Companies—big ones, especially—love to be seen as thought leaders. Presumably the opposite of being a thought leader is being a laggard and having to catch up with everybody else’s ideas.
Thought leadership is fine when it’s solid, unique and insightful thinking. But many are putting all kinds of ideas out there as a marketing tactic to seem influential. There’s a mass-market version of this in the endless parade of bullet lists of “5 things” or “9 things” that at least fulfill their promise to be a short read but not one that’s long on value.
A new book by business writer John Butman, Breaking Out, points out that the “ideaplex” is getting awfully crowded, and even having a leading thought is not the same as being actually influential. “Ideas Institutes” seem to pop up quickly and always seem to be more in service of the speakers’ need to speak than of the attendees’ need to know. Behind every TED speaker is a business plan for an idea-based cottage industry, waiting to Break Out. But who really matters, or makes a difference?
In the book, Butman analyzes some “idea entrepreneurs” who have succeeded in longer-term influence and how they got there. One concept stood out for me:
“Idea entrepreneurs do something that seems simple, but is difficult: they humanize and animate their idea. An idea is, after all, nonmaterial, nothing more than a pattern in our brains, an ideal of how things could be, a vision. You cannot simply hand an idea to the next person as you would a sandwich. People connect much more fully with an idea if they can come to know and understand it as they would come to know and understand a human being.
“To that end, the idea entrepreneur essentially becomes the idea.”
In a business environment, we always want to know something important or interesting—where’s our company heading, what should we be working on next, how are our efforts paying off—but we pay a lot more attention when we feel we’re getting to know someone important or interesting. Intuitive leaders know to inject every message with some piece of who they are as a person, with passions and questions and skin in the game. It can be risky, but the payoff is much bigger.
Do your next-generation thought leaders know how to practice the art of personalization in their business communication?