Don’t Let “Thought Leaders” Hold You Back

Written by Mike Shapiro | | January 4, 2018

Thinking is hard work. You have to marshal the information you have. Separate what you know to be true from the rest. Figure out what you still need to learn. Go out and get more info. See how it fits with what you already know. Formulate an idea. A solution. Share it with others. Watch it get beaten around. Refine it. Revise it. Rework it. Repeat until you have something that seems to work, at least for now.

So it sounds appealing to find someone who’s already done some of the work for you. It’s always good to be open to the ideas of other people, especially those who have invested time and effort into developing solutions to problems you’re wrestling with — someone considered a Thought Leader.

Where it goes all wrong is when you decide you’ve identified a go-to person whose thinking you can rely on regularly to do your thinking for you. That’s taking a good thing too far:

  • Nobody has all the answers, all the time. The Wizard of Oz was not a real wizard, even in the story. No one person’s thoughts or solutions are always worth following.
  • Anyone — everyone –– has some good thoughts worth considering — some of the time. That’s why it’s critical to stay energized and on the lookout for good ones.
  • Thoughts often require a team effort to graduate to the status of Good Idea. People borrow, steal, reject, refine, enhance, edit the ideas of others all the time. By the time an idea makes it to the Big Time it’s hard, if not impossible, to identify the originator.
  • Every thought must be evaluated in the context of the time and situation. People who develop solutions that resonate with an audience — in their effort to capitalize and “monetize” their work — build products, processes and companies dedicated to applying that solution to as many problems as they can find clients who have them. They get invested in their solutions and the business of exploiting them in the marketplace. But because of the rate of change and the march of technology, ideas and solutions quickly become outdated. Because of their investment in their work, Thought Leaders aren’t going to tell you there’s something better. They may not even recognize it themselves. Following their particular train of thought might block you from taking an entirely new — and much needed — approach to today’s problem or customer need.

Thought Leaders are people who have come up with some good ideas that attracted attention. Then they built a business around it. Good for them. But they’re not the only ones with the good ideas.

Be on the lookout for potential solutions wherever you can find them. They’re everywhere. When you find a thought that catches your attention, practice restraining yourself from quickly rejecting or accepting it on face value. Consider what you can do to refine and improve it and how you can turn it into some meaningful action that will solve a real problem and actually help somebody.

And when you get a thought of your own, don’t kill it too quickly simply because it flies in the face of today’s accepted wisdom or because it’s different from anything you’ve ever heard before. It might be the beginning of a great new solution to a challenge you — and possibly others — are facing right now.


USE IT NOW: Think of a major challenge faced by you or your company or team. Write it down. Imagine you are an industry-recognized Thought Leader asked to submit a proposal to be hired to solve it. Prepare a presentation that outlines your approach summarized in bullet points on 3 slides.