I met Mignon van Halderen some years ago when her, Kym Kettler-Paddock and I collaborated on a book titled “Thought Leadership how to differentiate your company and stand out from the crowd” Mignon then founded the The Dutch School of Thought Leadership. This blog post is written by her and it gives a fascinating insight into the work the School is doing.
By: Dr Mignon van Halderen
The first human surgical robot, cultured beef or smart highways. These are just a few examples of the exciting innovations coming out of the Brainport Region. This region, with Eindhoven at its heart, has become one of Europe’s most prominent high-tech areas in recent years. It’s in the DNA of this innovative centre to merge high-tech and design in order to develop solutions that will shape our future reality.
It is therefore not surprising that a professorship and research institute on Thought Leadership is operating at the heart of this creative and innovative hub. Dutch School of Thought is a boutique research institute, affiliated with the professorship Thought Leadership in a Society of Change at Fontys University of Applied Sciences, School of Communication in Eindhoven. It was founded by Associate Professor Mignon van Halderen and Business Director Berly Walraven.
As I explained in my inaugural speech at Fontys University, School of Communication, “Even though we are on the cusp of many technological breakthroughs, we still surround ourselves with old mindsets, structures and processes. There is an underlying need on the part of society and organisations to make our economic and societal system more human and sustainable. And to shake off old ways of acting by replacing old types of logic for new worldviews.
“Organisations that progressively contribute to imagining, shaping and promoting new realities are often today’s thought leaders . It’s not just about their innovations; there is more to it than that. It’s by virtue of their ability to translate their thought-provoking convictions into real behaviour and results that they are called thought leaders in a society of change.”
While the electric car manufacture Tesla is an oft-cited example, Dutch School of Thought looks into a broad range of initiatives: the cultured-beef firm Mosa Meat, chocolate producer Tony’s Chocolonely, the smartphone provider Fairphone or the social design lab Studio Roosegaarde.
Take Mosa Meat, for instance. This firm aims to serve the first laboratory-made burger in the world in five years. The meat industry is causing much of our climate change problems. Mosa Meat’s viewpoint is that if we can’t motivate people to change their conventional eating habits, we will have to find a substitute that equally fulfils their desire for meat. One of the firm’s main challenges is not so much to prove that it is scientifically possible to make cultured beef, but to make it affordable and to change people’s aversions to it. And this is what thought leaders do; they are driven by a thought-provoking conviction and put their money where their mouth is to change mindsets, behaviours and to mobilise others to build a positive future reality.
In their thought leading journey, they cleverly developed a prototype of cultured beef and organised an event around this theme. The prototype was consumed by food experts in London in 2013. The costs of the prototype were $332,000, but MosaMeat believes that it can offer the product at a price between 10 and 20 dollars within five years.
We do not just study organisations that focus on technological breakthroughs. Take the Dutch chocolate producer Tony´s Chocolonely for example, a company that our applied researcher Bran Martens mentions in his Trending Topic on ‘Thought leadership- two currents’.
Tony’s Chocolonely’s objective is to free the chocolate industry from modern slavery. The company believes that 100% slave-labour-free chocolate is economically viable. This is a novel perspective; a new voice in what has been the heavily institutionalised cocoa industry since its inception. Founder Teun van de Keuken put the slavery theme on the agenda by eating 17 bars of chocolate and turning himself in as a ‘chocolate criminal’. This is a clever way of advocating a point of view, combining PR and impactful action. Tony’s Chocolonely put modern slavery on the agenda of the established order in its industry and created awareness among chocolate consumers. For instance, by selling unequally divided chocolate bars, the company allowed a chocolate bar to tell a story.
Dutch School of Thought shares best practices as described above, but also thought leadership frameworks that support directors and managers. Being part of Eindhoven´s playground of innovators and designers, we aim to introduce a healthy dose of imaginative power into our knowledge products. For instance, by involving our Fontys students who are bold and opinionated about the future, we have seen their work already serve as an inspiration for quite a few organisations.
Dutch School of Thought is far from a physical entity. It is instead a ‘knowledge haven’ where people come and go. To advance thought leadership and add to its meaning, we collaborate with independent trend researchers, creative concept developers and thought leadership experts such as Leading Thought.
Some of our knowledge products:
In this Trending Topic, Bran Martens writes about thought leading organisations such as Tesla and TonyChocolonely, illustrating how these organisations pursue their transformative purposes.
In this Trending Topic, Mark van der Linden, argues the relevance of cross-industrial collaboration in broadening the horizon of thought leaders.
Where on this continuum would you place your thought leadership goals? And what does that mean for your further strategy? A framework supporting directors and managers in sharpening their thought leadership goals.
The Thought Leadership Framework supporting organisations in their thought leadership strategies. This may also be found in the e-book written by Mignon van Halderen, Kym Kettler-Paddock and Craig Badings.
The Five Communication Phases as Part of a Thought leadership Strategy by Bran Martens, a helpful guide for communication professionals in pursuing a thought leadership strategy.