The LEO Model of Thought Leadership

With Thauts on making movies, theme parks, creativity, and Walt Disney's Imagineering... and how they apply to marketing

When you think of Thought Leadership Marketing, think of the 3 letters of LEO: L=Listen | E=Envision | O=Output


Thaut Listen Envision OutputLEO for Thought LeadershipL= Listen (Audience Attunement): Empathy-based market awareness. Discover not only what your audience wants but also what they would love that they can’t imagine yet.

E=Envision (Thought Leadership Studio): Like a mind-gym for tapping into the powers of imagination for the creative leadership ideas that can move a market. Design a thought leadership model, packaged for persuasion and impact, as an attractor for the marketplace.

O=Output (Mindshift Director): A machine for moving the mind of the marketplace to your corner. A library of persuasion-optimized Support Points fuels publishing and promoting a content program on a schedule to lead the marketplace to your Thought Leadership Models.

The Thaut Triad is a multiple perspective model for bringing dreams to reality. There is a precedent for models like this.

Walt DisneyIt is similar to Walt Disney's Imagineering. Walt could be a mouse at times but he was also a Lion of business- able to transcend the unfortunate "starving artist" mentality and synthesize high creativity and powerful business success together.

Walt's creative legacy still shines big, bright, and tall in places like the Orlando theme parks Disney World, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot. These 3 theme parks are physically close and complement each other by being similarly inspiring and vivid but with completely different qualities of experiences. I was there about a decade ago and going from park-to-park brought some interesting perspective shifts. It was leaving one world to go through the gates to another. Then doing it again.

Walt DisneyWorldWhen you consider the big picture of the customer journey, imagine it like such a multi-dimensional adventure, like building a theme park with attractions offering intrigue and fun at every step. Marketing can be like attractions in theme parks: integrated into customers experience. Every customer touch point, every attraction, can be honed for the most fun, ease, and enjoyment. Your marketing can also be like a map for the theme parks- a colorful guide showing how to get the most out of the adventure. Maybe it is both, like how Disney had both vivid creative output and solid financial success.

So, back to Disney's Imagineering.

Like the Thaut Process, Imagineering is built from 3 complementary and distinct states of mind. According to NLP modeler Robert Dilts*, the Disney Strategy's 3 parts were the Dreamer, the Realist, and the Critic. The trick that made it work is Disney cleanly separated these 3 modes in space and time so they wouldn't contaminate one another.

So, for example, the Dreamer could fully dream without any interference from a planner like the Realist or a spoiler like the Critic. Otherwise, they'd be like young Einstein's teacher making him stop staring out the window and imagining riding on light beams. Einstein was tolerated in his dreaming so we got the theory of relativity.

Would it be a surprise for your inner Realist and Critic to allow your inner Dreamer space to discover your version of riding on light beams? Maybe the powers in the distinctiveness of these states - these varieties of inner genius, so to speak- open up more fully when they have their own space to breathe.

So, knowing these stages would come later and refine the process gives the Dreamer permission to fully open up to vast, blue-sky imagination with no limitations. Disney would squint as he was seeing far into the future in this mode. The Dreamer is visual and the rules are "no rules". Anything is possible.

Disney StrategyOnce the Dreamer unfurled a dramatic dream that was compelling enough to merit bringing to life, this dream was brought into an actual, separate physical space: the room of the Realist. The Realist mode is kinethetic aka action-oriented. The Realist breaks the dream into steps so that the first steps have a good chance of success.

This is actually where story-boarding was invented: Disney's cartoonists stuck images on the wall of frames representing stages of a story. The Realist chunks the dream down into small enough pieces to be doable. Now it's becoming real. The Realist has now made the dream into a plan. The next stage is refinement.

That refinement comes in the 3rd mode of Imagineering: the Critic. This mode takes the plan of the Realist and considers it from a distance with the mindset of a movie critic. It is the auditory state of imagineering: verbally going over a checklist of criteria. "Does it meet this standard? Yes. This other standard? Not so much. Send it back to the Dreamer to invent a solution for that problem."

Movie ProjectorSo the process loops around like a reel on an old movie projector, again and again until a fully-formed plan, one deemed fully worthy of bringing to life from all 3 perspectives, take shape.

Disney's 3-Stage Imagineering was for him a method for making movies. Such multi-position strategies are also effective for coming up with great marketing.

And wouldn't it open up creativity to use the metaphor in the other direction as well and consider the 3-stage Thaut Process like making a movie?

So let's bring the Thaut Process more fully to life this way, with its 3 modes as 3 different roles in movie-making:

Audience Attunement


Audience Attunement
Audience Attunement is the L=Listen of LEO.

The movie-making role represented by Audience Attunement is that of paying attention to the audience. You never would have guessed, right? It's like hearing with extra, supernatural sensitivity to discover their higher level thinking so we can learn what they would love but can't articulate because it does not exist yet - like Walt's Disneyland emerged from his hearing values of his audience that had the potential to be met at a much higher level- like families having fun together.

Primary Sense: Hearing

Mode: Passive

Emotions: Empathy, Clarity

Movie Role: Audience

Thaut Process of Audience Attunement:

Discovers and illuminates 7 levels of target audience thinking as it relates to the product or service, derived from authentic online conversations, unveiling opportunities for market leadership. Market Landscape Reports show relative positions in relationship to competitors mapped against audience values so, again, opportunities are more clear. The baseline of current audience thinking provides the origin points of vectors of potential thought leadership. You have to know where they are starting from in order to take them somewhere new.



Thought Leadership Studio


Thought Leadership Studio
Thought Leadership Studio is the E=Envision of LEO.

Thought Leadership Studio is like being the writer of the screenplay inventing adventures that have never existed before. In this case, though, the story lines are of thought leadership models that lead the audience to new thinking that helps them get the most out of the products or services you offer, understand them with more clarity, make better buying decisions when choosing them, or elevate their purpose to something entirely new and different.

Primary Sense: Vision

Mode: Creative

Emotions: Inspiration, Enjoyment

Movie Role: Writer

Thaut Process of Thought Leadership Studio:

We consult with leadership to discover hidden reserves of ideas for thought leadership. Then we creatively package them into robust models of structure-based thought leadership to lead the market to new thinking that sets the company apart.



Mindshift Director

Mindshift Director


Mindshift Director is the O=Output of LEO.

It is like being the director of a movie, bringing the scenes to life. Similarly, the Mindshift Director function brings the thought leadership to life by moving the mind of the marketplace with a rhythm of artfully created, produced, and promoted content as a palette for the Thought Leadership Paths created in Thought Leadership Studio in response to current thinking discovered in Audience Attunement.

Primary Sense: Kinesthetic (Action)

Mode: Active

Emotions: Motivation, Confidence

Movie Role: Director

Thaut Process of Mindshift Director:

The Thought Leadership Paths developed as vectors from the origin points of old audience thinking to the destination points of new thinking created in Thought Leadership Studio are supported by a growing idea-library of Support Points: talking points phrased in linguistic patterns of persuasion to fuel a content program to shift audience thinking to the benefits of the Thought Leadership Models. A content calendar give shape and form to the ongoing management of the high-impact content output.



As your thought leadership marketing program grows it loops back, similar to Disney's Imagineering. The stage of Audience Attunement also listens to the shifts in audience thinking reported in the thought leadership analytics that are part of Mindshift Director. And, as the infographic illustrates, you can enter the system either at Thought Leadership Studio - beginning with creative market leadership ideas - or at Audience Attunement - listening for opportunities to lead the market to helpful new thinking. In either case, it is the combined to-from vector of those first 2 phases that is brought to Mindshift Director as a path of thought leadership. And the process continues, looping back on itself as audience thinking is positively shaped, like that reel on an old movie projector, and your emerging story reveals itself to the world. It can be positively shaped so the audience embraces new thinking based on the criteria only one product or service meets: yours.

Click here to learn more about the Thaut Process and how it comes together to create a Market Leadership Playbook.

*Robert Dilts studied Disney's creative process as part of his Strategies of Genius book series. I found it quite the fun journey to join Dilts in going back in time to pull aside the veil and reveal the thinking processes of historical creative geniuses like Disney, Mozart, Einstein, and Tesla. His presupposition was that the brilliance of these creators was due more to how they used their brains rather than their being born with "special brains". Genius can be learned.

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