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Thought leadership alone is not enough


Last week I heard someone say, “no great thought leader can outthink the internet”. There may be a bit of nuance to this when one considers a few scientists working on the fringes of discovery, the sentiment behind it has stuck with me as accurate and relevant. When I think about my own blog or articles you might see elsewhere like “5 best practices for your taxes”, “7 tips for staying on track at work” or “3 things successful leaders do”I recognize that in our connected, ideas that are merely lists are rarely offering your reader anything new. Something that stays at a mere what-to-do or even how-to-do level is almost always an internet search away. So if information is increasingly abundant, what is still valuable to produce and share?

For an example, researcher, author and Wharton professor Adam Grant once spoke in an interview about a study he launched after being at the hospital during the birth of his first child, “There were all these signs plastered around that said, 'Gel in, wash out.' As an organizational psychologist, I just looked at those signs and said, 'This is not a how-to problem. People know how to wash their hands. It’s a why-to problem. They need a reason to do it.’"

In Grant’s statement of the how-to vs. why-to problem, I see an echo of the quick hitting list offered up on some form of improvement. It lays out what the reader should do and perhaps even how to do it but the question is, are you painting enough of a story as to why (h/t Simon Sinek) the person should emotionally (and perhaps financially) invest themselves or their company in this process? Do they see themselves in the story you told having completed it looking smart, feeling accomplished, etc? Or have you merely handed them a set of tips? What might the time saved liberate them to do? What will the additional revenue or quality of life improvement be like once achieved? The tactics may move a few people to try it but to activate people, you need to place humanity into the piece to help them see how it will change theirs.

Seth Godin advocates that all valuable marketing hits on status. "They change how we spend our time, our money and most of all, our imaginations. We define ourselves in relative terms, not absolute ones. More stuff, more power, less this or less that. Who's up and who's down?” (Podcast episode on it here).

Status at work

If you’re advocating a change at work, have you given them the confidence of how to bring this up to colleagues and avoid groaning and eye rolling? Is there a way they can share it with their boss so they look proactive and their boss look smart among their peers? How do they navigate [insert resistant department here]? Have you explained how they can still get their current work done while doing this or what the payoff will be once complete?

Status at home

If you’re proposing they do something at home, have you helped them think through how-to navigate the politics of getting their significant other on board? How will they feel once they’ve expended their limited free-time or money doing it?

Last year I was able to work with a company called Corporate Visions that articulates this beautifully through their concept of a “why change message”. Its purpose is not to advocate what you’re selling but why the path they are on right now, at work or home, is less than ideal. What might they be missing out on now or in the future?

The next time you’re planning to share something remember the idea alone is often not enough. You need to take it to an emotional and behavioral level, which ultimately helps you land on why.

Go Forth Boldly


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