What’s the difference between a know-it-all and a thought leader? The connotation. As children, every one of us knew a kid whose sense of self-importance and superior intellect was only surpassed by their inability to realize that the rolling eyes and the groans of their peers whenever they spoke was not an outward display of admiration and love but a collective cry of “Shut the hell up already!”. They are blinded by their own arrogance, clothed in a suit of pomposity and an ego so inflated that the Michelin Man looks skinny.
During a colleague of mine’s first year of college, a fellow student in a sociology class fit this description as if it were an über-tailored dress with dimensions calculated with Stephen Hawking-like mathematical precision. No matter what the discussion, no matter what the topic, she ALWAYS had something to say about it. He and a buddy of his, who was also in the class, gave her a nickname: Britannica. Yes, they named her after the line of encyclopedias because, well, she knew everything and was, at least to her, the go-to source for all knowledge. No matter the topic, she ALWAYS had either an experience with it or knowledge of it. As soon as she began one of her frequent monologues, there was a palpable annoyance in the room— hell, even the instructor betrayed her true feelings though she tried her damndest to conceal them.
I know a thing or two about a thing or two, but there is something to be said about modesty and letting your successes speak for you and your intellectual prowess. I know many smart people, and I also know many people who don’t think it necessary to toot their own proverbial horn. They think as I do, that results speak louder than grandstanding or proclaiming yourself an expert. (NEWSFLASH: There is no such thing as an “expert.” No has ever, nor will anyone ever, know everything about everything, much less one particular item.) Thought leaders are as useful as a pair of sunglasses in Point Barrow, Alaska on December 21st. They are egotistical pukes whose sense of importance is nauseating to those of us who know better. Wanna impress me? Show me what you can do; don’t tell me what you can do.
It’s been said that those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach. Bull. That’s an insult to many fine and hard-working teachers. I’d like to amend that last independent clause with “Those who can’t, proclaim they can better than anyone else and grow up to be thought leaders.”
There are few things in this life that can’t seem to be explained by scientific methodology. We know why it rains, we know why we have seasons, and we know why and how element A reacts with element B to form molecule C. But what about those phenomenon that don’t necessarily have a rational explanation? (And no, I’m not talking about why anyone would want to re-make the already perfect nostalgia vehicle/classic “Top Gun.”) I’m talking about the incurable sickness that suddenly abates and disappears, or the dead automobile that starts despite obvious mechanical deficiency. I’m talking about magic/belief/faith.
There are two types of people: dreamers and realists. Realists see the world in terms of abc and 123 whereas dreamers see the world as the possibilities between the letters and numbers that coincide with experiences in life. Realists rely on what is, dreamers cling to what could be. Neither is better than the other, all things equal.
During this time of year, the dreamer in all of us seems to awake from the hibernation that overtakes us when the mercury rises as opposed to the slumber that results from temperatures plummeting and days shortening. There’s something in the air at this point in the calendar; there is belief that there is a jolly old elf that hears our wishes and grants them according to our behavior. Even as an adult who knows better, the thought that Santa could exist, if only in my mind, is a comfort to me. And now that I have children, this belief has only magnified. There’s something magical and satisfying as nothing else is than looking through a child’s eyes during the holiday season. The Christmas cartoons, the songs, the anticipation of snow (not so much in SE Texas, but it DOES happen every once in a while!), the gathering of family— it all harkens back to a more innocent time, when there was a guy who slid down the chimney on Christmas Eve; when there were reindeer who defied the laws of physics and nature; when the best place to be was in front of the fire, surrounded by loved ones sipping hot chocolate and laughing at stories of the past and waxing poetic about times to come.
As an adult, my responsibilities and my job dictate that I don’t spend too much time in dreamland. Meetings to attend, deals to seal, and hands to shake— no time to spend lost in thought for an extended period of time. But there are times when an event will occur that seems to fly below the logic radar, hovering between that line that separates something you would mention to anyone and something that mentioning to the wrong people might get you a stay in the Straight Jacket Hotel. There’s something inside me that wants to believe that there are things that happen because of magic or divine intervention. There’s something comforting in the knowledge that, perhaps, mankind CAN’T explain everything with a math formula and a test tube.
Maybe we have it figured out when we are kids. Maybe the world really IS a magical place with infinite possibilities and spirits that watch us and guide us along. Maybe there really IS a guy that lives in the North Pole and has a stable of reindeer that pull a sleigh through the air. Maybe it’s the adults, with their need for order and logic, that have it all wrong.
For a long time I believed that I would forever be relegated to an average life, filled with mediocrity and boredom. Just an average guy, doing average shit.
I can’t recall when the change occurred exactly but I do remember the series of events leading to that change. I never wanted to ‘settle’. I never wanted to be average. I just didn’t know how to break the chains and do different.
When you want something you’ve never had, you have to do something you’ve never done.
So what does different look like? That’s for YOU to decide. Different for me included regiment, self-discipline, commitment and belief that I could be more. I began reading leadership books by John Maxwell and watching you tube videos from other leaders that had what I wanted. I found a mentor and followed his suggestions based on experience. His experience! I didn’t wait to start my day when everyone else did. I didn’t (and still don’t) stand at the water cooler and have idle conversations at the office.
Maybe folks like us are wired different. Maybe we just see an opportunity to break through the glass ceiling and consciously decide that we will not be denied. I don’t sit around and analyze the why. I just do. I make a decision to do something (something specific) and then IMMEDIATELY launch into action.
Don’t get me wrong! I’m not all work al the time. I do know how to unplug and slow down. And I do that often. But when I’m working, I’m all in.
Are you settling for mediocrity?
If you want to effectively market your brand, you can do one of two things: you can dump money and time into research and development done by people with degrees and experience and all kinds of fancy titles, OR you can tap into your inner child.
While there will always be a place for people whose expertise is pinpointing what statistically should be a successful marketing campaign, marketing, when stripped down to its essence, is essentially offering a product/service that people will like by offering it to them in a manner they find appealing.
In a recent NY Times article, Christine Haughney highlights a recent toy testing session done in the same “testing rooms usually reserved for reviewing washing machines and vacuum cleaners.” (Incidentally, two items that are a must for any parent with children…) The children were given a variety of toys and asked to, well, play with them.
Throughout the session, children became attached to some toys, bored with others, and destroyed the rest. (Well, maybe the latter was just based on my experience but I digress.) The adults took notes while observing the children’s interactions with the toys. The children, meanwhile, played. They could not have cared less about “target audiences,” “product placement,” “profitability” or any other marketing/business terms. The children cared about what children care about: Having fun and enjoying themselves. (And hitting each other, as one set of brothers did.) The toys deemed winners were given the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.
In other places where a product is tested, the adults take notes to plug into formulas to turn into numbers that will eventually be fed into a computer that should, in turn, spit out data that will, hopefully, tell the marketers whether or not the product was worth your time and money or not. As I said before, this process is necessary and it’s the modern approach to making a buck— especially with millions/billions riding on the public’s acceptance of said product/service. But this approach becomes a sterile environment where numbers take the place of emotion and genuine interaction. People are replaced by percentages.
Too frequently in business, we lose sight of that proverbial forest because we’re too busy focusing on the individual trees. Business (like marketing), at its bare bones, is a simple concept: Offer something others want at a price they will pay. Over the course of our professional lives we become too concerned with , demographics, ROI, and whatever other jargon exists out there. Sometimes it pays to be child-like and simply focus on what’s important: Is what I have worth your time and money? Don’t let worrying too much about what the numbers tell you siphon off the enjoyment of creating something that others will like; a little immaturity can lead to making mature decisions. Plus, it’s more cost-effective. (And more fun.)
Now if you’ll excuse me, these hungry hippos ain’t gonna feed themselves.