thought leadership

Thought Leadership or THOUGHT Membership?

If you had a Fitbit for your brain, which measured everything you read, thought, wrote and published, I wonder what it would tell you. Would it reveal that you’re on top of your game? Or, in my case, would it reveal that you are merely adding more padding to what has already been said a few hundred times with only slight variation in word choice and metaphor?

I’ve written hundreds of articles, about dozens of topics, within the range of skills and industries where I concentrate. I’ve also written dozens, if not hundreds of articles, blog posts, insights, diagnostics and prescriptive papers for at least 50, if not 100 different clients over the years.

My approach has always been to try as hard as I can to help isolate unique insights and take a different cognitive path to understand things more holistically. I’ve tried to help elevate my client’s position through their content. I’ve been trying to create what we all call “Thought Leadership.”

Although, I as I turn my focus inward and I think about how I want to lay out my plan of attack, the term “Thought Leadership” begins to feel elusive — and distant. Perhaps I have thought about it too hard. I have been known to do that from time to time.

What I am realizing as I read all that is available to me online and in the 280 business books on my shelves, is that I am not reading or writing “Thought Leadership,” I am actually participating in what I am calling, “Thought Membership.” I am saying essentially the same thing that I read somewhere else because when I read it, I had that fleeting feeling that I should have written that. I sure as hell have thought about it enough!

When someone sets out to create thought leadership, they tend to look at it through the lens of of creation (as a noun and a verb) as opposed to an outcome lens—that which the piece will cause.. We all set out to create Thought Leadership but to do so successfully, you have to draw from a place of darkness, uncertainty and courage. To echo what people have been saying for years and putting a minor twist on it, isn’t Thought Leadership. Merely following what every writing professor/teacher/instructor tells you—”just write what you know” won’t likely get you there either is what you know is limited to what you’ve read.

In my view, most all thought leadership is actually just “thought membership.”

Look at it hierarchically:

Thought Membership is 95% of the content we see across social media and often is misconstrued as Thought Leadership—especially by its creator. Thought Membership is composed of more echo than epiphany. We recognize it with a “Yeah, yeah, I get it” type of response.

Thought Leadership occurs as the result of one’s articulated ideas being embraced, shared, acted-upon or amplified by those in a cohort. It is more likely original and thought by many as being outside of conventional boundaries. We recognize it with a “Wait, what is she saying? That’s interesting. Haven’t thought about it quite like that.”

Eminence is the pinnacle. It is the 1% of content we experience where the ideology is strengthened by the brand of the ideologue. Eminence is composed of thinking about things in entirely new ways that strengthens the idea, the ideologue, the sharer of the idea and the broader cohort who is downstream from the idea. We recognize it with a “Whoa! This has impact and is going to change everything it touches.”

This is the point. I have always been told that if I want to write meaningfully, or to create something a little more profound, I have to read every day and I have to write twice as long as I read. I don’t really do this — even though I know I should. I also don’t run five miles a day or limit myself to kale and steamed broccoli.

So with this deeply personal acknowledgement, that I am am mostly — merely writing Thought Membership, I have set up a few new rules to consciously move out of Thought Membership and to start creating more Thought Leadership. Here are my rules:

  • Create my own conservative interest taxonomy — a list of a few interesting and meaningful topics that I want to write about, which I believe may elevate personal thought leadership quotient (a fully made up term).
  • Spend 1/2 the time reading about the topics on my taxonomy than I spend in analysis or lateral research.
  • Spend 2x the time formulating what I consider to be unique and meaningful insights from what I read and analyze.
  • Get my cohorts (colleagues, friends and industry peers) to sound off on what I am creating while I make a reciprocal promise to return the favor.
  • Publish only the things that I feel are contributing beyond Thought Membership while spending more time commenting on the thoughts and insights my cohorts publish — helping them to elevate themselves as well.

Hopefully these steps will help me and those whose writing I care to read and internalize create a cycle that pulls more of us out of the empty echo-chamber of Thought Membership and up into the space where more of us are trying harder to improve the meaning and value of our voices.

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