My friend, Ron Tite, recently shared an article that triggered real contemplation from me about the role of those of us who write business books and address corporate audiences. The post is on PunksandPinstripes.com, was written by Gregory Larkin, and titled, Like Sex Therapy From a Nun: Simon Sinek and How to Tell a Thought Leader From an Expert.
First off, the title bothered me. It suggests that thought leaders can’t be experts — but also implies that experts cannot provide thought leadership. It seems to set up a straw man argument. Why does it have to be one versus the other, as the title suggests, in being able to tell one “from” the other? I admit, Larkin picked low-hanging fruit. I find many of thought leader Simon Sinek’s points either simplistic or just plain wrong.
“Customers buy your why,” is a Sinek credo that I’ve previously critiqued — I don’t care within reason why Shake Shack makes my cheeseburger, if how they make them is delicious. Let’s be clear: customers buy your HOW.
My great pal, Joe Calloway, has a quote that I reference in every speech: “Success means you know what used to work.” In other words, your expertise and execution attained your current level of results. It does not ensure that your current body of knowledge and experience will advance the organization or your career.
In the evolving landscape of business and innovation, the roles of thought leaders and experts have been fairly well defined. Thought leaders inspire us with their visionary ideas, while experts ground us in their deep, specialized knowledge.
However, there’s an emerging role that should bridge the gap between these two: the Business Reporter/Philosopher.
- Joe Calloway always describes himself as a “business reporter” more than a speaker. That’s where the “reporter” aspect of this is derived.
This role combines the investigative curiosity of a reporter with the wisdom-seeking nature of a philosopher, offering a unique perspective on problem-solving, professional development, and organizational growth.
The Limitations of Experts and Thought Leaders
Experts, with their deep dive into specific domains, often develop tunnel vision. This naturally limits their perspectives to the confines of their expertise. This specialization, while invaluable, can sometimes restrict innovative thinking. It’s the embodiment of the old, “If your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” cliché.
- I’ve seen many experts who think the way they solved one particular issue means that every problem can be handled successfully with the same formula. I disagree. What worked for Walmart may not apply to Google.
Thought leaders, on the other hand, offer broad, inspirational ideas but might lack the practical grounding in specific fields or the experience of implementing these ideas in varied real-world scenarios. This is how we get the “customers buy your why” absurdity. Because the thought leader is never responsible for making certain a business attains the numbers to ensure organizational profitability, they can spread poetic pablum.
Enter the Business Reporter/Philosopher
The Business Reporter/Philosopher emerges as a hybrid, possessing the curiosity to explore diverse and specific issues like a reporter…combined with the wisdom to understand and integrate these learnings across a broader platform like a philosopher. They are not confined by the boundaries of specific expertise, nor are they floating in the abstract realms of thought leadership.
The strength of the Business Reporter/Philosopher lies in the ability to connect dots across disciplines, draw insights from various fields, and apply them in practical, context-specific ways. The quality of this professional would be evaluated based on how her or his insights help steer an organization or individual on the path of enhanced achievement.
What would be key traits of the Business Reporter/Philosopher?
1. Curiosity and Broad Knowledge Base: They possess a voracious curiosity about a wide range of subjects and a versatile knowledge base, much like a well-informed reporter.
2. Analytical and Philosophical Thinking: They apply critical thinking and philosophical analysis to understand the deeper implications of their concepts, along with the long-term consequences.
3. Synthesis of Ideas: They excel at integrating ideas from various fields to create innovative concepts and solutions. They can envision how the application of a concept that was disruptive in one industry might be adapted to create a competitive advantage in another.
4. Practical Wisdom: Unlike pure theorists, they focus on the practical applicability of ideas, understanding the nuances of different contexts. The ideas they express can withstand academic rigor. Yet, their concepts are presented in a commonsense manner that makes their content both easily accessible and memorable.
5. Distinctive Insight Generation: Their diverse experiences and interests lead to the generation of distinctive, context-aware insights, much needed in today’s complex business environment.
The Business Reporter/Philosopher in Action
The Business Reporter/Philosopher is not just a theoretical construct but a necessary evolution in the world of business and innovation. Professionals who understand both the opportunities and limitations of this role can fill the critical gap between the visionary (but sometimes impractical) ideas of so-called thought leaders and the specialized but often restrictive knowledge of experts.
By fostering a culture that values this interdisciplinary approach, organizations can unlock new avenues for growth and problem-solving.