What a book called Sprint teaches us about great thought leadership

Authored by Rachel Ainsworth on 21st March, 2017

When was the last time someone you know and respect recommended a business book to you? In my experience, it doesn’t happen all that often. So when Fiona (our co-founder) gushed about Sprint: How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days I didn’t hesitate to load up my Kindle and get stuck in. I wasn’t disappointed, and I suspect you won’t be either.

However, this is not a book review. The reason I’m writing about it is that it’s a great example of thought leadership, with lessons for all of us, whatever topic or format we use.

Here are our top five:

1. Great thought leadership has a very clear elevator pitch. Within moments, the potential reader or viewer should know what your thought leadership sets out to do, who it is suitable for, and how this information will be delivered.

In our example, Sprint, the title alone provides a lot of useful information. And the 134-word elevator pitch tells you all you need to know before making that vital proceed or abandon decision:

Sprint is a book about surprising ideas: that the biggest challenges require less time, not more; that individuals produce better solutions than teams; and that you can test anything in one week by building a realistic façade.

Sprint takes you behind the scenes with some of America's most fascinating start-ups as they sprint on difficult problems. You'll meet a hotel robotics maker searching for the perfect robot personality, an innovative coffee roaster expanding to new markets, a company organizing the world's cancer data, and Slack, the fastest-growing business app in history.

A practical guide to answering critical business questions, Sprint is a book for teams of any size, from small start-ups to Fortune 100s, from teachers to non-profits. It’s for anyone with a big opportunity, problem, or idea who needs to get answers today.

2. Great thought leadership is created by credible authors. People want to know who is telling them what they ought to do differently about their business, and why they ought to take notice. And on a pragmatic note, it’s rather difficult to challenge current thinking unless you’ve spent time doing just that.

Here’s how the author is introduced in this example: Jake Knapp created the Google Ventures sprint process and has run more than a hundred sprints with start-ups such as 23andme, Slack, Nest, and Foundation Medicine. Previously, Jake worked at Google, leading sprints for everything from Gmail to Google X. He is currently among the world’s tallest designers.

3. Detailed examples make concepts meaningful and memorable. I was so inspired by the concepts in the book that it became a topic of conversation at dinner on Saturday night. And what did I use to explain what I’d learnt? The real-life examples used in the book. It was these examples—the robotics maker, the coffee roaster, the company organising cancer data, and Slack—that stuck in my mind and helped me explain what Sprint is all about. And all the evidence about what people relate to and what they remember confirms that I’m not unusual (on this matter at least).

4. You can give away more detail than you think. There is a lot of practical guidance in this book—perhaps not surprising, given it is a step-by-step guide to a five day process. However, although many readers will be encouraged to use these instructions to go it alone, we suspect that some—the ideal clients with the budget to do so—will decide to contact the authors and explore consulting opportunities.

We are not saying that every piece of thought leadership should provide this level of detail. But most firms can afford to give away quite a lot more which, in turn, will help readers realise how complex a process is and how consulting support could be helpful.

5. Structure matters. The very clear structure of this book makes it easy to know where the path is going when reading from start to finish. It also makes it easy to browse and to go back and find relevant information. This contrasts starkly with many reports that either employ cryptic headings that mean little to the reader, or avoid mapping out the journey for the reader altogether.

Very few of us will ever write a book. But we can all apply the approaches taken by the creators of Sprint to make our own thought leadership stand out and encourage people to heartily recommend it to their colleagues.