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Secrets to Success in Silicon Valley: Thought Leadership

What actually is Thought Leadership? The term was first verbalized in 1994 by Joel Kurtzman in Strategy & Business.[i] According to Forbes, the definition is twofold: first, thought leadership is about a person’s publicly recognized knowledge, and second, the concept focuses on the monetary aspect: being considered as the "go-to" authority on a topic increases an individual’s opportunity to earn substantially higher compensation.[ii]

If a place can be considered a repository of thought leadership, then Silicon Valley is the global Mecca for high tech. Entrepreneurs from India, Israel, China, Taiwan, Russia, Germany, Australia, the UK, and South Africa continue to descend on the Valley to start companies despite Californian taxes, politics, and infrastructure. Facebook, eBay, Google, and Yahoo were co-founded by immigrants. In fact, over 50% of the companies in Silicon Valley have been started by foreign born business people.[iii] Silicon Valley continues to attract large numbers of thought leaders. The list is extensive and multi-cultural: Elon Musk founder of of Tesla, SpaceX and PayPal, Sergey Brin of Google, Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook--her “lean-in” concept has captured the imagination of a new generation of working women, Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller from Stanford, founders of Coursera, who created a paradigm shift in the way education is delivered, Gordon Moore, famous for his Technology Adoption Curve which revolutionized high tech marketing[iv], and also arguably the best known thought leader of this generation, the former Steve Jobs of Apple. In addition to the thousands of thought leaders currently here in the Valley, those who ignited the transformation of the Valley from apricot orchards to global high tech center should not be overlooked: Bill Hewlett, David Packard, Fred Terman, William Shockley, and the “Traitorous Eight.”[v]

Thought leadership goes beyond being an expert on a topic. Mitchell Levy, Thought Leader Architect and CEO of THiNKaha, defines the difference as “an expert is someone with knowledge on a key topic. A thought leader is a recognized (go-to person) in their space.”[vi] To move from being an expert to a thought leader, Mr. Levy states that individuals need H.E.L.P. “H” stands for “healthy following”. “E” is for exceptional execution or in other words every task or personal interaction must be professional and of high quality. “L” is for leadership. “P” stands for proven platform so that the thought leader can successfully communicate with current followers as well as reach out to new ones. [vii] The proven platform refers to the thought leaders' platform as well as the platforms of others that can be used to share their message.

Thought leaders are made, not born. CEOs, salespeople, engineers, marketing managers, customer service representatives—anyone who has the expertise, knowledge and a revolutionary approach can potentially become a thought leader. Arguably, 20-60% of company employees must be thought leaders in order for a company to be truly successful.[viii] Essential communication tools for the thought leader include utilizing social and traditional media, publishing books and e-books, as well as speaking at conferences, seminars, and webinars. Becoming a thought leader takes time and commitment, but in the end, this achievement is well worth the effort for both the personal and potential financial rewards.

Thought leadership is a key secret to success in Silicon Valley. Additional resources on this timely topic can be found on the "Empower Employees with Thought Leadership" webinar[ix], the ThoughtLeaderLife YouTube channel[x], and the LinkedIn Thought Leadership Best Practices Group[xi], and the website.[xii]

[i] Kurtzman, J. (2010) Common Purpose: How Great Leaders Get Organizations to Achieve the Extraordinary, ISBN 978-0-470-49009-9.

[ii] A thought leader is an individual or firm that prospects, clients, referral sources, intermediaries and even competitors recognize as one of the foremost authorities in selected areas of specialization, resulting in its being the go-to individual or organization for said expertise. A thought leader is an individual or firm that significantly profits from being recognized as such.


[iv] Surprisingly, the Technology Adoption Curve was based on a study of the purchasing patterns of farmers to measure how quickly they adopted new types of hybrid seeds!

[v] Silicon Valley has spawned numerous copycat high tech areas around the world: Silicon Wadi (Israel), Silicon China (Zhongguancun), Silicon Valley of India (Bangalore), Silicon Glen (Glasgow), Silicon Fen (Cambridge, UK), Silicon Bog (Ireland), Silicon Alley (NYC), Silicon Rain Forest (Seattle), Silicon Freeway (LA), and Silicon Desert (Phoenix).

[vi] Aha #1 in Creating Thought Leaders Tweet by Mitchell Levy published by THiNKaha May 2013.

[vii] Aha #85, #86, #89, #92, #95 in Creating Thought Leaders Tweet by Mitchell Levy published by THiNKaha May 2013

[viii] Interview with Mitchell Levy on November 22, 2013.

[ix] Empower Employees with Thought Leadership Webinar:

[x] ThoughtLeaderLife YouTube Channel:

[xi] LinkedIn Thought Leadership Best Practices Group:

[xii] For more information: Or email

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