In my last LinkedIn post, I mentioned three key rules for being a thought-leader. One of these rules is “Be Original”. I had a number of people reach out and ask some variation of the question “how do I become an original thinker?”

The short answer is that to be an original thinker, you need to go in search of the original you. For each person, that return to originality is different. But here are a few markers and clues based on my own experience with both myself and with those I/we have coached to go inward to become a brand.

  1. Find a third way. Much of society is presented in dualistic, binary terms: us vs them, good vs bad, healthy vs sick. Most people pick a side and loosely or stridently follow it. In daily life, it’s which political party to belong to or which religion to believe in or which weight loss program to follow. In business, dualism produces an unhealthy attachment to other people’s formulas. Which produces those futile loops of read-the-book-and-fail-at-implementing or hire-the-consultant-nothing-changes. Instead, find a third way. Even if you don’t fully believe it. Instead of choosing one of the inevitable two lanes presented, make your own trail.
  2. Examine your beliefs. In our Root Sessions and BrandLabs, Emily and I guide leaders through the process of determining extrinsic beliefs vs intrinsic beliefs. Extrinsic beliefs are what were taught to you by others, as well as conditions and experiences. Intrinsic beliefs are part of your original operating system – something you’ve always known to be true or something you’d be willing to commit civil disobedience over or something that has caused you to get in trouble. Understanding your intrinsic beliefs opens up a whole new world of thinking -all of it rooted in your originality.
  3. Red Team yourself. My good buddy Bryce Hoffman has an excellent book out called “Red Teaming: How Your Business Can Conquer the Competition by Challenging Everything”. Bryce’s research and premise are based around his experience as the first civilian to graduate from the US Army’s Red Teaming Leadership Program and studying 12th man and devil’s advocate models. Although written for businesses, the principles definitely apply to individuals. When you challenge your own biases, assumptions, projections, attachments, reactions, you strip away the thinking you’ve adopted to survive or be accepted – like removing old carpet to reveal a beautiful hardwood floor.
  4. Study philosophy. For most of us, philosophy was an elective or an academic pursuit. In the business world, it can be seen as unnecessary or a past time – especially when so many authors, consultants and other talking heads are promoting their latest system improvement or information-centric idea. In actuality, philosophy is the study of original ideas. It is the seedbed of innovation. As been said, philosophy doesn’t teach you WHAT to think but HOW. It provides a central place from which to examine what you believe about a particular idea or concept. It produces a point of view. Which was also one of the rules from my thought-leadership post.

Through out history, original thinkers have advanced humanity forward. Because they challenge whatever orthodoxy they find themselves in, they are often branded as heretics or outlaws. While certainly influenced by others, not a one of them has been a carbon copy of someone else. They are singular in their originality. There’s only one Steve Jobs. There’s only one Nelson Mandela. There’s only one Brene Brown. And there’s only one you. And that you is beautifully and perfectly designed to be an original thinker.

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