Be genuine and willing to help: Above all, be your authentic self. It’s easier to build a platform when you genuinely want to help people. The warmth will show and the people will respond.
As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry,I had the pleasure of interviewing Ganes Kesari, a co-founder and head of analytics at Gramener, a data science company. Gramener solves business problems by identifying data insights and presenting them as stories. Ganes advises CEOs and other CXOs of large corporates, as well as senior leadership of NGOs and Governments. He is an expert on the application of data science and helps companies build teams and imbibe a culture of data. He is an international speaker, corporate trainer and a passionate writer. He is on a mission to simplify data science and help everyone understand its true potential.
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 spent the first 8 years of my career consulting on technology to solve business problems. We then stumbled upon the challenge faced by enterprises in making sense of data. I co-founded Gramener 8 years ago, and have been helping organizations tell stories using data. I advise executives on getting started with data analytics, and help organizations adopt machine learning and AI for decision making. I head Analytics and lead innovation efforts through our AI Labs.
At Gramener, we built our offerings around data analytics and visualization, well before big data or data science became buzzwords. So, we spent a lot of time in educating our prospects by speaking at events and industry forums. You could call this marketing or data science evangelism, but we have been passionate about solving the problem of data consumption.
Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?
I’m not too comfortable referring to myself as a thought leader. I am passionate about data science and advocate its usage to transform our everyday lives. I draw from the practical experience of solving problems for hundreds of clients, around the world. I actively learn and share my knowledge with people. I have educated tens of thousands of people and published over 200 articles over a decade.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
A few years into operation, we came across an opportunity to do election analytics. This was for a big media house, CNN IBN, to cover India’s general elections where a billion votes were to be casted. Partnering with Microsoft, we built a comprehensive election analytics center. Finding patterns from 50 years of historical elections, we enabled the journalists to tell data stories on primetime television.
We also put together a real-time solution for the final counting day, to analyze every vote as the results were made public. It was shared on websites, through mobile apps and on national television.
The election analytics solution had a massive reach and we received over 10 million hits, in under 16 hours. The audience loved the data stories. From being an unknown, upcoming startup, we were transformed overnight into one of the country’s foremost analytics companies. Today, we have strong presence in the US, Singapore and India.
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?
A couple of months into operations, we were still setting up our office. We spent most of our time on the road, or working out of the client’s premises. I was expecting one of our early hires to join us. Instead of reporting at the client office as was planned, the person turned up at our registered office address.
While he knew that he was joining an early-stage startup, the culture shock of moving from a larger organization bowled him. To make matters worse, our office lacked some essential facilities, including a wired internet connection!
We did retain the person and he made some important early stage contributions. The lesson we learnt was to became more explicit in setting expectations, and prioritize some infrastructure facilities.
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 thought leader is someone who a) has expert-level knowledge in an area, b) is on top of the industry’s happenings and can foresee where things are headed, and c) raises awareness levels of the target audience by actively sharing and inspiring them.
Thought leaders champion big ideas and inspire their audience to see the industry more clearly. They thus have a bigger platform and reach than many leaders. In addition to influencing their followers, they educate and help them see things better, so that they can make informed decisions independently.
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?
Today, most information is freely available, but people are suffering from a deluge of details. They look for a trusted advisor to educate them on how they can be better prepared to face the market.
A thought leader can fill this gap, by winning the trust and showing the way ahead. This will earn them a loyal following and considerable influence. However, a note of caution. The prime driver should be the passion to learn and a genuine intent to help. The influence and followers are just desirable byproducts.
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?
When a thought leader cultivates an engaged audience, the organization gains more opportunities to reach them. It becomes easier to build awareness about the brand. And, if the audience finds the company’s offering attractive, they may be more open to interact and do business.
What’s key for the thought leader is to maintain the trust element and prevent it from getting overshadowed by the business economics.
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.
Everyone can build a platform and influence their audience. Here are 5 things that worked for me:
- Identify your niche: Pick an area of focus that you’re most passionate about. Spending full weekends on it should energize you, rather than feel like a lot of work! Stick to the niche and build your platform around it.
- Keep learning: While you put in time to build the platform and market it, never slow down on your learning. Stay curious, be willing to experiment and retain the mindset of a student.
- Educate others: Take time to teach and share your knowledge by writing, speaking and posting. That’s an easier way to keep learning. Find what matters to your audience most, and give it to them. Pick your channel and experiment.
- Get feedback: Find whether your content is resonating with your target audience. Don’t go just with the likes and shares. Meet people and take feedback. Improve upon your content and delivery.
- Be genuine and willing to help: Above all, be your authentic self. It’s easier to build a platform when you genuinely want to help people. The warmth will show and the people will respond.
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.
I admire Gary Vaynerchuk as a leader who has built an impressive platform and influence. He is known as a genuine person and shares knowledge in every interaction. His book ‘Crushing it’ was a great read.
He is a master at creating content. He has a huge following of people who have benefitted and been inspired by him. A great example of how thought leadership leads to long-term business opportunities.
I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?
The term “Thought leader” is overused in social profiles, often without enough thought. Perhaps they want to be identified as one who is known for their expertise, the compelling presence and their ability to influence people. However, it’s always better when others recognize these qualities in a person and use this term to refer to them.
What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?
One could get drawn deep into the never-ending cycle of deepening expertise, creating content and expanding the reach-out. It is helpful to remind ourselves to “Enjoy the journey”.
Today, there are plenty of opportunities available online. Fight the urge to do it all. Take time to prioritize and stick to your niche and your target audience. Learn to let go off things.
Another big challenge in this journey is ‘impostor syndrome’. Most people face it, but very few talk about it. It’s okay to not know it all. Acknowledge your triumphs along the way, and be kind to yourself.
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’m a big advocate of “Informed adoption of Artificial Intelligence”. What we find today are two extreme and opposing viewpoints. It’s either fear and paranoia around AI. Or, an irrational push for blind adoption.
AI needs to be understood better. Though it has been around for over half a century, the conditions are ripe now for mainstream adoption. But, when implemented wrong, it could lead to massive issues (ethical, privacy and security concerns) or it might end up under-leveraged.
We must educate people to get over the fear of AI. We should prepare them for active participation to drive regulations and a measured adoption.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“A ship in harbor is safe. But that is not what ships are built for.” Push yourself, take some bold risks, and be willing to experiment. Magic happens when you step outside your comfort zone.
This is a quote I try living by. When things become too predictable, it’s a sign that it’s time to shake them up a bit.
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. 🙂
I admire Elon Musk. He is a great visionary revolutionizing entire industries. It’s inspiring to listen to his thoughts on technology and the future of our human race.
Meeting him would be an experience. I’m reminded of the quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The mind, once stretched by a new idea, never returns to its original dimensions”.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.
“5 Things You Should Do To Become a Thought Leader In Your Industry”, with Ganes Kesari was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.