Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Thought leadership is like pornography

"Power is like being a lady... if you have to tell people you are, you aren't."
~ Margaret Thatcher

The real thing.
I've been writing and editing this stuff called thought leadership for years, and I'm tired of the term. In conversations with others who do this work, I've learned that they don't much like it, either.

To use the term about oneself seems immodest, even pretentious.

Dr. Liz Alexander, who advises people on the writing of thought leadership books, defines it thusly:
I consider true thought leaders -- not content curators, subject matter experts, or trusted advisors who frequently adopt the label -- as those who disrupt others’ habitual approaches to issues that concern organizations, industries, or society at large.
Thought leadership is like pornography -- I know it when I see it. Ideas are like toilets -- everybody has one. Only a few ideas change minds. It's true that there's nothing new under the sun; Aristotle's Rhetoric is still the bible on persuasion. Nevertheless, times and circumstances today aren't quite what they were yesterday, and, therefore, your thought can sprout in an entirely new petri dish.

That implies that there is some news value in your idea. You can't sit in your tower and suck your thumb. In that context, Alexander describes genuine thought leaders as:
advancing the marketplace of ideas by positing actionable, relevant, research-backed, new points of view.
The big thought leadership firms -- IBM, McKinsey, Booz Allen -- spend a lot of money on original survey research, from which they intuit the lay of the land and the path forward. Your reporting can involve anecdotal insights from your client work, which is just as valid. Whatever, you have to take your thumb out of your mouth and pound the pavement.

And, while we're on terminology, I confess I had to look up content curation. Oh, save me. I've been a content curator all my career! Wow, do I feel special. I may even be a thought leader.

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