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Looking Into the Future through Thought Leadership | Peter Griffiths

Looking Into the Future through Thought Leadership | Peter Griffiths

Using thought leadership to plan cities, tell stories, and think differently.

An interview with Peter Griffiths about using thought leadership to build a better tomorrow.

Thought Leadership means peering around corners to predict changes, innovations, and challenges in your field. How far into the future is far enough? 5, 10, 20 years? Is it possible plan for 50 years down the road?

We answer these questions with the help of today’s guest, Peter Griffiths. Peter is the City Strategist at ING Media, and an Urban Content Consultant specializing in building cities that will thrive and grow. We discuss how he is using thought leadership to get ahead of the curve, and develop the cities that will embrace and support humanity’s future.

Looking into the future means asking the right questions about the impact of today’s choices, and how we can affect tomorrow’s dreams and solve challenges before they arise. Peter finds the right questions thanks to a background in journalism; he looks for right answers by understanding that a unique view of the world is valuable, but so is the strength of collaboration. By being willing to merge his vision with the expertise of others, Peter makes the world better for us all.

This conversation is an intriguing look into how thought leadership can help cities evolve, and also the ways that thought leadership can be used to predict – and plan for – humanity’s future.

Three Key Takeaways:
  • Your thought leadership should allow others to get ahead of the curve and plan for tomorrow.
  • Allow your thought leadership to take into account the experience and expertise of others, to benefit everyone.
  • Thought leadership should be transactional, focusing on two-way conversations and an open exchange of ideas.

Join the Organizational Thought Leadership Newsletter to learn more about expanding thought leadership within your organization! This monthly newsletter is full of practical information, advice, and ideas to help you reach your organization’s thought leadership goals.

And if you need help scaling organizational thought leadership, contact Thought Leadership Leverage!

Listen on Apple Podcasts or Google Podcasts!


Bill Sherman Some organizations focus on the next three to five years for their thought leadership and other organizations focused much further out 20, 50 or even 100 years. In today’s conversation, I sit down with Peter Griffiths, city strategist at ING Media, and he’s using his skills as a former investigative journalist and an academic to look into the far future to determine what specific cities might become. And what do they need to do today to get there? We’ll be looking into the future and talking about the time horizons of thought leadership in this episode. I’m Bill Sherman, and this is Leveraging Thought Leadership ready. Let’s begin. Welcome to the show, Peter.

Peter Griffiths Thank you. It’s wonderful to be here with. So you have

Bill Sherman an interesting title city strategist, and you’re doing thought leadership for cities, but the city itself, the physical buildings and space are not the consumers of thought leadership. What are you doing? Felt leadership for? Who are you trying to reach?

Peter Griffiths Thank you trying to or is it a range of audiences? So in some ways you’re right, the buildings don’t consume the city, but people consume the buildings and they consume the spaces between the building. So you have people like you and me who are a target for how cities work and how they should work. Then you’ve got the big investors who spend money either directly or through developers to bring big new pieces of city online or to regenerate existing pieces of city. And then you have the cities themselves who are thinking about what it is that they want for their residents. What kind, what are the big global challenges that they’re trying to solve? And how does how do these things fit together neatly to ensure that their city has profound people visited or learned or invest in it so that there’s a broad range of people and cities, which is in many ways what makes them interesting?

Bill Sherman Well, and I would assume a very complex process, too. So before we dove into the work at hand, maybe you can help give an example of some of the thought leadership work that you’ve done and sort of the insights that you gained through thought leadership around cities.

Peter Griffiths Yeah, I can definitely give that a go. I think that the one thing that but maybe if we start small. So imagine a developer or investors wanting to bring on a new piece of city and they wanting to think about how do they not just think about the residential offer? How did they think of the commercial offer, the retail offer? And how does it all fit together? And so it can create a piece of research just talking to people who really understand where cities are growing, asking them some questions around mixed use. So how do these different things come together and then create a thought exercise? Well, if we know the trajectory was that 50 years ago, everything sat on its own. So the office said on its own, the house sat on its own. Retail was in its own building. Today, we’re mixing it up a little bit. What could 50 years in the future look like? And so our opportunity was to create a thought exercise of its position, the developing today. Let’s give the developer an opportunity to think about what the trajectory might be in 50 years time to talk about that as a way of positioning themselves ahead of the curve. So that’s sort a small scale, you know, trying to think about well. How can somebody position themselves with in time when they not ahead of the curve yet? So there’s an opportunity to use a thought exercise like that, but I think that kind of the more macro scale is because you have cities that are many cities around the world that are actually trying to say very similar things. So they’re trying to say that they are testbeds for innovation. They have early adopter populations. They are sustainable, very livable. And so when it comes to thought leadership in cities, what you’re actually trying to do is stack a whole lot of pieces which are actually quite similar when you look at them individually. But when you arrange them, you create something which makes it face recognizable. So ultimately, what you’re wanting to do with Thought Leadership Leverage cities is to is to take everything that’s true about the city and sometimes almost rearrange it in a way that makes it easier to see what’s actually happening in the city and makes it more. The idea of what the city represents more accessible to target audiences.

Bill Sherman So there’s a bit of storytelling in that regard because, as you said, no one wants to tell a story that says, we’re not very innovative here. We’re a lousy place, there’s an awful commute, et cetera. The quality of living is just awful. Please don’t come you, whether it’s business or tourists. So you have to paint those pieces in a story that’s still rooted in geography, culture, the community and the experience, right?

Peter Griffiths Yeah, well, they’re just going back to your comment, I would love to do some kind of guerrilla campaign of some sort of cumbia because I suspect people would still come. Yes, answering your question. I think there’s a lot of storytelling, but there’s a security issue, and I think that that’s the bit of thought leadership that I find. Almost the most appealing is it gives me the opportunity to just use my eyes. What is there? What is there to be seen in this place? And how what is the opportunity for being creative with what’s already there?

Bill Sherman And so you talk about curation and that goes to your background as a journalist. So let’s connect the two between that asking questions and curation into the work that you do on television. How does your past serve you now doing television?

Peter Griffiths Are probably a few lessons that I can draw, so I used to work as a journalist and I cut my teeth in many ways, writing headlines for a daily newspaper. And before I do, I’m thinking Twitter should be more generous with his card to call. Headline writing really teaches you to respect every word. And so the best content gets to the point quickly and positively. So I think that’s probably the first kind of benefit that I got as a journalist. I think I also worked for many years in television, and I benefited from having possibly one of the best executive producers in the business teaching over and over again about storytelling, not just about the script, also about how the images, the shot selection, the music and even the time that the show that particular story aired on television all impacted on meaning. And so just this idea that it’s not just about storytelling and it’s not just about words. It’s actually everything says something. Everything has meaning. And so it’s not just about being intentional about narrative, it’s also about the curation and how things fit together to allow you to have a journey. Typekit think that that’s probably a big part of using content to take people somewhere. It’s a big part of leadership for me. And then I think probably something else is really beneficial. Just in my journey is that I work between kind of the awkward gap between traditional media for television and print and internet, and trying to figure out what the relationship was trying to get content to work across both platforms or a range of different platforms. Help me to be quite agnostic. So in the sense that I am quite comfortable thinking of content is just something that needs to fit somewhere without being too governed by what is the platform. It’s more about what is the most efficient way to achieve delivery. And I think both, if you would allow me to have a fourth point to go beyond the rule of sticking to 3’s fourth point. I think the last one is that I didn’t actually do that much on my own writing, and even though writing is a really important skill that I encourage, people learn how to write. It’s like drawing if you want to be an artist. But I did a lot of reviewing an editorial and other people’s work, and in a sense, the big benefit of that is I slowly started realizing that certain things irritated me, and I got much more comfortable with my own voice. And so I think a lot of my background as a journalist is just taught to be comfortable with my own voice and to know my own voice. So.

Bill Sherman How did you make the jump between journalism and media and now thought leadership, where was that transformation? How did it happen?

Peter Griffiths Well, it is probably a slightly less clear jump from that, so I worked as an investigative journalist as it happened, and I realized that it wasn’t really what I wanted to be doing. I enjoyed my job, but I kept gravitating towards cities and built environments and wanting to tell stories about just cities. And so I left my position and I did a massive city design. And the big reason I did, I did it at the London School of Economics is that they had a degree that’s focused more on the social side of cities, which is more what I was interested in. I wasn’t so much interested in the engineering, although I love bridges, I love tall buildings. I was more interested in, well, if we put those things on the ground, what do they say and what does that mean for People’s Appreciation Place? And while I was studying the benefit of my journalism, background meant that I started doing some freelance work for the university, which then turned into a full time job. So I spent five years helping a global program looking at the future cities to create content from research. And slowly but surely, I got research researchers more confident this idea that I wasn’t interfering with the independence by helping them with the research design stage to ensure that actually whatever piece of content was generated from the research had impact whether it was a policy audience or a general audience. And so in a sense that you kind of grow. Perhaps the beginnings of leadership. How do you take something and get a lot more out of it? And a lot of translation work. And then in a script that in many ways I was still the journalist surrounded by a lot of city experts. So I couldn’t really be the city expert. So I had to go back into comes where I could kind of do the full circle of all. My colleagues are the comms experts. I can hang up my journalist hat and I can be the city’s expert. And so in some ways, even though I went from effectively comes into academia and cities and back into problems in that journey, I was able to flip the switch from being the communications experts are being more the city’s experts.

Bill Sherman Well, and I think one of the things that you point out there is expertise is also tied relative to place. Right? So if you’re surrounded by experts who are all doing the same thing that you are, you’re not you’re not as distinctive. But if you start moving into an area where you are the one with expertise and you can rely on the expertise of others for other skills, then you bring something to the mix. One of the things that I go back to is, you mentioned early on this sort of timeframe of thinking 50 years ahead. And I knew a lot of people who think about leadership and do Thought Leadership Leverage. They’re happy to be thinking three to five years ahead, especially if they’re in tech. It may even be a shorter window, right? Whereas when you think about the history of cities London, for example, you go to Romano Britain or you go even back to Iron Age, there’s a history there that spans thousands of years already, right? And so you have this weight of context that drives the possibility of what the future can be.

Peter Griffiths Yeah, I think I’ve always had I mean, I wouldn’t call myself a futurist, but I’ve always had futurist tendencies in the sense of how does what we do today impacting what happens tomorrow? What is the consequence of our decisions today? And I think a lot of my my interest in many, if we call it Thought Leadership Leverage, it comes from actually, I’m really curious about why the world works the way that it does and. If I’m able to make a different decision today is a thought exercise, what does it mean for the future? And you’re right. The cities have such long arcs that you can’t really say that a trend is happening over a three to five years. There are a lot of people who do make predictions that it was five years, and I think it’s incredibly brave to do so. And I’m not necessarily faulting out. That’s what they say. Often that can be really helpful for planning, but in some ways you’ve got to know that you’re getting it kind of getting the wave pattern right? You know, are you really on an up or down? You know, and I think for me, when I look at cities are I always try to look at a range of different timeframes, both looking really far ahead, knowing that a big development can take 40 years to come online. It’s actually you do need to be thinking almost 50 years, but actually some of the big changes in cities have taken 100 to 200 years. So you really need to be thinking, I mean, maybe just as an example, China in some ways is a bit of an anomaly in that it seems to have both cities online almost overnight. But even so, it’s still taken 40 years. And so you still need to be thinking about what is the what is the why, the time period that has enabled change? Well, and.

Bill Sherman If you think about it and I was thinking as you were talking the history of American cities, for example, you go 200 years back, you’ve got a handful of cities of the North American continent that really qualify as cities, whereas you go 200 years back in Europe, most of the cities that you’re talking about today were there and were there long before, right? And so one of the things I think is there is an acceleration to the building of a city. But even as you said, 50 years in the lifetime of a city is a heartbeat.

Peter Griffiths And in many ways, I’d say that’s the case. I mean, I wonder if the acceleration is more that we have. It’s kind of compound interest. Mm-Hmm. You know, we’ve been building studies for a long time. I mean, some people will say we’ve been building cities for some five or six thousand years, so we’ve had a lot of time to look and see. How do you scale them up? And in some ways, the benefit of a country like China coming to the fore actually off the Europe. After North and South America, they had a lot of time to just see how to do it, but still, it’s not something that’s particularly quick.

Bill Sherman Well, and I think this is interesting in in thought leadership. It’s about seeing around the corner into the future, but it’s also standing on the work of others who have come before. And I think that’s exactly what we’re talking about because we could go back to a settlement like back Playtech Bay in Turkey, right? So, you know, thousands of years at the dawn of civilization and every accomplishment from there has built on each other in a cascade. Small steps going forward. If you are enjoying this episode of Leveraging Thought Leadership, please make sure to subscribe. If you’d like to help spread the word about the podcast, please leave a five star review and share it with your friends. We are available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and all major platforms, as well as at Leveraging Thought Leadership dot com. I think it’s interesting this something that you said, shifting the focus from the short term to the long term between the three to five years to the 50 years. How do you do that shift?

Peter Griffiths If I’m entirely on the side of what I think is just something with how I think comments are, I mean I. I suspect that there are just some people are just programed to do different thing. And I’ve always been able to move quite comfortably between a very narrow focus and a very broad focus. I found that transition quite comfortable to do. And actually, I’ve I found it quite helpful to just make sense of the world. And the same with time, in a sense, being able to think what is material to change and being able to discount, well, actually, there’s nothing material to change for. Next, five or 10 years? Actually, it’s very easy then to say, well, let’s look 20 years and see if something is material to change. Now there isn’t actually something interesting happens at is potential. Let’s explore that. But I think it’s. It’s one of those quirks just about how minds organize information. But in in some ways, I guess I was just born with a mind that tries to make sense of patterns and sometimes the patterns only resolve in the future.

Bill Sherman One of the things I think this is something that’s transferable to others practicing thought leadership that you say is that ability to say what is true now, which will not be true in three, five, 10, 15, 50 years, right? And challenging your assumptions and saying, how might this change or how do developments in other areas influence what I’m taking for granted?

Peter Griffiths I think that’s probably one of the most fun things about what I do is that I can be almost my own worst enemy in the sense that I can put forward proposals that are clearly a little bonkers and test them, which is quite fun. I mean, I’m not saying that I want to give people bad recommendations or bad content, but in a sense, part of the exercise is that creativity of being able to test things which seem ridiculous and maybe seeing that they’re not so ridiculous or testing something which seems common sense and realizing, I know there’s no way that this is going to make sense to an audience in 20 years time.

Bill Sherman Go back to the 1880s or 1890s and tell someone that within 50 years, you’ll be able to travel the Atlantic in a matter of hours. They would have blinked and said, That’s crazy, right? And that changes the relationship between cities like London and New York instantly overnight.

Peter Griffiths But I suspect it would have been asking the wrong question. I think so, I think if you’d been asking people, how do you feel about the fact that it takes you six months to cross the Atlantic? Where do you do you feel it stops you from achieving all the things you want to achieve out of life? What if the crossing to three? Would that change your decision about how often you process what with the demand profile, give them an actual could across in a week with a demand profile be 10 times as high and they all of a sudden you’ve got an economic finding, an innovation that achieves that. And so I think in some ways. We sometimes focus too much on the technology and not enough or too much early intervention and not enough on the need. I mean, maybe another way of putting this one when I was much, much younger before we had Napster and digital music sharing, legal and all, I remember being really frustrated by how much space this took up.

Bill Sherman And we think you always carry this big book, right?

Peter Griffiths Yeah. I don’t want these things to take up so much space and right, there is a need for innovation, right? There is somebody could have captured that little bit of irritation and thought, and we need to find a way to. To save space in people’s lounges or in their bedrooms. And so I think we often don’t capture the inertia or almost the emotional side of change. We spend too much time thinking about what is the product that people might want.

Bill Sherman When I hear you ask the question and going back to the trans-Atlantic piece rate, how would you feel? How would your life change if I hear a bit of investigative journalism in this right where you’re poking and you’re saying, Hmm? How do you think and you’re trying to get into the head of the person? And I think that’s something that becomes highly relevant in thought leadership is that ability to go to the underlying need, like you said. So I was going to ask you, how do you define leadership based on your experience? Is your work? If you were to explain it to someone, how would you describe it?

Peter Griffiths I wish I had a clear answer for you both. Is that in some ways, I think. And a lot of a lot of the work around you that defines itself as to what leadership is, is really just opinion leadership. You know, it’s not necessarily saying something new. In some ways, I’ve. I’ve also often been described as a researcher, and I’d like new ideas, and I like finding things up that I wouldn’t really call myself a researcher. And I think almost for me, the opportunity for global leadership is a. It’s what allows me to think differently about something and then somebody else to think differently about that same thing. I think that it’s a transaction. And so for me, I think for leadership in somewhere is at its best is is a transaction of ideas that impacts both me and its organizational client that I’m working with the allows them to invest time and headspace in a journey. Do you think differently about themselves and then hopefully results in a piece of content that can then achieve the same to the outside audience or a particular target? So I think for me. The thought leadership is very much about. Is opportunity for personal change before it’s an opportunity for other people to change?

Bill Sherman And I think there’s an intensely personal piece to fault leadership. It has to be aligned with something that you’re passionate about. So when you were telling a bit about your history and you said, OK, my investigative journalism, I enjoyed the work on cities and that led to a graduate degree. And so you’re able to look back and see what I would describe as the red thread that goes back in the connective tissue on the work. But there was something in real time pushing you forward, and I’d suggest that was a bit of passion. That internal work of what drives your curiosity is an essential piece for thought leadership practitioner, because if you’re just phoning it in, it’s really hard to do.

Peter Griffiths Yeah, I think there probably are a few things. So I grew up in South Africa, and I don’t know how much you know about South Africa, but South Africa had what was called apartheid spatial planning, which separated people by race groups here in the US. Actually, you had some of the policies and basically I grew up learning that you can really miss a city if you want. You can completely destroy its ability to function properly. And I think rather than being. Staying with being upset about that, the flip side is, well, that means you should be able to make them amazing. And so in some ways, a bit of my personal history is a passion to if you can makes it is bad, you should be able to make it. So, you know, that’s maybe the underlying narrative driver. But I think, yeah, as I’ve as I’ve spent more and more time looking at cities, I think I’ve just realized that they are the space where people can connect. And if you can get them to do that, all of the other stuff, all of the stuff flows from that.

Bill Sherman I hear connect again, just like you used Kinect in vault leadership, but that it’s a relational piece between you and someone else and it’s a conversation. And I think that ongoing dialog really leads to what is possible. Like you said, OK, if we can make a city lousy through redlining or blasting highways through places that are creating either economic or racial impact, we can also either undo that damage or we can think about ways to build better. And having that conversation and putting the conversation on the table is an important part because if nobody’s talking about it. Things tend to go, you know, their own way. Someone has to bang the table and say, no, there’s another way to think about this.

Peter Griffiths Yeah, I think that you’re right there. It’s the. Yeah, I think that you’re right there, and if I think about it, clearly, it’s there’s no way of knowing for sure. That new right on something that there’s no way of being 100 percent sure. I’ll give my life to this this thought. But I think you can be confident about things and you can increase your confidence in the confidence of those around you by having a conversation about what matters and finding ways in just the same way you did not with the question you repeated back my story. Finding a way for people to see themselves over and over again so that they can make better choices about what they do next.

Bill Sherman I want to ask you in terms about making better choices. So we have some listeners here who are at the start of the career for thought leadership, what they’re thinking of going into cult leadership. I often joke that nobody went to school for this profession. But in the last couple of years, I’ve met people who have either taken a class in school or done an internship. What advice would you give someone starting out in a career thinking about self leadership based on your experience? What have you learned that you would share forward?

Peter Griffiths I think that that’s a really good question, Bill, and I’m not sure that there’s one blanket piece of advice, which in some ways I think is a good thing, but that if I was to if I was to conjure up something, I think what it would be is along the lines of I see some things that other people don’t see. That’s part of what makes me valuable. That’s what makes me different. But that also means that I don’t see things that other people see very clearly, and a lot of the value that I have is being able to connect the to is being able to see what is it about the world that is very clear to me, whether it’s patterns or the consequences of decisions we make today on the future or it’s connecting a story of cultural change to what’s likely to come next. But I have to invest a lot of energy in understanding what is maybe a much more traditional read of what’s happening around the world and finding a way to talk in both language and to bring the too close together. And so I think that. The world is kind of going through a transition where it’s really wanting a lot more creative input. It’s got a lot of really big problems to solve that. Traditional approaches aren’t able to solve and so forth, leadership is almost certainly going to play a big part in that. But I think as people’s confidence grows in what leadership can provide, there’s more space given to it. I think the biggest caution is to make sure that that stays, that there’s some kind of a connection to what’s come before it’s able to operate alongside what’s already in the world, because ultimately it’s the resources that are in the world that are going to need to work together to effect change. And so I think that’s probably a bit of advice.

Bill Sherman Wonderful. I hear a few threads here. One confidence in what you can see humility and acceptance that there are many things that you will not see clearly and then the willingness to collaborate and work with those who see those things that you cannot or do not see.

Peter Griffiths Well, yeah. You’re saying it far more than I did. You definitely see further along this journey than I am.

Bill Sherman I wouldn’t say that I have the ability to listen while you’re synthesizing what you say. So I think there’s a lot that we could continue to say further. But let’s leave it there. Thank you very much for joining today, Peter.

Peter Griffiths Thank you, it’s been wonderful.

Bill Sherman  If you’re interested in organizational thought leadership, then I invite you to subscribe to the OrgTL Newsletter. Each month we talk about the people who create, curate and deploy thought leadership on behalf of their organizations. Go to the website and choose Join our newsletter. I’ll leave a link to the website as well as my LinkedIn profile in the show notes. Thanks for listening, and I look forward to hearing what you thought of the show.