Sunday, July 19, 2015

Die Gedankenleiter

Can’t help myself; “Thought Leader” just sounds like it needs to be in German.

There has arisen a class of people christened “Thought Leaders.” I thought they had been anointed by LinkedIn because I keep running into them there, but apparently the term originated in a Booz and Company business magazine about 20 years ago. 

The information on origin is from a website called Mashable, which goes on to try to define what a Thought Leader is. Ultimately, after much conversation, for Mashable it comes down to "a Thought Leader has earned his or her title because that person's ideas have gone viral." Presumably the ideas can be good or bad as long as a lot of people see them. 

David Brooks does a much better job in a column in the New York Times of December 17, 2013. I subscribe to his version, or at least his attitude: he defines "Thought Leader" as “sort of a highflying, good-doing yacht-to-yacht concept peddler."

It’s very confusing. Why are some people in the group? What are the criteria for ordination? I see President Obama near the top -- what the president says is important -- and Sir Richard Branson,   a very inventive guy who’d be worth listening to.  But it falls off pretty quickly after that. 

I’ll allow for experts in fields I know nothing about and whom, accordingly, I don’t recognize. Call that a second  tier, as seen from my viewpoint, and it figures to be a big one. But it gets kind of hazy after that, for me, anyway. There seem to be hundreds, if not thousands of these people. And all with vital information I'm told I should want to hear.

I don’t buy it. I’ve run  into quite a few advice-givers on line by now, and most often what they have to say is a transparent attempt to put a twist on something old and present it as something new. It's especially prevalent in the marketing field. 

You also find Dueling Leaders. One marketing maven says you must use psychology and emotion to sell things to business buyers; another says using emotion to sell business-to-business is “an exercise in futility.” If you’re gullible enough to follow these guys, what are you supposed to do with that?   

The original Thought Leader didn’t have that problem. There was one party line. Everybody believed it. Or else. That’s thought leadership. You can almost hear the echoes from the big stadium.