By MJ Petroni
What is a Thought Partner?
Thought partnership is the practice of sharing ideas and experience with others to help them navigate complex challenges. This sounds a lot like advice or mentorship, but the key difference is that thought partnership is always mutually beneficial. When you pair with people who think like you do, you resonate—becoming a ‘sounding board’ for each others’ best ideas. When you pair with people who think differently than you do, you complement—stretching each others’ view of a situation to find and sort useful new approaches to a problem.
Thought partnership can take many different forms and be a part of various partnership models. People often pay for thought partnership directly (as in coaching and consulting relationships), but thought partnership can also show up in less-formal relationships, such as a research buddy, good colleague or mentor.
Thought leadership vs thought partnership
Real world problems, real time conversations
When first introduced to the idea of thought partnership, many people find it sounds a lot like thought leadership without a stage or channel. But thought partnership provides incredible value in collaboratively addressing real world problems, often in real time, often using principles and ideas from great thought leadership.
Reciprocity is key
Thought partnership is powerful in that it puts both thinkers on the same level, even if they have different kinds of expertise or focus. Because thought partnership is almost always about problem solving or exploring something of mutual interest, it has less of a power dynamic than conversations strictly focused on an ‘expert’ advising someone who is less knowledgeable in a particular area.
Recognizing thought partnership
You can tell you’re engaged in thought partnership when it feels more like a conversation between peers than a presentation or critique (where one party has an implied or explicit power over another). Another sign of thought partnership is that both parties understand each others’ environments and have empathy for each other’s problems.
What kind of thought partner are you?
To understand what you could offer—or may want to look for—as a thought partner, you have to first understand your own thinking and areas of expertise. Our colleague Mark Bonchek recently wrote a great article, “What kind of thinker are you?” in conjunction with Elisa Steele, CEO of Jive. Take a moment to read their article, and see which of the eight styles of thinking in their model most inspire you. When you’ve found one or two styles that best describe you, imagine how your unique perspective effects the value you naturally bring to thought partnership conversations with your clients and colleagues.
Explorer thinking is about generating creative ideas.
Planner thinking is about designing effective systems.
Energizer thinking is about mobilizing people into action.
Connector thinking is about building and strengthening relationships.
Expert thinking is about achieving objectivity and insight.
Optimizer thinking is about improving productivity and efficiency.
Producer thinking is about achieving completion and momentum.
Coach thinking is about cultivating people and potential.
An organization needs to integrate all of these different styles of thinking in order to innovate. Of course, the proportions will vary: most organizations naturally bias towards certain types of thinking. For example, a company who has iterated on the same style of coffeemaker for thirty years probably has many producers, optimizers and experts in its leadership. But now that they are designing a connected coffeemaker, they will need to have strategic input from Explorers of digital products, Connectors to strategic partners to build the companion app, Energizers who catalyze new marketing efforts and Planners to ramp up the IT department’s capabilities and security. If the company or colleague you’re talking to doesn’t have all the perspectives required to tackle their next challenge or opportunity, they will need thought partners to help them expand their current thinking and plan for the future.
The Thinking Style concept, names and style explanations are © 2015 Mark Bonchek and Elisa Steele; used with permission.