How researchers get heard
Abstract lines

Who Are Your Thought Leadership Partners?

The venture capitalist Laura Deming is advertising for one of the most beguiling ideas I’ve heard in some time: a thought partner.

For Deming, this partner would be someone like her: fascinated by science; working in a profession “related and orthogonal to it”; keeping up with the literature in one or more fields; and desiring someone with whom regularly to explore science-related ideas.

Deming (the general partner and founder of the Longevity Fund, a VC firm that invests in and incubates companies developing drugs for aging and age-related diseases) lays out a list of values and qualities she wants to share with her thought partner:

  • Chain ideas together coherently
  • Researcher or a professional with academic interests (I’m the latter)
  • Consume papers avidly, and have taste on which you like
  • Intellectually humble enough not to make bold claims without caveats, but courageous enough to want to find general principles
  • You like to get your hands dirty when it comes to papers — your immediate instinct is to quickly try to run the program, call a friend in a lab to vet some info, or find an alternate way to visualize the equation. Not doing this feels a bit uncomfortable and dishonest, if you’re really interested in the question at hand
  • Interested in the history of science
  • You love explaining things to others – your eyes light up and you feel a rush of joy when able to explain something you understand deeply to an interested observer.

“My goal would be to chat once a week about intellectual topics of interest, and possibly work on some side projects together,” she writes. “I think starting with a low bar to build an intellectual bridge is generally a good idea.”

What a beautifully refreshing oasis in a time of accelerating intellectual rigidity.

If you’re a researcher, I assume (or hope) you already have colleagues with whom you share a similar (if not more intense) dynamic. You need one, especially given that researchers tend to evaluate novel ideas negatively when they see other researchers express negative views of the ideas — a dynamic that reinforces conservatism in research.

But if you’re interested in public engagement as a researcher, I think you should have a similar partner to talk about how to bridge your work, insights and ideas to non-specialists.It could be a fellow researcher with similar interests or a communications strategist.

A thought leadership partnership needs to be more than just communications strategy and tactics as we usually think about them — about executing a promotion. It needs to be about creating ideas, solutions and paradigms that better fit and lead the world. For that, you shouldn’t be on your own.

I’m going to compose a similar list of values for researcher thought leadership partners. What values and qualities would be on your list?