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Joe Jackman: “Seek Insight Everywhere”

Thought leadership as I am describing is akin to innovation. Not everyone is built to innovate, but if you are naturally inclined there is one defining characteristic worth noting: leaders CONTINUALLY lead. That’s how they remain leaders. They don’t accept that things have been figured out and done. They don’t rest. By inclination, determination, and […]

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Thought leadership as I am describing is akin to innovation. Not everyone is built to innovate, but if you are naturally inclined there is one defining characteristic worth noting: leaders CONTINUALLY lead. That’s how they remain leaders. They don’t accept that things have been figured out and done. They don’t rest. By inclination, determination, and motivation, they continue to move ahead with new ways of thinking and doing. The benefit is notoriety, where people (even entire industries) look to you for guidance. That is an enormous advantage no matter what your profession.


As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Jackman, the CEO of Jackman Reinvents, the world’s first and foremost reinvention company. An advisor to consumer brands, retailers, B2B companies, and private equity partners for more than thirty years, Jackman has proven invaluable to leaders intent on sharpening strategy and orchestrating insight-led reinventions of their businesses. Throughout his career as a strategist, creative director, marketer, and Reinventionist, he has helped companies create the most powerful and relevant versions of their brands and businesses in record time. He is widely considered to be the leading expert on rapid reinvention.

On January 28, 2020, Joe releases his first book, The Reinventionist Mindset: Learning to Love Change and the Human How of Doing It Brilliantly. In it, Jackman traces his journey to becoming a Reinventionist and shows readers how to create purposeful change. Jackman lives in Toronto, Canada, works across North America, and lectures around the globe.


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?

I was educated in industrial design, began my career as a designer, and eventually became a creative director. This was where I came to understand the strategy and how it impacts design and ultimately business outcomes. I evolved as a strategist throughout the years to the point where I left consulting for a few years and became CMO/EVP Marketing at Canada’s largest publicly-traded retailer. It was here I realized the world is moving at a pace, and how difficult it truly is to bring about change in large corporations. I saw an opportunity to re-engineer how strategy is shaped and brought to life by bringing together the essential disciplines of brand and business strategy together with design and activation in a much tighter, more cohesive way. The result was the ability to take transformative actions FASTER. This led me to found a new business model, Jackman Reinvents, fully equipped to partner with leaders on rapid reinvention.

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

Having helped more than forty companies quickly get back to growth and relevance, my area of focus and expertise is change, thought leadership in regard to how people think and behave through transformational change. In short, how they re-examine their position in the world, face up to the need for change, figure out where to go and why, and then get on with doing it.

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

After design school, I started a creative consulting business with some classmates. We helped companies sharpen their brands and shaped every aspect of how they showed up in the marketplace, from positioning through brand identity and customer experience. It was a great success and the company carries on to this day. Yet, after 17 years at the helm, I did a crazy thing and accepted a newly-created leadership position with one of my clients. For the first time in my career, I was not a consultant but rather a senior executive with hundreds of employees, an annual budget totaling more than 300 million dollars, and co-owner of a giant P&L along with my peers and CEO. Within a few crazy years, I learned what it really takes to run and build a business, to not only shape but execute strategy, and to have in my hands the levers to make change happen. It was thrilling and intensely challenging, whether it was orchestrating massive transformational change — the business was being restructured at the time — or simply running the business of marketing day to day. Those years, which I think of now as ‘senior executive boot camp’, were career-defining for me.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

To call this a mistake might be a stretch, just a giant gaffe. As a young entrepreneur in the creative industry, me and my partner were pitching several innovative concepts we had developed for a global coffee company. To our surprise, they invited us in to present to their entire executive team. It was a mad dash to build a compelling presentation, but by the dawn of presentation day, we were fully prepared. We even bought sharp new suits and made sure to arrive on the day of the meeting with time to spare. Just prior to beginning the meeting I ducked out to the restroom to make sure I looked presentable, and as I turned on the tap water sprayed all over me. The visual effect on my light brown pants was to suggest something worse had happened! Thinking quick, I cozied up to the wall-mounted air dryer to quickly dry my front — picture that in your mind — only to have the CEO walk into the restroom and say, “Good morning! Having some trouble there are you?” I died from embarrassment. The take-away of the story: always prepare yourself for absolutely every eventuality, and maybe don’t go to the washroom before a big presentation. In case you were wondering, we landed the gig.

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?

Well, let me first define what I interpret to be the difference between thought leaders and influencers. Thought leaders are pioneers in some way. They break new ground, are continually pushing forward to break new ground. Sometimes this is connecting dots that have not been connected before, and other times it is coming up with entirely ‘net new’ thinking. Influencers may or may not be thought leaders; they tend to get onto what is ‘new and next’ and, through their connectivity, spread the word and get people to be aware and inclined to support this thought or that. Both roles are valuable yet thought leadership is fundamental to moving us all forward, this continuous pushing against the edges of what is known and codifying it so others can follow.

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?

Thought leadership as I am describing is akin to innovation. Not everyone is built to innovate, but if you are naturally inclined there is one defining characteristic worth noting: leaders CONTINUALLY lead. That’s how they remain leaders. They don’t accept that things have been figured out and done. They don’t rest. By inclination, determination, and motivation, they continue to move ahead with new ways of thinking and doing. The benefit is notoriety, where people (even entire industries) look to you for guidance. That is an enormous advantage no matter what your profession.

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?

As thought leadership is the continual pursuit of what is new and next, it is essentially the fuel for companies to continually refresh themselves — next-generation products, services and/or customer experience. The benefit of thought leadership as a commercial practice is to continually have the next act of the business insight so, as the world changes and customers’ expectations shift, leadership can sustain relevance and strategic advantage. Companies that invest in thought leadership or, more broadly speaking innovation, are those that stay with the curve rather than risk falling behind. McDonald’s is a great example of this, having been able to sustain itself for decades. The core of their business is burgers and fries and they keep innovating this core offering, for example, the recently launched ‘fresh not frozen’ Quarter Pounder. Yet they also continue to innovate and evolve with customer expectations. Think of their continued evolution in coffee, from merely a menu item to the retooling of their network of stores to the McCafe format, where customers are welcomed into a sit-down environment that encourages social activity. Thought leadership equals growth and continued relevance.

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.

Coincidentally, I recently wrote my first book, The Reinventionist Mindset: Learning to love change and the human how of doing it brilliantly, where I outline five principles for those wishing to become thought leaders and doers in an era of rapid change. They are:

Seek Insight Everywhere — Open your aperture to what may be. Have your ear to the ground for the faint signals of what is coming. Look beyond what is now and happening right in front of you. Begin looking at other categories to serve as inspiration. You need real insights to create strategy, so dig deep to find them.

Embrace Uncertainty — Ultimately, leadership requires both breaking new ground and a degree of fearlessnes. This principle is all about accepting that change requires having the courage to ‘prove and move’ your way forward.

Create the Future Now — This is thought leadership applied, the practice of continually getting things out of your head and the lab and into the real world so you can learn from them in real time. This is a common practice in the tech industry, but not as widely practiced in other industries. The stance we must adopt is one of fast action and testing. The future isn’t a far off place, it arrives daily.

Obsess the Outcome — Simply put, this speaks to focus and setting a BHAG. I am a big believer in setting sights higher, getting crystal clear on the place you intend to get to, and then relentlessly executing toward it.

Make Momentum Together — Hard to argue that we are stronger as a community than as individual change-makers. The more we work together the more unstoppable we become. That is worth thinking about as 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.

You won’t be surprised to hear that I am a fan of fellow Reinventionists, those who have pushed forward in not only thought leadership but in the evolution of themselves as thinkers and practitioners. One famous example that comes to mind is Oprah Winfrey, a true Reinventionist. From her beginnings as an actor and talk show host to her development as an advocate for women to author and media force, she continues to grow and evolve while maintaining true to roots and unique DNA. Who knows, maybe one day she will be President.

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

I have a bias. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the term “thought leader”. Unfortunately, though the term doesn’t come with the vital second part: thought leader and doer. I am more a fan of those who think in a forward way and act into that, those who put their ideas into motion. Honestly, the world doesn’t need more people thinking up stuff; what we need is leaders applying what they develop and turning it into value… financial value, cultural value, human value.

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

I seldom think leaders take seriously the notion of pausing and refreshing themselves. We have been conditioned (at least in my generation) that work is a constant pursuit, an ethic defined by continuously doing and producing. Now, as I’m sure you’ve gathered already, I am a believer in doing. But I also know how creative minds work. We need downtime to not only reenergize but to break new ground and solve problems. In order to trigger the subconscious we can’t always be engaged. So, as a regular practice, disengage! Both your mind and productivity will flourish.

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. 🙂

Learning to love change is the movement I wish to catalyze. Let’s stop being so fearful of change and desperate to hold on to the way things are. When we do we set ourselves up for failure. Instead let’s practice the 5 principles of the Reinventionist Mindset, learn to love change and be brilliant at it. That’s the movement I’m leaning into.

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

Most definitely a quote from Jerry Garcia, of the band the Grateful Dead. He said, “You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only one who does what you do”. When I first read that it struck me as the purest and most powerful way to describe what a brand is. A brand isn’t interchangeable. It isn’t benchmarked by its peers. It stands alone as a category of one. It is not only profound to me, but inspired me to create the business model for Jackman Reinvents. I founded it on the idea of creating Category of One business, those that continually become their most powerful and relevant.

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. 🙂

Jim Collins, best-selling author of Built to Last and Good to Great. If you are reading this Jim, thank you. You have contributed so much. It would be an absolute privilege to chat over a meal and share thoughts on making change.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

They can find me on LinkedIn or Instagram @thehumanhow, or sign up for updates on joejackman.com

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