“5 Things You Should Do To Become a Thought Leader In Your Industry” with Jodie Davis

Get Out There. After you do the work, people will want to find you. Of course, I’ve made it easy for them by putting myself out there. My appearances on HGTV and A&E and ultimately my best-selling book were due to becoming known in the world of rubber duckies via my footprints on the internet. […]

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Get Out There. After you do the work, people will want to find you. Of course, I’ve made it easy for them by putting myself out there. My appearances on HGTV and A&E and ultimately my best-selling book were due to becoming known in the world of rubber duckies via my footprints on the internet.

As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jodie Davis. Hatched a different kind of chick, Jodie’s inner muse tested this world this way and that. She didn’t quite fit in anywhere — until a boyfriend’s intended insult became a gift of clarity. For him, “You live in a rubber duckie world,” was a put down; for Jodie it was the crystalizing moment. She booted the boyfriend and set about letting her rubber duckie muse call the shots, to create her own world, her “It’s Rubber Duckie World!” Who knew her first crafting book would become into thirty-four books and, even more surprising, that with all of her success as a name in quilting and crafting her best-selling title would be Rubber Duckie!, which sold 230,000 copies with Running Press. Believing that showing how is the way to give the gift of creativity, Jodie shepherded a network for quilters, QNNTV.com, from start-up to a finding it a home with a heavy weight media company in the industry, all in the early days of online TV. Her journey has brought her to demonstrating fabric cutting products on HSN, guest co-hosting the widely aired PBS series Love of Quilting, and producing and hosting long-running monthly series including Quilt Out Loud!, an off-the-wall lifestyle quilting show, and Quilt It! The Longarm Quilting Show, now in its eighth season.…And cuckoo clocks. Having collected German mid-century cuckoo clocks for years, Jodie jumped at the chance to shoot an episode of a quilting show she hosted at the premier cuckoo factory in the Black Forest when Bernina sewing machine company sent her to Europe. She turned it into an opportunity to design her own clock; a quilt shop. With her business The American Cuckoo Clock Company Jodie creates designs for other niche passion groups, such a bird lovers and retro RV aficionados. Her company both imports her designs from Germany and handcrafts them using imported clockworks in Hickory Flat, Georgia. Jodie is an award-winning home brewer, a civil war reenactor, and lives on her farm in a mid-century butterfly roof horse in north Georgia. Her closest neighbors are her horses who live across the drive in the barn she designed for them.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

At three different times in my life I have immersed myself in different passions. While not intending to, I became a thought leader in each:

1. As the quilting industry tells me I brought video to the industry with my early online channel for quilters in 2006.

What got me there: 20 years quilting, writing 32 books, hosting many shows, HSN appearances, etc.

2. Rubber duckie expert on an HGTV show and A&E

What got me there: getting known online, designing a rubber duckie, a pop culture book sold 230,000 copies

3. Reinventing the cuckoo clock which the Germans nearly made irrelevant by not responding to a changing market.

I am close to being the only person outside of Germany able to make the retirement cuckoo clock for Carroll Spinney, Big Bird and Oscar’s puppeteer.

What got me here: My fascination for and years spent collecting cuckoo clocks led me to itch to design my own. Through a quilting show I was hosting I got my foot in the door of a factory. While filming we designed it. The first batch of 100 sold. A business was born. Now, in addition to importing cuckoos, I have put a team together to make cuckoos here, and will soon build a factory and move the operation from my farm.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

It seems that every time I set out to do something it turns into something else, then somehow manages to circle back.

For example, when A&E interviewed me in my bathroom for a segment for John Larouquette’s “The Incurable Collector” I knew the world needed a one-hour special on rubber duckies, a “Duckumentary.” My ulterior motive was to fulfill my dream of meeting Rubber Duckie’s #1 fan, Ernie.

I started looking for a producer to help. Well, that producer got stuck on my quilting resume and I ended up hosting some shows which led me to my online network, QNNtv.com and even product demoing on Home Shopping Network.

And it got me to Switzerland to shoot at a sewing machine company. I managed to arrange to shoot an episode in a cuckoo clock factory where I pitched turning the clock into a quilt shop, for our audience.

To have one for myself I had to order 100. The other 99 sold, and I had a business!

Finding that Germany could only supply one new design every year or two, I learned the trade and started my own factory here on my farm. Then — here we come full circle — imagine my surprise when Sesame Street Workshop contacted me to make a one-off cuckoo clock for the retirement of Carroll Spinney, Big Bird and Oscar’s puppeteer. That brings me real close to meeting Ernie!

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

A leader commands or directs, a group of some sort.

An influencer has amassed knowledge and a following and is therefore considered an authority. But that doesn’t mean he or she has broken new ground.

A thought leader is an original thinker, a value-adder. Total immersion in a subject, mastering it, and adding their own mark, makes them so. They lead and influence because they have cleared a new trail.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

I didn’t intend to become a thought leader. It came about due to a fascination, by putting time — years — into exploring my curiosity about something immensely intriguing. And that is where the benefit lies. Inside.

Yes, of course it’s worth investing time and energy into it!

I liken it to my woods-turned-pasture. When I bought my place my horses’ pasture was overgrown into woods. After having it cleared barren clay soil remained. Five years of wagon load upon wagon load of manure hauled from the barn and spread in all weather, it is now a green, delicious pasture.

Becoming a thought leader (or building a cuckoo clock company) is the same process. You envision clear as day what others can’t see and may even consider a crazy vision. Day after day after week after month after year you nick away at it, refining it. It has your attention non-stop. Until one day someone remarks that your pasture is looking good. Sesame Street finds you and commissions a Big Bird Cuckoo Clock. Next thing you know another describes your pasture as “lush.” “Yes, a destination experience cuckoo clock factory is exactly what we need here in Cherokee County. Let us help you!”

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

My friend Andi Barney of Sewing Doc become interested is repairing sewing machines. She found that those wonderfully solid pre-computer workhorse machines from the 50’s and 60’s were collecting dust in closets because most repair people (who work for sewing machine dealers) won’t touch them. Owners are encouraged to replace them with new sewing machines.

Andi is now not only repairing those machines, she is teaching classes so their owners can service their machines themselves and has started an online academy to teach and even certify people to repair machines and start their own businesses.

In my case, my business is based solely upon thought leadership. I’ve found that we Americans have a rich cuckoo clock history, everyone has a cuckoo clock story. But when people go to buy a cuckoo clock they tell me the dark German clocks with wood choppers simply don’t fit their homes, nor reflect their passions and interests. The Germans have dropped the ball by not responding to a changing market. The American Cuckoo Clock Company has scooped it up and is running joyfully with it!

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

1. Do the time. Mastery. There’s no faking it.

“Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason mastery demands all of a person.” ~Albert Einstein

In 2017 reality flashed in neon on the wall: to have a real business I couldn’t rely on Germany to develop enough of my designs to build a viable business. I swallowed the shock and set about becoming my own source of supply of cuckoo clocks.

Knowing nothing about woodwork and just a little about cuckoo clock works, I dove into learning everything I needed to know, sought out people to help me learn, just about wore out my computer doing research (okay, so it was the cat barf on the keyboard), and put a team together to help me make cuckoo clocks.

Late into the night I played with bellows and movements to learn the inner magic of cuckoo clocks. I bought a CNC machine to understand the designing, the software, how the machine works, the capabilities and limitations. I found two CNC pros to do my work, and a laser guy.

How to make the figures for the clocks? I found a wood carver who didn’t work out. I found another, but his life changed. Then I discovered 3D printing, thanks to a friend of a friend, who let me borrow his printer. Much to my surprise I discovered that I can sculpt. So, I did. Then bought an Einscan to digitize my clay figures. Suddenly I could make my own people and dogs and birds and whatever I dreamed for my clocks! Next I found a jewel of man who does my 3D printing for me.

The first clock I completed I made entirely; the Sesame Street Cuckoo Clock for Carroll Spinney’s retirement.

This is called doing the work. Which requires the patience of giving it take the time it needs. And strapping blinders on to everything else.

2. Get Out There

After you do the work, people will want to find you. Of course, I’ve made it easy for them by putting myself out there.

My appearances on HGTV and A&E and ultimately my best-selling book were due to becoming known in the world of rubber duckies via my footprints on the internet.

Looking for a custom cuckoo clock Sesame Street Workshop found me thanks to Goggle.

Sometimes it comes about unintentionally. I wrote an article about fear and riding horses on my personal blog which was picked up and published by an online horse site.

I’ve found numerous opportunities for publicity via Help A Reporter Out.

When Shark Tank had an open call close by I pitched. I can’t say how far I got in the process, but it was an early confirmation of my business. I made it to the finals of the 5 Minute Pitch. Again, even though I didn’t win it was a 5 thumbs up (5 judges), especially of my “Willie Wonka” cuckoo clock factory idea.

Locally, I traded my Tundra for a Promaster van, had it wrapped and am turning it into a mobile gallery. I’ve become part of an extremely robust business and creative community here in north Georgia where our county state promote business, especially home grown.

I have agonized over taking the time to do these things. But I have found, even if not at the time, that I gained more than expected, even if I didn’t win the $50,000 or get on Shark tank, or get every piece published.

3. Be a Trail Blazer

A thought leader isn’t afraid. S/he sees the world differently and acts upon it.

It’s interesting now to hear what people in the quilting industry say about QNNtv.com, the online channel for quilters I was the face of, starting in the infant stages of video on the internet. They say I pioneered video in quilting. Yes, I suppose so. All I saw was the most amazing and effective opportunity ever to give people all over the world access to the best way to learn to quilt from teachers all over the world.

Of course, there’s the “she’s nuts” stage in the process. When you first hesitantly tell people of your vision and there’s “Oh. Good idea,” or “Interesting” then change of subject, or worse, a blank stare. With my destination location Disneyesque Cuckoo Clock Factory I almost whispered the words to people at first. Now, people are talking it up and sharing it and asking when they can visit!

Hold your vision in your mind’s eye. Live in it. See every deal as clear as day. Keep auditioning pieces, redrawing, painting, moving the furniture. Make it a foregone conclusion, a reality.

4. Give of yourself

When I was at QNNtv a friend asked me if I wanted to be on the Board of a quilting non-profit, The Quilt Alliance. I knew nothing about it, but as she was a trusted friend and said it was a good idea I agreed to. I hope I contributed a lot to the organization. I do know that I ended up making wonderful connections and making friends that I feel helped us in the industry better the industry, and in the process each other and ourselves.

5. Be Yourself : To be a thought leader you have to have your own thoughts

From way before a boyfriend told me “Jodie, you live in a rubber duckie world” which was meant as a diss, I have known that my uniqueness, my quirkiness, was one of my biggest assets. Since that moment of clarity I have explored that part of myself more.

By designing my own rubber duckie and now cuckoo clocks I have given them my own spin.

In fact, I am as I was introduced the other night “disrupting” the cuckoo clock industry by updating designs to todays tastes, reflect our passions and interest, and fit into today’s homes.

Clarice Cliff’s art deco designs are immediately recognizable. No need to look at the bottom of the pottery for her name. Her work was so unique it became its own a style. As Kleenex is to tissue. Her uniqueness made her a thought leader.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

Jenny Doan: Follow Your Passion and Give Value

Jenny started her career inadvertently, by posting You Tube videos of herself making a quilt block, then another, then another. She amassed a following. Then she started selling pre-cut fabrics to make it easy for her viewers to make the quilts she was teaching. Today, she and her family own a huge business that has overtaken Hamilton, Missouri, reviving the town and employing a lot of people.

Craig Wolfe: Create niche Within a Niche

Creating a niche is a powerful business strategy. Craig Wolfe of Celebriducks has done so in the rubber duck industry. He has differentiated himself in two ways: high quality and the characters he designs. Hold any rubber duckie in one had and a Celebriduck in the other. You will see that these aren’t run-of-the-mill duckies. Unlike almost all other rubber ducks, Celebriducks float upright. (Something I discovered when a reporter insisted we shoot that must-have scene of me in the bathtub with my rubber duckies.) He makes beautifully sculpted and painted celebrity ducks in the likenesses of basketball stars, Presidents, The Three Stooges, and even Moses! He has redefined rubber ducks and built a nice, lucrative business. This is exactly what I’m doing with cuckoo clocks.

Charlotte Lee: Be the Hub and Go For the Gold

Through her passion for rubber duckies Charlotte Lee positioned herself to become one of the go-to experts by creating a social media page for collectors and hosting annual meetups. Along the way she amassed a huge collection of rubber duckies, figured out how to attain the Guinness World’s Record for rubber duckies, and did so. Her focus is now on her career right, not rubber duckies, but anyone researching rubber duckies finds her, so she pops up in articles repeatedly. A thought leader for sure!

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

Agreed. Because it’s thrown around so much. But as is true of all truisms, there is a reason it is considered trite. Its truth is proven over and over.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

No advice. I’ve never been burnt out. But I can share this…

My “meditation” is my horses. One of the many lessons I have learned from them is staying present. That one we are all aware of these days. The other, which builds open presence, is the ability to deal with anxiety. To self-regulate.

To help my horses live in the human world, I gain their trust me by asking for their focus. This way I become their safety. They start to be afraid of that monster in the trees, but come right down when I say, “Hey I’m here, focus on me.” Practicing this focus resets both of us.

Anxiety is the inability to come down from an up, whether real or imagined. Practice bringing yourself up and breathing yourself down. This will serve you well when emotions try to run away with you.

It also works to take you back into your vision. In your mind build every piece of your goal around you. Breath that air. Re-center. That is your sustenance.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Oh heavens, a “movement” isn’t me. I just want to spread smiles.

While I’m all-in for technology and what great tools it offers us, personal relationships are what sustain and grow us. That’s why everything I have become a leader in — quilting (nothing says love like sleeping under a handsewn quilt), rubber duckies (a bundle of smiles packaged in squeaky-clean cuteness), and now cuckoo clocks (enchanting family keepsakes handed down for generations) — have the common theme of making people smile, delight young and old.

My dream is to create a destination to be experienced (walk into an enormous cuckoo clock), a place that fills all ages with wonder and smiles (chock full of cuckoo clocks, both my designs and a fantastic cuckoo clock museum), intrigues them to learn something (play a song on giant cuckoo bellows), and use their imaginations (design your own cuckoo clock). It will be The American Cuckoo Clock Factory, here in Canton, Georgia.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

It’s the Nike adage: “Just Do It!”

In my darkest days, single, alone living on an isolated farm suddenly without a job and refusing to take a job that required me getting in my truck and leaving the horses every day, I spent a couple of years in the manure pile, literally, knowing I was making great earth to nurture the seed of my next incarnation. I had no idea what I was going to do. So, I started two businesses, built two websites, two social media accounts and followings, messed with graphics, etc. knowing that whatever turned out to be the path to take I would need those skills.

Do something. Even when you don’t know your goal. Learn. Explore. IT will reveal itself. But only if you DO.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Ernie, though sorry I’m sure he’s too immersed in bubbles singing to his rubber duckie to read this. Good place to be!

How can our readers follow you on social media?


Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.

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