Jon Bains
Jon Bains 18 November 2015
Categories Content

Some Thoughts On Thought Leadership

O Blog, give us the serenity to accept what cannot be changed. 
The courage to change what can be changed,
 and the wisdom to know the one from the other.

We live in an overly abundant world of words. We strive to lead each other through our thoughts and ideas - to make an impression. We project ourselves as far out there as we can to influence, inspire, enthuse and evoke. We do it because we are told to. We do it because we want to. We do it because if you do it right then you can transform those words into action.


Or cash.

That’s the theory anyway - in practice it’s a proper pain in the ass having to come up with interesting things to write about. The assumption is that we’re all journalists and just do it for a living - the majority of us simply aren’t and most of the words out there are utter self-serving nonsense. There is a good reason why the smart ones spend more time curating than creating - it’s all been said, explored, discussed, trolled, shared, plagiarised, commented on, up voted and ultimately disregarded.

Why bother?
Well some people simply like to write, it’s a great way to work out the problems of the day job and especially when the day job is working out problems. It’s a cliche but your underlying motivation to add to the choir / noise it what’s most important. If you are doing it simply for cynical commercial reasons and fixate on reach and ‘likes’ then that’s going to shine through. As humans we like others who have passion, who care about what they do, who know things that we don’t and can learn from, who do so ‘just because’.

What to write about?
When it comes to writing about ‘business’ the hardest thing - by far - is deciding what to write about.  Once that decision is made, that focus defined, that inspirational point plotted then pulling it all together should be reasonably straightforward.

What where you shouting about in the pub last night? What did you do yesterday? What was the most interesting conversation you had recently? What are you curious about? What did you just hear on the news? What makes you angry or sad, happy or humble? What *haven’t* you read about but want to? What was the hardest question someone asked you recently? What have you found yourself saying repeatedly that you assumed was common sense but apparently isn’t?  All good starting points.

Where should I be aiming?
Many start with the misguided assumption is that in order to lead thought they must ‘dumb it down’ for the followers. Perhaps that works for them, but the most insightful pieces are the ones that take, what may in fact be a complex subject, and distil it into understandable, rational and emotive discourse. It’s why ‘listicles’ are so popular - they are easy to read, easy to quote and can explore subjects from a fairly high level in a digestible form.

It’s a mistake to believe that either, ‘you are the smartest person in the room’ or anybody really wants to read academic navel gazing. Since you simply can’t write for everyone you might as well simply solve your own problem, at your own level, and share the ‘workings’. Being overly didactic removes the opportunity to discussion - shades of grey are far more appealing apparently.

Make it easy on yourself
Prune the search path by having a standard format and/or theme. Could be as simple as taking something you’ve read or heard about and reverse engineering why it’s interesting - basic analysis. Many just ‘keep it short’ and limit to short, snappy, frequent thoughts. Subjects that are topical tend to be easier to write about. The downside is they date rapidly so having a general approach, which takes a specific but then appreciates underlying trends or generalises it to provide a longer shelf life can be a strong move. It forces you to think more about the ‘why’ then the ‘what’ which is a good discipline. Having a regular routine which consumption of multiple sources of inspiration can help greatly.  

Don’t write about yourself.
I try to avoid it (sic). Well to be fair don’t unless you are really really good at it. More often than not will come across at best self-serving and at worst arrogant. That doesn’t mean don’t write about what you do. Case studies and the like can be extremely useful when written objectively - faults and all - and if well written they can provide a constructive critical framework for a deeper dive, but alas more often than not can come across as a crass dismissible puff piece, which will do more harm than good.



Have one.  ;-)

This piece was inspired, with many thanks, by Phil Dearson because we’re all looking for inspiration and there is something incredibly ‘meta’ about writing something about writing something.

About Jon Bains
Jon Bains, a 21-year net-vet, is founding partner of consultancy What&Why - purveyors of internationally proven, actionable strategy. They help new businesses get into the market and old ones out of their head. He is always up for new challenges, contracts and conversation. Connect with him at He doesn’t bite (much).


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