A while back I wrote a blog called The Age of Thought Leadership. Sometimes, to define something, it helps to define what it is NOT, so I thought I’d have a little fun. I hope you take it in the spirit in which is was intended.
Hey you! Stop calling yourself a thought leader. For that matter, you can stop with “expert” and “guru” and anything else that comes up in your thesaurus.
I admit I am somewhat addicted to so-called social media: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs. I am, by nature, gregarious and these are great tools for interacting with other people. As with every other communication medium, it wasn’t long before savvy/unscrupulous individuals co-opted it in the name of the almighty dollar. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for profit and free enterprise. But if I see one more profile or blog where someone calls himself a thought leader I’m gonna puke.
By what process are leaders selected? They’re certainly NOT self-selected. It falls to US to designate YOU a thought leader/expert/guru – please don’t do it yourself. After all, real leaders don’t look for followers, they just do what they do and people follow.
Dating Sites Without Pictures
Thought leadership on the web seems to be more like a dating site without pictures: 6’, athletic build, loves long walks on the beach. Yeah, right. Sadly, people tend to believe things they see in writing. That said, when you write something on the web that’s hard to vet, and you call yourself a thought leader, I’m gonna have to say “prove it.”
In science, when you publish an article it’s subjected to peer review. They call it intersubjective testability. It was laid out by Herbert Feigl as follows:
“The quest for scientific knowledge is regulated by certain standards or criteria … the most important of these regulative ideals [is] intersubjective testability… What is here involved is … the requirement that the knowledge claims of science be in principle capable of test on the part of any person properly equipped with intelligence and the technical devices of observation and experimentation.”
Ideally, we should be able to substitute “content providers” for “science” and demand of our content providers some intersubjective testability. Unfortunately, that’s not the case today.
“Let the buyer beware” has never been more relevant. As consumers, we are (somewhat) protected by the FTC against false claims by advertisers. Publishers, in turn, are protected by the First Amendment. However, the Internet is a Wild West of unregulated and unvetted content. Some of it is selflessly expository, some of it is naively exuberant, but more and more of it is consciously self-serving.
It’s too easy to game the system. You’ve got all these people talking about what great leaders they are and buffing their resumes. Who’s vetting blogs for quality, authority, plagiarism? How do you separate the real ones from poseurs?
As Fred McClimans recently wrote in Are We Outsourcing Common Sense to the Internet?:
…in a world where we are all “publishers” and sources of information, not all information has the same value or trustworthiness.
How people judge thought leaders should be how we judge all leaders, from Presidents down to the local school board members or your next vendor. Do some research. Compare and contrast. Are there any references to back up claims? Real data?
How about on the web? On blogs? How can we apply intersubjective testability? Some common sense. Are they delivering value or a sales pitch? Are there comments on the blog? Are there negative comments on the blog? Are they responded to in a civil fashion?
Bottom Line: Apply Some (Not So) Common Sense
In the end, we can’t change other people. We can only change ourselves. A bit zen, yes, but I’m being practical. We need to learn to apply some sense to the content we consume. I’ve indoctrinated my kids: when I say “what’s a commercial for?” they reply “they’re trying to sell you something.” It’s a start. How about you? Can you inject more integrity into your content? Can you apply some intersubjective testability to your consumption of content?
If you ARE producing content on the web, or anywhere else, please make sure that none of these apply to you:
- if you call yourself a thought leader, you aren’t;
- if you’re not transparent and we can’t validate your data, you aren’t a thought leader;
- if your goal of blogging is blatantly to promote yourself or your product, you’re not a thought leader.
So, I haven’t puked since I was, like, twelve. I really don’t want to start now. A little help, please?