As a thought leader, you are not just representing the topic/field, however, you are showing your in-depth knowledge and analysis on the topic that you are covering. The biggest benefit of being a thought leader is that your voice matters. I know many people will jump on the opportunity to rectify my statement and say, “Every voice matter”. However, let me tell you the truth. It doesn’t! In industry, if every voice mattered then there would be anarchy and the industry would fail. When established ‘thought’ leaders say or specify something on the topic then it is common to trust that more than you would trust an average person’s statement on the topic. That being said, a thought leader also has to be careful of what he/she is stating as a wrong statement could easily tarnish the reputation of the leader. In reality, we do live in an unforgiving world. Another benefit of being a thought leader is that people look up to you and hence, bringing in more business opportunities since you have developed trust in your brand.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Somdip Dey.
Somdip Dey is an embedded Artificial Intelligence (AI) scientist at the University of Essex, UK, working on developing affordable artificial intelligence-based solutions accessible for developing countries. Somdip has developed several technologies to help people around the world and is also a serial entrepreneur with a focus on social impact. He also serves as a technical program committee member of several top technical conferences such as AAAI, CVPR, ICCV, IEEE CSE, IEEE CSCloud/EdgeCom, and is considered a thought leader in the field of information security and AI.
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 born in Kolkata, India on December 13, 1990. The reason to mention my date of birth is to give you a sense of the time and place where I was born. Growing up the use of technology was scarce, yet many challenges that people faced every day could have been solved by the use of tech. While I was studying an undergraduate degree in computer science I got incorporated into a research group and since then I noticed that cutting edge research influences the progress of different fields as well as the industry. It also allowed me to share my findings through research papers, presentations, and patents. Although most researchers spend a lot of time presenting their work either verbally or through written means, however, not everyone is considered as a thought leader in their particular chosen field. It has been 10 years since working in the industry and academia when I finally realized that there are exact steps that a person can take to become a thought leader rather than hoping that one day they will become one.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
I still consider myself just a scientist and an engineer, who loves to develop technology to help others. However, if my expertise, experience and media exposure is considered then most other people consider me as a thought leader in information security and AI. You might have also come across several articles and news including media houses such as Cosmopolitan, USA Today, Business Insider, Times of India, covering my work and expertise on the aforementioned topics.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
There are lots of stories to share but this one stuck to me because it was so unexpected. A couple of months ago I receive an email from a journalist out of the blue, asking to share my story of how I came up with the idea of developing QR authentication system, which authenticates and authorizes student’s transcripts and degrees digitally in order to prevent fake transcripts and degrees creation. I wasn’t expecting this kind of email and being an over-sharer, I provided a detailed story. However, only the main bits of the story made it to the article. This was an interesting one because it taught me one thing: Just share the relevant or important points because other people just want to know the interesting bits.
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?
When I was starting to share my experiences and expertise as a thought leader, one lesson that every thought leader has to learn is how to curate information so that it is interesting to the audience. Often when journalists reach out for a comment on a topic, they want interesting information with a twist. They want originality and a story that stands out. However, just to make the story original don’t just put information, which might come back at you at a later point. What do I mean by that? Let me share a story of mine.
This year a journalist reached out to me regarding management policies in a company that shows empathy towards employees. I thought I would share my personal story that made me more empathetic towards my colleagues and employees in the company. In 2018, I went through a break-up, which led to PTSD issues and made me unable to perform well at work, finally leading me to step down from my position temporarily till I sort my life out. During that period people have supported my decision and the choices I ‘ve made, making me grow in the process. At the time of sharing this story, I didn’t realize that sharing something so personal could mean sharing privacy with the whole wide world. Although this news is now public and often causes a spark of conversation during an event or get-together, however, while sharing this piece of information I didn’t realize that I was sharing private moments with the rest of the world. Thinking about it now, I do giggle inside because I made my own personal life ‘public’.
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?
I consider a thought leader to be visionary, not just an industry leader on a particular domain. Any field progresses because of innovation and progressive thinking required on the topic. The one who practices maintaining the cutting edge or latest knowledge on the topic is a leader, however, the one who envisions where the topic or field could lead to in the future through progressive thinking, innovation, expertise, and knowledge is a thought leader. Thought leaders are not just leaders but they have a definitive future vision for the field. On the other hand, influencers are the people who encourage others to follow the topic by sharing knowledge and experience on that particular topic. However, it should be kept in mind most thought leaders, influencers and typical leaders often are the same person and there’s a fine gray area, which makes things much more indistinguishable among each role.
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?
As a thought leader, you are not just representing the topic/field, however, you are showing your in-depth knowledge and analysis on the topic that you are covering. The biggest benefit of being a thought leader is that your voice matters. I know many people will jump on the opportunity to rectify my statement and say, “Every voice matter”. However, let me tell you the truth. It doesn’t! In industry, if every voice mattered then there would be anarchy and the industry would fail. When established ‘thought’ leaders say or specify something on the topic then it is common to trust that more than you would trust an average person’s statement on the topic. That being said, a thought leader also has to be careful of what he/she is stating as a wrong statement could easily tarnish the reputation of the leader. In reality, we do live in an unforgiving world.
Another benefit of being a thought leader is that people look up to you and hence, bringing in more business opportunities since you have developed trust in your brand.
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 mentioned earlier, being a thought leader has its own perks such as being perceived as an authority on the topic/field. Therefore, making it more desirable for others in the industry to collaborate and forge a long-term relationship. It also brings more opportunities to represent your topic/field in media. For example, ever since being covered in several media publications many institutes and independent researchers have reached out to collaborate with me on a particular project and hence bringing in lucrative opportunities.
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.
To become a thought leader, it’s not just about gaining domain knowledge and expertise. It requires strategy. No one in the industry would know whether you are an expert on a topic or not until you let them know about it. So, at the end of the day, the only way to communicate your knowledge and expertise is either through verbal or written approaches. You need to use both effectively in order to position yourself as a thought leader in your industry. I call it personal brand management (PBM). When it comes to different kinds of communication I follow the 5 following strategies towards my PBM:
- Post articles on your field/topic in LinkedIn and then tweet the summary
- Make a visual content of the same post and share it on Instagram/Snapchat
- Appear for interviews by reaching out to potential journalists and share your story
- When the interviews appear online/tele-device then share the news with existing social media platforms to make others aware of such interviews
- Collaborate on different projects with other thought leaders and influencers
Although the aforementioned strategies are my day-to-day proven routine to position myself in the industry as a thought leader, however, the steps are not serial in nature. A little while ago I posted my research progress on the Internet of Things (IoT) security as an article on LinkedIn, which later invoked interest in a journalist. The same journalist later arranged an interview cum comment on the latest security threat posed by Asia’s notorious black hat Platinum group. When my interview came out I shared it on my usual social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram to create more buzz on the topic and reach out to even more audiences.
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.
In my opinion, I would consider Tim Ferriss, the author of “The 4-Hour Work Week”, to be one of the most strategic thought leaders out there. Although his initial fame came from his famous book, however, ever since he has appeared on several podcasts and interviews, both verbal and written, including TED Talk, where he continues to talk about a range of topics including personal growth and development while sharing his own experience. I find him most genuine because he shares his own experience on the topic rather than speaking about generic things, which most people are already aware of.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
Yes, I do agree that the term “thought leader” is a bit overused and many people now self-proclaim themselves as a thought leader. Such leaders might call themselves a thought leader, however, they lack authenticity. For example, I have noticed many people on some social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, just post other thought leader’s main take on a topic claiming as their own so that they can fish for some likes. Such wanna-be thought leaders lack uniqueness and can also not share their own life experiences to back the claims they make in their posts. Don’t be such a person. Be authentic and other people will value that more.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
If you can’t speak on a topic that you are not familiar with or might not have a lot to talk about then please be honest about it. Often I get an interview request or request to comment on a topic that I am not comfortable to talk about or don’t believe that I am the right person to speak on that topic. In such cases, I don’t hesitate to decline even if it is for big publications or media houses. Don’t panic or be upset about missing the opportunity. You are not god, we are mere mortals and we also have our own limits. Always believe that in the future better opportunities would come.
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. 🙂
I noticed a trend, which has existed since the internet was first made available. The trend is that internet people often hide behind anonymity and leave rude comments or bully the statements made by thought leaders. Such people, who are hiding behind anonymity and bogus identity to bully others, need to put themselves in the victim’s shoes and reconsider whether their act is justified or not. Often times rude comments and online bullying could result in devastating incidents where the victims committing suicide in order to save themselves from humiliation. Personally, I have experienced this kind of online bullying several times and over time I have learned how to not react to such incidents. For example, when I used to write for SHEfinds magazine on technology I would often receive comments on my articles mentioning that I should quit writing because according to those bullies I am spreading rumors, which are in fact based on published research. The bullies need to be more empathetic and considerate about others and think twice before bullying others or leave rude comments. If you are reading this then my wish is that you can spread this message to others, whoever uses the internet.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
As I grow older I became more affirmative of a quote mentioned by Steve Jobs as follows:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
Nowadays I find that many things I have done or experienced a long time ago are becoming more useful in recent times, may that be at work or in personal life. Although I still do not believe in fate, I guess our past experience makes us wiser and hence result in a more fruitful job/life. So, my take on the story is that experience a lot and do a lot of things in your life with a little faith that moving forward those experiences would be helpful and useful at some point.
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. 🙂
Yes, I would love to lunch with Elon Musk at some point and seek his mentoring on my business ideas. I strongly believe that having a mentor such as him to guide me in my business ventures would be really beneficial for both of us since my work mostly revolves around social impacts such as reducing food waste or improving quality of life through the use of AI and other cutting edge technology.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
You could follow me on Twitter @somdipdey or LinkedIn and Instagram. To stay up to date on tech topics developed by me then you could also follow my progress on the personal website at http://somdipdey.co.uk
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.