Thomas Edison understood the limits of invention. He knew the mere introduction of the electric light bulb would not be enough to bring incandescent light to the world.

This point becomes clear when you tour Edison’s Menlo Park Laboratory. No longer in New Jersey, the lab is now situated in Dearborn, Michigan in an outdoor history museum known as Greenfield Village. Te

Step through the lab and you will see an impressive array of patented wonders in the workshop where they were originally tested, refined and developed. However, it’s the front office of the complex that deserves particular attention here. Whereas many inventors have been eclipsed by their rivals or otherwise lost to history, Edison ensured he was not among them. His front office was dedicated to publicizing his inventions and clarifying their importance to the public at large.

Indeed, his remarkable gift for publicity not only drove his extraordinary business success but cast him as the enduring paragon of modern invention.

Over his desk, Edison displayed a placard with Sir Joshua Reynolds’ famous quote: “There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking.” Not him. Edison, quite simply, was a thought leader.

What is Thought Leadership?

Thought leadership is the presentation of relevant and compelling insights – enabling one’s intended audience to comprehend key issues, make decisions and embrace change. It concerns all leaders that hope to influence our understanding of past events, present conditions and future possibilities. In the realm of business, this emerging discipline revolves around strengthening one’s market positioning, generating demand and accelerating revenue growth.

But thought leadership must come from thought leaders.

Thought leaders are defined as having a clear, distinctive and specific vision of the future. Their visions may reflect coming advances in business, technology or even social and political arrangements. By articulating these visions, they help us contemplate, confront and prepare for the world to come. They also play a vital role in shaping our perception of that world.

Thomas Edison envisioned a world driven by electricity. Henry Ford’s vision encompassed mass production and the democratization of the automobile. Steve Jobs foresaw the birth of the personal computer and imagined its implications. He has since brought new visions to personal communication and entertainment, changing the landscape of our lives.

Thought leaders bring a powerful and unexpected new perspective to all of us who hope to make sense of uncertainty and onrushing change. They provide a framework of the future – and they guide us toward it.

While few visions are as breathtakingly large as those of Edison, Ford and Jobs, we continue to seek thought leaders in all spheres of our lives. This is particularly true in today’s business markets. As change accelerates, complexity increases and our own forecasts fail us, we are intuitively drawn to the provocative insights of thought leaders.

Dazed and Confused

Customers in today’s business markets are overwhelmed by choice and change. They must sort through a blinding array of offers and options, risks and opportunities to make high stakes decisions.

In many cases, these decisions can make or break their careers – and severely impact the growth and profitability of their organizations. Consider a company investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a front-office software program or engaging a professional services firm to help redesign its supply chain management strategy. These are not impulse purchases.

They are considered decisions that typically involve numerous decision-makers and decision-influencers over an extended length of time. There are multiple issues to confront along multiple dimensions: strategic; operational; financial; and technical. To build confidence, a thorough and rigorous case must be built to justify change, risk and investment.

Whether the decisions revolve around information technology, professional services, capital equipment, goods and materials, outsourcing relationships, or some other factor, today’s customers are seeking solution providers who can provide relevant and authoritative guidance that builds confidence.

That’s why you want to position your company as a thought leader and trusted authority. By doing so, you earn the confidence to guide your buyers through difficult decisions. You earn the trust to challenge your buyer’s status quo and illuminate a new path forward.