources—is an essential activity for an ambitious manager. Indeed, it’s a requirement even for those focused simply on doing their current jobs well. For some, this is a distasteful reality. Working through networks, they believe, means relying on “who you know” rather than “what you know”—a hypocritical, possibly unethical, way to get things done. But even people who understand that networking is a legitimate and necessary part of their jobs can be discouraged by the payoff—because they are doing it in too limited a fashion (Ibarra, H., & Hunter, M. L., How leaders create and use networks, 2007).

Ibarra and Hunter (2007) provide valuable insights into the distinct forms of networking. They categorize networking into operational, personal, and strategic networking:

  • Operational networking is geared towards enhancing one’s current tasks.
  • In contrast, personal networking involves connecting with like-minded individuals for personal growth.
  • On the other hand, strategic networking is about aligning networking efforts with broader business goals.

Ibarra and Hunter (2007) also highlight a common issue in many networking programs. These programs often focus on operational networking, leaving aspiring leaders with the mistaken impression that they’ve mastered networking. This insight has implications for leadership development initiatives, emphasizing the need to teach strategic networking skills.

Discomfort and Anxiety in Networking

Networking, despite its crucial role in thought leadership, can be a daunting experience for many. Arscott (2022) emphasizes in her research that meeting strangers, especially in the context of work, often leads to feelings of discomfort and anxiety. The mere thought of networking can provoke apprehension, and it’s not uncommon to experience performance anxiety in such situations. The fear of saying the wrong thing, forgetting what you intended to say, or stumbling over words can be paralyzing. This fear often stems from the innate human desire to be liked and accepted.

Many struggle with performance anxiety when it comes to networking. You’re afraid you might say the wrong thing, forget what you were going to say, or stumble over your words. The result would be the other person not liking you. But there’s a better way to network.

Arscott, C. H., A better approach to networking (2022)

However, Arscott offers a refreshing perspective on navigating the challenges of networking. She suggests that instead of focusing on what you’re going to say when meeting someone new or how you’ll respond to questions from a stranger, shift your focus to what you’re going to ask.

This shift in mindset can significantly reduce the pressure associated with networking and transform your interactions. Shifting your perspective, as advised by Gino, Kouchaki, and Casciaro (2016), and focusing on learning and the positives can help transform networking from a chore into an opportunity for discovery.

Moving from Small Talk to Deep Talk

One of Arscott’s key recommendations is the practice of moving from small talk to deep talk during networking interactions. People often underestimate how much others, particularly first-time contacts, appreciate and find satisfaction in meaningful conversations.

Instead of defaulting to generic questions like “Where are you from?” or “What do you do?” Arscott suggests asking questions that invite deeper insights and personal stories. When meeting someone new, here are some conversational swaps you can make (Arscott, C. H., A better approach to networking, 2022): 

  • From “What do you do?” to How do you deliver value to others through your work? What problems do you help others solve? What aspects of your work do you most enjoy and why? What do you least enjoy and why? What gives you the most meaning, satisfaction and joy at work? What aspects energize and excite you?
  • From “What is your current role?” to What roles and positions have led you to where you are today? Which ones were critical in your journey?
  • To “Where are you from?” to What places have you lived in and traveled to during your educational and career journey? Which ones have helped shape your trajectory? Which was your favorite and why?

By following Arscott’s advice and transitioning from conventional small talk to deeper, more meaningful conversations, you can not only alleviate the discomfort and anxiety associated with networking but also create more authentic and memorable connections within your network.

The person next to you would probably be happier talking about their passions and purpose than the weather and “what’s up.”

Arscott, C. H., A better approach to networking (2022)

This shift in approach aligns perfectly with the ethos of thought leadership, where genuine relationships are the building blocks of influence and progress.

turned on pendant lamp

Strategy and the Art of Asking Questions

Asking questions habitually is crucial for improvement. Though simple to do while practicing, it must become part of our routine work and daily interactions. (Photo by Burak K on

Moving beyond small talk to have deep conversations requires the skill of asking thought-provoking and meaningful questions. It’s not just about exchanging surface-level pleasantries, but rather, it’s about exploring the heart of shared experiences and visions. By developing your questioning ability, you can unlock rich, insightful dialogues that enable you to truly connect with others on a profound level.

Strategies to Overcome Networking Aversion

In today’s professional landscape, the aversion to networking is not uncommon. Many individuals confess, “I hate networking.” However, the necessity of networking in our interconnected world cannot be overstated. The good news is that this aversion can be conquered. Drawing on extensive research, including laboratory experiments and studies at a large law firm, Gino, Kouchaki, and Casciaro (2016) have identified four strategies to transform networking into an exciting and effective endeavor:

  1. Focus on learning. Adopt a “promotion mindset” and concentrate on the positives, and you’re more likely to perceive networking as an opportunity for discovery rather than a chore.
  2. Identify common interests. Consider how your goals align with those of people you meet, and networking will feel more authentic.
  3. Think broadly about what you can give. Remember that you have something valuable to offer, whether it’s knowledge, gratitude, or recognition.
  4. Find a higher purpose. Frame your networking in terms of a larger goal—the collective benefits for your company, say—and the activity will feel more authentic and will lead to connections that bear fruit for everyone.

Build Your Ripples of Influence

The concept of “Build Your Ripples of Influence” by Denise Brosseau in her book Ready to Be a Thought Leader? (2014) is a profound and insightful approach to thought leadership and influence. It centers around the idea that your influence, much like a ripple in a pond, extends far beyond your immediate interactions. As a thought leader, your reach and impact go well beyond your direct circle.

Creating a movement requires that you build a series of ever-expanding circles of change — adjustments in how people think, act, and see the world.

Brosseau, D., Ready to be a thought leader?: How to increase your influence, impact, and success (2014)

Think of it as drops of water falling one by one into a large pool. The first drop causes a disturbance on the surface that ripples out. Then another drop begins a second circle inside the first one. As that expands, a third takes its place. As each circle grows and expands, other drops create more and more ripples until the entire pool is a swirl. All the drops, taken together, have an impact far beyond what could initially be extrapolated from the size of any one small drop on its own. Each of us individually is only one small drop of water, and our impact may be pretty small. In fact, when you’re in the middle of creating a revision or improvement to the status quo, you may not realize you are having an impact at all (Brosseau, D., Ready to be a thought leader?: How to increase your influence, impact, and success, 2014)

Denise Brosseau’s concept underscores the significance of creating a lasting and positive impression through your network, with the effects of your influence spreading far and wide. It’s about more than just networking; it’s about nurturing meaningful connections, fostering support, and amplifying your voice to bring about change. In the following sections, we’ll explore the strategies that enable you to harness the power of your network and create these ripples of influence, driving your visionary ideas forward.

Denisse Brosseau offers valuable strategies for building ripples of influence in the industry community. Here are a few approaches:

  • Build Connections: Connect with industry analysts, pundits, or journalists who can provide new ideas and serve as a testing ground for your own. This external perspective can be invaluable in shaping your thought leadership.
  • Join Committees and Boards: Get involved in academic conference committees, advisory groups, or university research teams. Serving on boards of professional, regional, or industry organizations can expand your network and influence.
  • Online Engagement: Participate in online communities through platforms like LinkedIn groups, Meetups, or Facebook communities. You can even volunteer to curate information for such groups, demonstrating your commitment to knowledge sharing.
  • Government and Policy Involvement: Seek appointments to government bodies, policy groups, or award committees that align with your field. This not only expands your network but also provides access to a wide range of ideas and perspectives.
  • Public Speaking Engagements: Seek opportunities for public speaking at industry conferences, seminars, and webinars. Delivering insightful presentations not only helps disseminate your expertise but also establishes you as a recognized authority in your field, further elevating your credibility amongst your peers [learn more about public speaking in Presentation and Storytelling Skills for Strategy Development and Stakeholder Engagement]
  • Continuous Learning: Broaden your horizons by reading widely, taking courses, and studying the ideas of great thinkers. Innovation often thrives on cross-pollination of ideas from diverse domains.

This concept embodies the understanding that our actions and interactions within our network have consequences far beyond what we can immediately perceive. Like a stone dropped into a pond, our words and deeds create ripples that radiate outward, shaping the world in ways both seen and unseen. Ripples of Influence illustrate that each connection in our network is not just a person but a potential force for positive change.

The Mindset’s Ripple Effects

Each of us carries a set of beliefs and attitudes, often referred to as a mindset, which plays a fundamental role in how we perceive and respond to various situations. This mindset isn’t confined to our individual experiences; it ripples out to impact those we interact with, both subtly and profoundly. Valcour (2013) highlights how different mindsets can shape our behaviors and, consequently, influence the people we work with.

  • A Distrustful Mindset: Individuals harboring a distrustful mindset tend to view work situations as competitive and act in ways that prioritize their own interests at the expense of others. This may involve politicking, shifting allegiances, taking credit, assigning blame, withholding or distorting information, and other behaviors. Unfortunately, these actions not only undermine organizational effectiveness but also contribute to increased stress and burnout among colleagues.
  • A Mindset of Openness, Trust, and Generosity: Conversely, a mindset characterized by openness, trust, and generosity promotes behaviors that have a positive and far-reaching impact on others.

A 20-year longitudinal study of healthy employees found that people with social support from coworkers were two and a half times less likely to die prematurely than those without. So it’s not an exaggeration to say that by being supportive of people at work, you’re not just brightening their day — you’re literally helping to save lives (Valcour, M., The ripple effects you create as a manager, 2013).

Enhancing Your Influence

In today’s dynamic work environments, the ability to influence others is a crucial skill, regardless of your formal position within an organization.

To be effective in organizations today, you must be able to influence people. Your title alone isn’t always enough to sway others, nor do you always have a formal position.

Knight, R., How to increase your influence at work (2018)

Knight (2018) offers valuable tips on how to position yourself as an informal leader and effectively enhance your influence. Let’s delve into these strategies:

  1. Strategize with a “Power Map”: Knight recommends creating a “power map,” essentially an organizational chart that identifies key decision makers relevant to your initiatives. This strategic visual guide can be instrumental in plotting your campaign to influence change. It helps you think about how and when to approach colleagues, making your efforts more targeted and effective [learn more about the Power Map in Strategy and Stakeholder Management].
  2. Craft Tailored Messages: Crafting a concise elevator pitch about your ideas is essential, but Knight goes further by emphasizing the importance of customization. Based on your power map, tailor your pitch to account for the unique needs, perspectives, and temperaments of individual colleagues. This personalized approach ensures your message resonates effectively [learn more about tailoring messages in Presentation and Storytelling Skills for Strategy Development and Stakeholder Engagement].
  3. Cultivate Allies: Collaboration and feedback are vital. Knight suggests seeking advice from colleagues and incorporating their input into your initiatives. Furthermore, enthusiastic colleagues can become ambassadors for your ideas, helping to expand your influence within the organization.
  4. Develop Expertise: Staying informed and relevant in your chosen topic area is key. Knight advises attending conferences, enrolling in certification programs, or assuming leadership positions in professional organizations. These visible steps establish you as an authority in your field, making others look to you for guidance and advice [learn more about developing expertise in Demonstrating Expertise and Credibility for Thought Leadership].

In the realm of thought leadership, influence is the currency of change. Thought leaders not only possess groundbreaking ideas but also the ability to spread them far and wide. Your network is the fertile ground where these ideas take root and grow. In this section, we will delve into strategic approaches that empower thought leaders to leverage their connections effectively. We’ll explore how to amplify your influence within your network and harness its collective power to create a transformative impact. Let’s embark on this journey to uncover the tactics that will allow you to shape decisions, drive progress, and extend your thought leadership to new horizons.

  • Leverage the power of connections to create positive impacts: Thought leaders have a unique advantage in their networks – the ability to transform connections into catalysts for change. Every person you engage with, every conversation you have, and every project you collaborate on can be an opportunity to create a positive impact. Whether it’s sharing insights, offering support, or initiating meaningful discussions, these actions have a ripple effect, influencing others in your network and beyond.
  • Build a network that resonates with your vision and values: Your network is not just a collection of random connections; it’s a community that should resonate with your vision and values. Building a network that shares your passion and commitment to progress amplifies the power of your ripples of influence. When your network aligns with your values, your collective efforts become a force to be reckoned with, driving change in your desired direction.

Implications of building ripples of influence for thought leadership

The concept of Ripples of Influence goes beyond individual acts of kindness or collaboration. It encompasses a broader perspective on how your thought leadership can shape industries, societies, and the world. When your network becomes a hub of innovation, your influence extends to transforming entire ecosystems. As thought leaders, we have the potential to not only influence individual decisions but also impact the decisions made on a grander scale. The ripples we create are the catalysts of lasting change, creating a ripple effect that can reach the farthest shores of progress.

   The journey of building Ripples of Influence is about recognizing the profound potential within our networks and harnessing it to drive positive change. In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the strategies that enable thought leaders to turn this concept into a tangible force for transformation. So, let’s dive into the art of cultivating relationships and explore how to effectively foster support and collaboration within our networks to create the ripples of influence that can truly change the world.

The Role of Trust in Building Collaborative Networks

In the world of thought leadership and networking, trust is the cornerstone upon which lasting connections and collaborations are built.

Trust extends beyond mere familiarity or predictability. Even in the most dysfunctional teams or, for that matter, among family members, predictability may arise from observable patterns over time. However, genuine trust, the lifeblood of effective collaboration, goes much deeper. As Lencioni highlights in Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team (2011), it’s not about foreseeing behaviors but about establishing a foundation of confidence and reliability among team members.

In his work The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations (2017), Kouzes underlines that trust is indispensable for creating and sustaining the conditions necessary for enduring connections.

Without trust, you cannot lead or make extraordinary things happen.

In the world of thought leadership, this means not only trusting others but also having them trust you and one another. Without trust, the ability to lead and drive transformative change is severely hindered.

To delve into trust further, Meyer’s The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business (2014) introduces two key dimensions: cognitive trust and affective trust.

  • Cognitive trust is based on the confidence you feel on another person’s accomplishments, skills, and reliability.
  • Affective trust arises from feelings of emotional closeness, empathy, or friendship.

This distinction gives the two dimensions of the Trusting scale: Task-based (cognitive trust) and Relationship-based (affective trust).

Task-based Trust versus Relationship-based Trust spectrum from Erin Meyer's "Culture Map
Task-based Trust versus Relationship-based Trust (Meyer, E., The culture map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business, 2014)

In a Task-based culture, trust is established through clear communication, maintaining a distinction between personal and professional lives, and focusing on delivering results.

On the other hand, Relationship-based cultures prioritize building trust through shared personal and professional interests, authentic and personal interactions, and participating in social gatherings.

Understanding the subtle differences in trust dynamics is crucial for influencing decisions that drive product experience forward since these differences play a pivotal role in determining the nature of the connections and collaborations you can establish.

I have personally experienced these dynamics in my home culture of Brazil, where building meaningful working relationships often requires having a lot of coffee with colleagues, and in my eight years in China, where guanxi — or personal connections — heavily influence business decisions. Navigating and comprehending these trust dynamics is essential for anyone looking to make a long-lasting impact as a thought leader.

black and white people bar men

Project Management, Negotiation and Conflict Resolution

Learn how trust impacts your ability to resolve conflicts, which ultimately increases your credibility and the degree you can influence the decisions that drive product vision forward (Photo by Gratisography on

Collaborating and Scaling Ideas

In thought leadership, the ability to generate groundbreaking ideas is just the beginning. The true impact of these ideas is unlocked when they are collaboratively scaled and replicated. Collaboration is the catalyst that transforms innovation into a movement, and your network is the fertile ground where these transformative ideas can flourish.

In this section, we will explore the essential concept of ‘Collaborating and Scaling Ideas’ and its profound significance for thought leaders. We’ll delve into how collaboration amplifies expertise, broadens reach, validates ideas, fosters ecosystems, and ultimately leads to transformative impacts. Thought leadership isn’t just about envisioning change but about mobilizing a community that brings that vision to life. Let’s embark on this journey to uncover the strategies that empower thought leaders to achieve just that.

Creating Shared Understanding in Supportive Networks

In my practice, I’ve found that — more often than not — is not for the lack of ideas that teams cannot innovate, but because of all the friction or drag created by not having a shared vision and understanding of what the problems they are trying to solve.

Just to make sure I’m not misunderstood: it doesn’t matter at that point if the team lacks a vision or the vision is just poorly communicated, the result is the same: the team will lack engagement and slowly drift apart.

Shared understanding is the collective knowledge of the team that builds over time as the team works together. It’s a rich understanding of the space, the product, and the customers.

“Creating Shared Understanding” in Lean UX: Applying lean principles to improve userexperience, Gothelf, J., & Seiden, J. (2013)

Shared understanding, sometimes referred to as “cognitive synchronization,” plays a pivotal role in facilitating collaboration within distributed design environments (Falzon, Montmollin, & Béguin, 1996):

  • Assure that they each have a knowledge of the facts relating to the state of the situation – problem data, state of the solutions, accepted hypothesis, etc, and
  • Assure that they share common knowledge regarding the domain – technical rules, objects in the domain and their features, resolution procedures, etc.

Teams that attain a shared understanding are far more likely to get a great design than those teams who fail to develop a common perception of the project’s goals and outcome (Jared Spool, “Attaining a Collaborative Shared Understanding” in Govella, A., Collaborative Product Design, 2019).

When teams share an understanding, everyone knows what they’re working on, why it’s important, and what the outcome will look like.

Govella, A., Collaborative Product Design (2019)

It’s very easy to verify if the team lacks understanding of the problem the team is trying to solve. Just ask some fundamental questions in your next meeting, like “what is the problem we are trying to solve”? “And for whom”?”

If you get different answers from key stakeholders, it is probably a good indication that you should jump in and help facilitate the discussion that will help the team to align.

Collaboration means shift from thinking big ideas alone and moving into the real-mess of thinking with others.

Van Der Meulen, M., Counterintuitivity: Making Meaningful Innovation (2019)

Changing the behavior to a “we think together” model is the central activity of collaboration. Because thinking together closes a gap; people can now act without checking back in because they were there when the decision was made. They’ve already had debates about all the trade-offs that actually make something work. This may appear as a case of “when all was said and done, a lot more was said than done.” However, time needs to be spent in the messy and time-consuming front-loaded process of thinking through possibilities in order to inform the decisions that need to be made (Van Der Meulen, M., Counterintuitivity: Making Meaningful Innovation, 2019)

Sharing early and often helps create shared understanding (learn more about sharing early in Communication of Data, Knowledge, Information) by triggering the conversations that help you find out what others think while doing three things (LeMay, M., Agile for Everybody, 2018):

  • Turning assumptions into knowledge
  • Testing ideas and hypotheses to see if they show promise with those they are meant to help
  • Opening up our thinking to find blind spots and mistakes.

Developing Shared Memories and Meaning

Developing shared meaning requires achieving a mutually accepted and understood lexicology, schema, or language in which to communicate despite differences in backgrounds (education, training, experience, fields, etc.) of the team members (Lang, Dickinson, & Buchal, 2002).

Many people — perhaps especially Americans — underestimate how differently people do things in other countries. Examples and insights for avoiding this can be found in The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, a 2014 bestseller by INSEAD professor Erin Meyer.

Meyer claims you can improve relationships by considering where you and international partners fall on each of these scales (Meyer, E., The Culture Map: Breaking through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, 2014):

  • Communicating: explicit vs. implicit
  • Evaluating: direct negative feedback vs. indirect negative feedback
  • Persuading: deductive vs. inductive
  • Leading: egalitarian vs. hierarchical
  • Deciding: consensual vs. top down
  • Trusting: task vs. relationship
  • Disagreeing: confrontational vs. avoid confrontation
  • Scheduling: structured vs. flexible

Strategic collaboration at its core is about including diverse perspectives and people. Being inclusive makes team stronger; you have more to draw on and get more people invested in the success of the effort. But groups often need help bringing their differences productively. You can help teams be open with each other and develop shared norms to govern behaviors by being aware of collaboration dynamics (Anderson, G., Mastering Collaboration: Make Working Together Less Painful and More Productive, 2019):

  • Being inclusive of many different kinds of people, skill sets, and perspectives is a core part of the collaboration that helps mitigate risks, engage the team, and find blind spots before they become a problem.
  • Inclusivity can challenge the status quo of how people interact and may being about interpersonal conflicts that are destructive to the team.
  • Working in different cultures that aren’t naturally conducive to collaboration is challenging, but don’t get caught up in making changing the culture your mission. Instead, focus on practical, tactical changes that create a local space for the team to be productive and deliver results. Culture Change will happen as a by-product of good results over time.

In distributed or remote strategic collaboration, most of the shared memories are created during meetings. So, we must design meetings that optimize for memory by understanding how our brains work and optimizing to make sure our stakeholders remember what we discussed. Here are a few simple concepts we can keep in mind (Greever, T., Articulating Design Decisions, 2020):

  • Primacy and Recency. People are more likely to remember the first and the last things we say. They drop off completely somewhere in the middle. We can use this to our advantage by breaking up our content into meaningful (smaller) chunks and creating distinct transitions between each part.
  • Repetition. People are more likely to remember something that’s been repeated. This universal understanding of marketing and advertising is useful for our stakeholder’s conversation too. What are the most important things you want them to remember? The goal or problem we are trying to solve and the decision we made. So plan to repeat these (verbally or visually on a slide) at least three times throughout the conversation.
  • Surprise. People are also more likely to remember something they weren’t expecting. If you can find a way to insert something into your discussion that’s not commonly part of your meeting, they will remember. This can be difficult to do in a business setting g where things are expected to be business-y, but a touch of levity, comic relief, or unexpected surprise can be effective. This simple technique is a well-time joke that breaks a stagnant conversation. Remember the point isn’t just to surprise them for the sake of surprise: it’s to help them remember an important bit of content. The challenge with using the element of surprise is that you don’t want it to be a distraction. Find the right balance of keeping people engaged with your content without causing unnecessary distractions that derail the meeting.
Break up the content of your conversations into meaningful (smaller) chunks to avoid "The Trough of Forgetfulness"
Beware of “The Trough of Forgetfulness” (Greever, T., Articulating Design Decisions, 2020)

Creating shared understanding and shared memories within collaborative networks is a cornerstone of effective decision-making and collaborative scaling. It paves the way for cohesive teamwork, innovative problem-solving, and the meaningful exchange of ideas, all crucial components of building transformative thought leadership.

top view photo of people discussing

Strategic Collaboration in Distributed or Remote Environments

Learn more about how to help improve strategic collaboration while working on Distributed, Remote or Global Teams (Photo by fauxels on

Amplified Expertise and Broader Reach

One of the most compelling aspects of collaborative scaling is its ability to amplify expertise. Thought leaders recognize that they don’t monopolize knowledge; instead, they bring together individuals with diverse skill sets and areas of expertise. Through collaboration, these experts refine and enrich innovative ideas, adding layers of depth and effectiveness that might otherwise be missed. It’s akin to crafting a symphony where each instrument contributes to the richness of the composition. This amplification of expertise not only enhances the quality of ideas but also extends their reach. Collaborative scaling takes your vision beyond your individual sphere of influence, tapping into the collective strength of your network’s followers and supporters. It’s a journey from being a soloist to leading a full orchestra, producing a powerful harmony of ideas that resonates with a broader audience.

Validation and Credibility

Collaboration within your network is a hallmark of credibility. When multiple thought leaders endorse an idea, its viability is reinforced. It encourages wider adoption by stakeholders, policymakers, and industry professionals. This validation is a powerful tool that not only elevates the standing of your ideas but also instills confidence in decision-makers. As thought leaders, we seek not just to propose innovative concepts but to see them embraced and enacted. Collaborative scaling offers the stamp of approval that decision-makers often need to feel confident in implementing transformative ideas.

people in an office writing notes on glass window

Demonstrating Expertise and Credibility for Thought Leadership

Become a thought leader in design and strategy by showcasing expertise, building trust, and going above and beyond your job. Stay informed about industry trends and share your insights to make a lasting impact (Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on

Ecosystem Building and Learning and Growth

Collaboration within your network is akin to cultivating an ecosystem of support. This ecosystem becomes a breeding ground for cross-pollination of ideas. It creates a fertile environment for ongoing innovation and growth. By engaging with collaborators, thought leaders expose themselves to new perspectives, methodologies, and insights. This contributes to their own learning and development, shaping them into well-rounded leaders. The act of fostering an ecosystem within your network not only creates a supportive community but also generates a continuous cycle of learning, growth, and innovative thinking. It’s an ever-expanding playground for thought leaders to explore, evolve, and thrive.

The Transformative Impact of Collective Efforts

Thought leaders understand that their innovative ideas are more effective when shared, refined, and put into action with the help of a supportive network. Through collaboration, visionaries ensure that their ideas not only bring about change but also have a ripple effect that leads to lasting transformation on a grander scale. The transformative impact of collective efforts is the essence of thought leadership. It’s not just about creating change in one corner of your industry but about reshaping the landscape. As thought leaders, we are architects of progress, and our networks serve as the scaffolding that allows us to build towering structures of change. The significance of this collective power is profound. In the following sections, we will dive deeper into the strategies that enable thought leaders to harness this transformative force.

Call to Action

Building a dedicated network is an art that requires intention, authenticity, active participation, mutual value exchange, nurturing relationships, and leveraging the power of social media, which are the cornerstones of crafting a dedicated network. These strategies are the threads that weave connections into a tapestry of support and collaboration, shaping the path of thought leadership.

As thought leaders, we must embrace collaboration and the scaling of ideas. We’ve seen how this collaborative scaling amplifies our expertise, broadens our reach, validates our concepts, and fosters innovation ecosystems. The transformative impact of collective efforts cannot be underestimated. Thought leadership is not a solo endeavor; it’s a symphony composed of the diverse talents and insights of our network.

Therefore, I encourage thought leaders, both seasoned and emerging, to continue building and nurturing a solid network. Networking is not a one-time task but an ongoing commitment. It’s about being authentic, actively participating in industry events, fostering mutual value exchange, and leveraging social media to expand your reach. It’s also about promoting support and mentorship, recognizing that in your network, there’s both wisdom to gain and wisdom to impart. Building a dedicated community of connections that resonates with your vision and values is the key to lasting thought leadership.

Strategies for Building a Dedicated Network

In this section, we will unravel the strategies that empower thought leaders to create networks that resonate with their core principles and goals. Authenticity, active participation, mutual value exchange, nurturing relationships, and leveraging the power of social media are the cornerstones of crafting a dedicated network. Let’s embark on a journey through the tactics that transform networking into a powerful force for change in the world of thought leadership:

  1. Build Authentic Connections: Authenticity is the cornerstone of building a network that resonates with your vision and values. Authentic connection involves engaging in genuine conversations where you openly express your passions and viewpoints. Authenticity is a magnet that attracts individuals who resonate with your ideas and are eager to connect on a deeper level. It’s about being true to yourself, sharing your genuine self, and fostering relationships based on trust and transparency.
  2. Active Participation in Industry Events and Online Forums: Active participation in industry events, conferences, and online forums is a proactive way to expand your network. It involves attending and actively engaging in discussions, sharing your insights, and contributing meaningfully to conversations. By becoming a valuable contributor, you raise your profile and position yourself as a respected member of your industry’s community. As Arscott (2022) suggests in her research on networking, transitioning from generic questions like ‘Where are you from?’ to more insightful inquiries about a person’s educational and career journey can lead to more meaningful conversations. Active participation extends your reach and solidifies your presence in your field. 
  3. Focus on Mutual Value Exchange and Reciprocity: Networking should be a two-way street. Thought leaders approach it with a mindset of mutual value exchange. It’s not just about what you can gain from your network but also what you can offer. By offering your expertise, insights, and support to others in your network, you foster a reciprocal environment where value is freely exchanged. This approach encourages others to be equally invested in your success, resulting in a network that thrives on reciprocity.
  4. Nurture Ongoing Connections: Building a network is not a one-time effort; it requires ongoing relationship building. Thought leaders invest time nurturing connections, remembering personal details, and staying in touch through regular communication. It’s about demonstrating that you value the relationships you’ve cultivated and are genuinely interested in the well-being and progress of those in your network. Nurturing relationships ensures that your network remains active, vibrant, and responsive.
  5. Leveraging Social Media to Expand Your Network: In the digital age, social media platforms offer a powerful way to expand your network beyond geographical boundaries. Thought leaders harness the power of social media to connect with a broader audience, share their insights, and participate in relevant conversations. These platforms provide an avenue to reach and engage with individuals who may not be within your immediate circle but share common interests and passions. Social media extends the reach of your network and allows you to connect with thought leaders and professionals from around the world.

Cultivating a network, fostering support, and building a dedicated community of connections are the backbone of thought leadership. It’s not just about the quantity of your connections but the quality of your relationships. Your network is not static; it’s a dynamic force that can influence decisions, drive progress, and shape the future. In the following sections, we will further explore how these relationships can be leveraged to create ripples of influence, amplify your impact, and bring about transformative change in the world of thought leadership.

Embrace Collaboration and Idea Scaling

Collaboration is the heartbeat of thought leadership. The next step is to embrace collaboration and the scaling of your visionary concepts. Recognize that by working together with your network, you can amplify your expertise, broaden your reach, validate your ideas, and foster ecosystems of innovation. So, the next time you have an innovative idea, don’t just keep it to yourself – share it with your network and watch it flourish. Here are some ideas:

  • Hold Collaborative Brainstorming Sessions: Regularly organize brainstorming sessions with your network, where you discuss innovative ideas and strategies collectively. Encourage open dialogue and creative thinking {learn how to facilitate brainstorming sessions in Strategy and the Need for Facilitation}.
  • Co-Create Content: Partner with other thought leaders in your network to co-create content such as articles, whitepapers, or webinars. This not only amplifies your expertise but also broadens your reach as you tap into each other’s audiences.
  • Engage in Joint Projects: Collaborate on projects with members of your network. This could be anything from launching a joint product to conducting research that aligns with your shared goals.
  • Implement Feedback Loops: Create feedback loops within your network to refine and validate your ideas continuously. Seek input from your peers and be open to constructive criticism {read more about feedback on Strategy, Feedback and Design Reviews}

Keep Building and Nurturing Your Network

Networking isn’t a one-time task but an ongoing commitment. The next step is to continue building and nurturing your network. Be authentic, actively participate in industry events, engage in mutual value exchange, and leverage social media to expand your reach. Remember that fostering support and mentorship is a two-way street – you both learn and guide. The wisdom gained and imparted within your network is the key to long-lasting thought leadership. Here are some ideas:

  • Attend Networking Events: Participate in industry-specific events, conferences, and meetups. These gatherings provide an opportunity to meet new contacts, exchange ideas, and strengthen existing relationships.
  • Online Engagement: Use social media platforms strategically. Share your insights, engage with your followers, and participate in relevant conversations. These platforms offer a way to extend your network beyond geographical boundaries.
  • Mutual Value Exchange: Approach networking as a two-way street. Offer your expertise and support to others in your network, and be receptive to their contributions. This reciprocal approach fosters a sense of shared value.
  • Maintain Ongoing Communication: Building a network is not a one-off task. It involves regular communication and relationship nurturing. Remember personal details about your contacts, and stay in touch through emails, calls, or social media interactions.
  • Mentorship and Guidance: Actively seek advice and guidance within your network. Don’t hesitate to reach out to those who’ve treaded similar paths for mentorship. Simultaneously, share your own experiences and insights to help others.

As you progress in your thought leadership journey, remember that your network is the wind beneath your wings. The relationships you cultivate and the collaborations you engage in are the propellants that transform your ideas into real-world impact. Thought leadership is not about standing still; it’s about setting the world in motion. So, take these next steps, continue building your ripples of influence, and let your ideas ripple across the waters of progress. Your journey as a thought leader is not static; it’s about setting the world in motion.

Other Skills for Aspiring Thought Leaders

As I mentioned in the first post of this series, great ideas are not enough to be a successful thought leader. Skills that amplify their impact are crucial. Aspiring leaders must develop exceptional abilities, such as effective communication and emotional intelligence, to transform their vision into tangible results. Check out the other articles of this series to learn about the crucial skills that will have designers and strategists influence the decisions that drive product experience visions forward:

  • Mastering Effective Communication. Thought leaders possess the remarkable ability to communicate their ideas clearly and persuasively. Their words are not just informative; they’re inspirational. The capacity to convey complex concepts that resonate with diverse audiences is a hallmark of their influence. Effective communication bridges the gap between innovative insights and their practical application, inviting others to be part of the journey [read more about Presentation and Storytelling Skills].
  • Innovative Thinking and Idea Generation. Central to thought leadership is the skill of thinking beyond the obvious. Innovators don’t merely accept the status quo; they challenge it. They see possibilities where others see constraints. Thought leaders embrace this skill, consistently generating ideas that shape the future and pioneering approaches that set trends rather than follow them [read more about Innovative Thinking and Idea Generation].
  • Demonstrating Expertise and Credibility. Being a thought leader means going beyond asserting expertise; it’s about proving it. Thought leaders earn credibility through their work, consistently delivering results that align with their insights. This requires not only a deep understanding of their field but also the acumen to translate that knowledge into tangible outcomes [read more about Demonstrating Expertise and Credibility]
  • Managing and Adapting to Change. In a rapidly evolving world, thought leaders are agile navigators. They thrive amidst change and uncertainty, adapting their strategies and insights to fit new contexts. This adaptability ensures that their influence remains relevant and dynamic, making them valuable voices in ever-changing industries [read more about Managing and Adapting to Change]
  • Building a Supportive Network. Thought leadership is not a solitary pursuit. It’s about fostering a community of like-minded individuals who share a passion for change. Cultivating a network of supporters, collaborators, and advocates extends a thought leader’s reach and multiplies the impact of their ideas [read more about Building a Supportive Network].
  • Cultivating Emotional Intelligence. Behind every strategic decision, there’s a foundation of emotional intelligence. Thought leaders understand the power of empathy, conflict resolution, and self-awareness. This emotional acumen forms the connective tissue that binds their influence, enabling authentic relationships and guiding effective leadership [read more about Cultivating Emotional Intelligence Skills].

Recommended Reading

Anderson, G. (2019). Mastering Collaboration: Make Working Together Less Painful and More Productive. O’Reilly UK Ltd.

Arscott, C. H. (2022, November 4). A better approach to networking. Harvard Business Review.

Brosseau, D. (2014). Ready to be a thought leader?: How to increase your influence, impact, and success (1st ed.). Nashville, TN: John Wiley & Sons.

Duarte, N. (2008). slide:ology: The Art and Science of Presentation Design. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.

Duarte, N. (2013). Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences. Nashville, TN: John Wiley & Sons.

Duarte, N. (2012). HBR guide to persuasive presentations. Harvard Business Review Press.

Falzon, P., Montmollin, F. D.-d., & Béguin, P. (1996). Collective design processes. Proceedings of COOP’96,. Juan-les-Pins, France: Second International Conference on the Design of Cooperative Systems

Gino, F., Kouchaki, M., & Casciaro, T. (2016, May 1). Learn to love networking. Harvard Business Review.

Govella, A. (2019). Collaborative Product Design: Help any team build a better experience. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.

Greever, T. (2020). Articulating Design Decisions (2nd Edition). Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.

Ibarra, H., & Hunter, M. L. (2007, January 1). How leaders create and use networks. Harvard Business Review.

Knight, R. (2018, February 16). How to increase your influence at work. Harvard Business Review.

Lang, S. Y., Dickinson, J., & Buchal, R. O. (2002). Cognitive factors in distributed design. Computers in Industry (48), 89-98

Meyer, E. (2014). The culture map: Breaking through the invisible boundaries of global business. New York, NY: PublicAffairs.

Valcour, M. (2013, May 7). The ripple effects you create as a manager. Harvard Business Review.

Van Der Meulen, M. (2019). Counterintuitivity: Making Meaningful Innovation. Mario Van Der Meulen.

By Itamar Medeiros

Originally from Brazil, Itamar Medeiros currently lives in Germany, where he works as VP of Design Strategy at SAP and lecturer of Project Management for UX at the M.Sc. Usability Engineering at the Rhein-Waal University of Applied Sciences .

Working in the Information Technology industry since 1998, Itamar has helped truly global companies in multiple continents create great user experience through advocating Design and Innovation principles. During his 7 years in China, he promoted the User Experience Design discipline as User Experience Manager at Autodesk and Local Coordinator of the Interaction Design Association (IxDA) in Shanghai.

Itamar holds a MA in Design Practice from Northumbria University (Newcastle, UK), for which he received a Distinction Award for his thesis Creating Innovative Design Software Solutions within Collaborative/Distributed Design Environments.

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