• 08.27.13

Are These The Most Influential And Trend-Setting Thought Leaders?

Who are the thought leaders setting trends in the market? A group of academics claims that they’ve figured it out.

Are These The Most Influential And Trend-Setting Thought Leaders?
[Image: Abstract via Shutterstock]

Although the title sounds like a Fake Jeff Jarvis tweet, “Coolhunting for the World’s Thought Leaders” is an actual academic paper by actual academics (Peter Gloor at MIT; Karin Frick and Detlef Guertler at the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute in Switzerland). Its purpose: To create “a novel ‘Thought Leader Map’ [that] shows the select group of people with real influence who are setting the trends in the market.”


How do they do this? Basically, by picking a list of people they deem thought leaders, and then using an algorithm they compare to Google’s page-rank to order them. Their algorithm produces some results that are curious, to say the least. For instance, the sixth “most important blog for thought leaders” is Eamonn Fitzgerald’s Rainy Day, “The musings of an expat Irishman living at the bottom of the Alps.” Business Insider and Gizmodo are close behind. The fact that members of the research team behind the project are from German-speaking Switzerland and the United States may also explain why the world’s “thought leaders” are largely English and German-speaking.

With those qualifications about “methods” out of the way, on to the list! Who are the thinkfluencers?

Number one, standing five times as high as anyone else on the thought leader index is Richard Florida, the pop-urbanist whose “Rise of the Creative Class” was once handed out to employees by real estate tycoon Albert Ratner. However, Florida can’t rest on his laurels. “In the 2013 rating, which we already started, he is much lower,” Peter Gloor told me over email. “I guess in 2012 it was because he had a few press hits in the Huffington Post and elsewhere.”

Number two is Thilo Sarrazin. While American readers may find his name unfamiliar, Germans know him from his bestselling book arguing that genetically inferior Kurds and Turks were dumbing down Germany. His place on the list, too, has proved to be temporary. “Thilo Sarrazin is gone also in 2013,” says Gloor.

Rounding out the 2012 top 10 is a motley crew of American more-or-less respected academic authors (Daniel Kanheman, Steven Pinker, Niall Ferguson, Douglas Rushkoff, David Graeber), a German politician, a German journalist, and the wild card pick of David Gelertner, computer scientist author of America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered In the Obamacrats). It’s a strange crew that the algorithms have assembled. But as Gloor’s comments indicate, next year’s “thought leaders” will probably be entirely different.

Here’s the full list for 2012:

About the author

Stan Alcorn is a print, radio and video journalist, regularly reporting for WNYC and NPR. He grew up in New Mexico.