How to Become a Thought Leader

Amidst the cherry blossoms, MLK stands tall

“Far more commonly, [futurists are] weird people with weird ideas and practices, and are objects of ridicule,” Bruce Sterling

True thought leadership helps people — on and offline — understand the near future, the far future, and often the evolving now. Thought leaders are futurists, people who serve as modern oracles that can help businesses, organizations and societies adapt to the unknown. They break new ground and help us understand how change will impact us, technologically or sociologically.

You see blogs titled like this periodically, and they get tons of attention from top online voices. Invariably, the post is how to promote one’s self as a thought leader, not actually how to offer valuable thought. And that’s a damn shame because while this will certainly vault someone to the level of modern pundit, it rarely achieves the desired effect of producing true thought leadership. So how do you become a real thought leader?
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The Beginner’s Mind at Work

by Benson Hendrix

Cup of tea
Image by moonlightbulb

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” – Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”

One of the concepts in Zen Buddhist philosophy is the idea of the “beginner’s mind.” This is the idea that people should approach a subject with excitement, an open mind, and no preconceptions, regardless of how much knowledge they have gained about a subject.

When someone gains experience and a certain comfort level with that expertise, they might run into the “expert trap.” Starting to think of themselves as “experts,” or “guru-ninja-superjedi-badasses.” Experience is a wonderful thing to have, and is necessary in both personal and professional growth. When it becomes closed-minded, there is the risk of prejudging a situation. When this happens, people can miss potential solutions that don’t immediately present themselves, or don’t match what their expertise tells them.

In an Internet age where everyone is considered an expert in something, how do you resist falling into this trap?

  • Mindfully look for opportunities to move out of your comfort zone, by trying something new (whether it’s a new strategy at work or a new hobby at home). Try to recapture what it’s like when you experienced something new, and keep that feeling with you when you start to fall into the “expert trap.”
  • Don’t stop asking “why can’t we do …?”
  • Failure will happen from time to time. Respect and remember the lessons you learn from it.
  • Don’t get bogged down by the tools. They are only important for helping you achieve your (or your organization’s) goals.

For a communicator, with the added benefit of the plethora of “social media” tools (from video to audio, and blogging to Facebook, livecasting and beyond), the toys for this childlike creativity have never been greater. The chances to mix and mash a unique way of telling your organization’s stories has never been easier (Don’t let the ease of these various tools take away from the primary goals of your project. What’s your ROI? How do you measure success?).

By keeping your options open, you are allowing yourself to best respond to the circumstances around you, instead of assuming you know how those circumstances will progress, or that you can bend outside forces to your will. When these feelings start to emerge, please take a moment to reflect on “The Cup of Tea”:

    One day a university professor visited a Japanese Buddhist Master to ask him about Zen. The master served tea to his guest. When the professor’s cup was full, the master kept pouring, spilling tea out of the cup and onto the table.

    “Stop! The cup is full!” the professor said. “No more tea will go in.”

    The master paused and looked at the professor.

    “Like this cup,” the master said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

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Benson Hendrix is an Albuquerque-based public relations professional and perpetual student. When not pondering technology, public relations, social media, higher education and other topics at www.bensonhendrix.com, Hendrix can be found writing about rugby at www.rugbysupersite.com.

The El Show Episode 28: Social Media’s Ills

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Episode 28 of the El Show featured Albert Maruggi social media’s relevancy, and the GOP’s political social media.

Here’s a breakdown of Episode 28:

  • Albert hypothesizes that social media could become a fad
  • Internet fame and societal hierarchies going back to biblical times…
  • Catastrophic things like robbery or drastic privacy violations could shake social media up…
  • The average person may decide that social is not a good use of time: Chatter vs. knowledge.
  • The destruction of trust and community management
  • Intermission: Polish presidential death conspiracy theories
  • How do you monetize social media?

Download or listen to the El Show Episode 28 today! Also available on iTunes!