The “thought leader” epidemic has been interesting. From self-proclaimed thought leaders to those writing articles and books on how to be one (yes, I once wrote such an article), everyone it seems is or aspires to be a “thought leader.” I’ve never read anyone’s bio that claims they are a thought follower.
Maybe it is time to stop being a thought leader and just be a good thinker. There seems to be far less good thinking going on than there is thought leadership. Repackaging and regurgitating everybody else’s thinking does not a true thought leader make.
Think about the last time you read something truly insightful or different. I score most of what I read these days as interesting, but not particularly insightful (I do think Peter Theil’s new book, Zero to One, is quite insightful even if you don’t agree with his conclusions).
Rodin’s sculpture, The Thinker (originally named The Poet) is a great illustration. Most people never give the sculpture a second thought. They assume Rodin was recreating someone in the process of thinking. At a superficial level, that is true. But take another look. The Thinker’s right elbow is on his left knee. Try that position right now. It is awkward. It is difficult. It isn’t comfortable.
And that is the point. Thinking is all those things. Being a thought leader (as it is commonly practiced today) is more about hyperbole, PR, massive distribution and clever marketing. Einstein, and you can’t quarrel with his brilliance, is reputed to have said, “Thinking is hard work. That’s why so few do it.”
Thinking well is much more important than being a thought leader.
If you do think well, and have insights and ideas worth sharing, then share them. But don’t prequalify them by slapping the thought leader label on those ideas or yourself. If your ideas are that good, others will say, “Wow, that is good thinking!” And after all, true thought leadership is bestowed, not claimed.
Am I a thought leader? I can’t claim it, but I can claim to be dedicated to clear, critical thinking. I can invest the time, effort and discipline to do that. That, unlike labels applied by others, is within my control.
With the increasing complexity of the world accompanied by a great deal of foolishness, thinking seems harder and more important than ever. But my goal isn’t to be a “thought leader,” at least as commonly referenced. I aspire to be a good, if not great, thinker.
What about you?