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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

10 Ways to Become a Thought Leader

When I was a kid, I wanted to grow up and become an artist, a chef or (in one bout of misplaced humanism) a farmer. Today, kids grow up wanting to be social media rockstars and thought leaders. (And by "kids," I mean "thirty-five year-old desk jockeys," but I digress...)

Why the newfound passion for "thought leadership"? Because in uncertain economies, one thing still counts: influence. You may not have two dimes to rub together, but if you can convince the guy next to you that You Have Ideas, he'll probably buy you a cup of coffee just to hear you out. And that's how people without real jobs can stay alive when the depression comes.

So, without further ado, here are 10 Ways YOU Can Become a Thought Leader:

1. Get It Out There. History is littered with the corpses of people who put off sharing their big ideas because they "weren't ready yet." Do you have an idea? Share it. If it sucks, people will tell you. If it's good, people will steal it. And if it's great, people will tell you it sucks and THEN steal it. (Watch for this; it means you're on to something...)

2. Be Controversial. No one quotes the moderate, and even when they do, no one remembers what he said. If you want to be remembered, be extreme. If you want to be influential, be extreme AND easy to read. No one likes long-winded crackpots.

3. Make It All About You. Human beings have a natural tendency to cast the spotlight off themselves and onto other people, especially when they ask things like "How are you?" and "What do you think?" Be resilient. That spotlight was made for you, and the longer it's cast across your luminescent talents, the longer an opportunity the world will have to bask in the shadow of your genius. Thus, never miss an opportunity to turn any conversation into a time-worn anecdote about A Lesson You Learned (Preferably In Three Acts).

4. Start a Religion. Hey, it worked for L. Ron Hubbard and Jesus.

5. Influence the Influencers. Remember Basquiat? He was forever surrounded by low-level starmakers, but it wasn't until he literally threw himself at Andy Warhol that he got "discovered." Who's the Andy Warhol of your field? Get on that person's radar, and then don't leave -- at least not until you're bigger then he is. (Then run, because he'll probably want something.)

6. Repeat Things. This is a fast-paced world. People often completely ignore the best advice, even when it's right in front of them, because they're distracted. Or skimming. Or both. Don't let them miss out on your gems of wisdom.

7. Be Vague. If you give people a 10-step plan to upright the economy, you're a policy wank. If you tell people that "Savers Are Losers", you're a thought leader. Go with that.

8. Repeat Things. This is a fast-paced world. People often completely ignore the best advice, even when it's right in front of them, because they're distracted. Or skimming. Or both. Don't let them miss out on your gems of wisdom.

9. Be Prolific. It's not enough to have one good idea. Have dozens. Because if you're capable of being a genius once, people will expect you to be a genius in all cases. DO NOT DISAPPOINT THEM.

10. Preach Common Sense. Because life isn't all that hard, when you stop and think about it. In fact, it can be summed up pretty easily: say, think and do the things that make your life, and the lives of those around you, as fulfilling and rewarding as possible. But these days, no one actually has the time to stop and think; they need YOU to do that for them.

And they'll pay you for it.

(Photo by farlyj)

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  • Am I just a cynic, or is this post meant as satire? Some of the advice sounds good, but I can't shake the feeling that being a "thought leader" isn't something worth striving for.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:49 PM  

  • Michael Bailey
    Thought Leader and Serial Entrepreneur
    "Cultivating the landscape of the online multimedia community"

    By Blogger Unknown, at 2:01 PM  

  • Wow! I discovered your blog today via twitter. I was especially taken by (step 2?) something like - If your idea is really great people will first tell you it sucks then they will steal it. HA! How true! Great post! I'll def be back 4 more.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:09 PM  

  • Great post. I love the parts about repeating your self, keeping things short/simple and being vague.


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  • Thought leader is business jargon for an entity that is recognized for having innovative ideas.

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  • Start a Religion. Hey, it worked for L. Ron Hubbard and Jesus.

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