Monday, January 21, 2013

Thought Leaders

My internet travels take me to some wonderful places, and provide me with information my parents could never have dreamed of having. There is no shortage of stupid, but plenty of real, actual smartness out there to counter balance it.

Of the many trends that we come across on a daily basis out here in the “series of tubes”, is the idea of “thought leaders”. Somehow, we have gotten it into our heads that it’s ok to allow CEOs and really, really rich people to be leaders of thought. The marketing of this nonsense works like this… Mr. X likes this product because, I’m told, it’s new and emerging technology makes it unique within its class. I think to myself, “Well, heck! If he thinks it rocks, then I should check it out!” So, I do. I then either A: buy it, love it, or B: Buy it, hate it.

Do you see the commonality here?

Now, if my experience lines up with Mr. X’s, I’m vindicated, I feel smarter for having recognized the same value as someone obviously successful and worthy of my attention. If my experience doesn’t line up, I agree to disagree, but keep my eye on Mr. X and his recommendations. If he fails too often, I may have to re evaluate his position as a thought leader. Either way, though… I’m buying it.

Sorry. This is nonsense.

Mr. X looks like a cool guy. His business approach seems to be working, but I don’t know him. He could be a really nice guy, or a complete asswipe… I don’t know. I’ll probably never know. So why on this green earth would I want to allow him to lead my thoughts? Why would I allow him to direct my purchases or decide which way I should go in any given decision? Why does this automatically make him worthy of writing a book? And why does it immediately go to #1 on the best seller list?
When did Americans decide that it was ok to not think for themselves? When did it become ok to let anyone decide for us what is good, bad, worthwhile or ridiculous? When did we all become sheep? Why does someone’s financial prowess automatically make them a leader?

Mr. X may have obtained his status as a billionaire through hard work and diligence. He may have inherited a small fortune and turned it into a big fortune. He may have lied, cheated and stole his way to the top, stepping on and crushing the hopes of people all the way up. He may have achieved his personal desires through a mixture of all of these things and more. How does that even come close to making him a thought leader? Why are people following him, waiting with bated breath for every tweet, every Facebook post, every utterance?

Why do we care?

To understand, I look to the political side of this. Following an ideology is much simpler, (and yet more complex) than following an industry thought leader. Politics is based on nothing more than fear. Allowing a “thought leader” to manage your expectations of a particular industry is little more than fear of missing the boat. Not being on the inside of the curve for the next big thing, the next money maker, the next cool trend.

Having my own mind and refusing to allow myself to be swept up in the latest trend puts me outside of the “pulse”. I’ll always be richer for it, as a person, but it’s probably why I’ll never be wealthy.
Or a thought leader.

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