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Friday Philosophy – How I Took The Step Up from Thought Leader to Paradigm Architect. January 6, 2017

Posted by mwidlake in Friday Philosophy, humour, Perceptions.
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I’m sure you have come across the term “Thought Leader” before. You probably first came across it recently, in the last couple of years, and it is growing in occurrence. I’m always impressed by someone who describes themselves as a Thought Leader, I think it tells you a lot about the qualities of the person (*). At times I feel that I am also a Thought Leader – However, I recently decided to set myself the higher ambition of expanding my vision and becoming a Paradigm Architect. And I think I can tell you how you can do the same and also become a Paradigm Architect yourself.

What my mind's eye sees when I see "thought leader"

What my mind’s eye sees when I see “thought leader”

First, you need to really understand what a Paradigm Architect is. Such a person architects paradigms. You become one by sticking the title next to your name and then thinking of a woolly way of describing what it means. So: “a paradigm is the overall concept or co-dependent ecology of rules in respect of a knowledge arena, and I architect new paradigms for business and technology”. So, that’s me! Pretty bloody cool I think. And you still have no clear idea what I mean by “Paradigm Architect” – but it sounds so clever, doesn’t it?

Are you convinced? Hopefully you are not. I’m really hoping you are actually thinking “what the heck is Martin on about now?”.

OK, I’m obviously not a fan of the term Thought Leader. So what set me off on this little rant about the term? Someone recently followed me on Twitter and when I looked at their profile they self-described as a Thought Leader (I always look at the profiles of people who follow me, there are not so many a day that it is a burden and I like to block any young ladies who are “too poor to afford enough clothing”, those pushing some service I have no interest in or is in some other way following thousands of people simply in order to get more followers). I don’t see what the term “Thought Leader” really means. Oh, I get that some people can be thought of as visionary, leading the way, thinking of things not thought of before: someone to admire and follow, a beacon of enlightenment in the grey, confusing fog of our ever-changing world.

Well, I am a thought leader. I thought that now we have powerful, battery-driven hedge trimmers I could trim the tall hedge hedge at the bottom of my garden by using one whilst on a pogo stick. I’m pretty sure not many others have come up with that idea. I expect you all to give it a go now that I have led you there. Any medical bills that ensue are your own responsibility.

What I really think when I see someone self-identify as a Thought Leader (or a visionary, or a genius or some other similar label) is “you arrogant sod”. I am not impressed at all, at least not in a good way. As far as I am concerned you will now have to not only demonstrate to me some qualities or achievements that are to be admired, but they better be damned impressive. Better than I would expect from a normal genius. You went and put the high-jump bar at 2 meters, let’s see you bloody well clear it first time.

I put out a quick tweet out about what I thought when I saw this person’s profile:

Why is it I don’t trust anyone who self-describes as a “thought leader”?
I’m more trusting of someone who self-describes as a “smart arse”

I was struck by how popular that tweet was. I was particularly struck that some of the people who liked it were people who I admire for having moulded the way we think about Oracle Tech or have in some other way helped a lot of us to think clearer about things. But I have never seen any of them describe themselves in any way like “Thought Leader” or “Genius” or “F**King Awsome”. In fact, when I do see people blowing their trumpet with some such phase (such as “Code Ninga”, “10X Programmer” or “code Source Jedi Knight”) I just see in my head someone standing there, legs spread apart, hand on hips and chest thrust out. nodding at their own glory going “Yeah! It’s me! I’m F**ing Awesome!”

Piet de Visser told me:

we have an expression that translates to “Digital Self Inflation”… (internet drama queens, thought leaders…)

Now you can see what I really meant at the start when I said I’m always impressed by someone who describes themselves as a Thought Leader, I think it tells you a lot about the qualities of the person. The impression is not good and I think it tells me the person has an ego which is so large it’s starting to make my ego seem almost reasonable. That is why I think I am sometimes a “Thought Leader” – occasionally I can be tiresomely big-headed. I do it less now but sometimes, especially when alcohol has turned off some of the filters, I can be somewhat arrogant. I sequenced the human genome, don’t you know! (I did not, I just designed systems to hold some of the data).

Another point raised on the twitter thread was that these terms are much better if expressed about someone, not by them. Mathias Magnusson put it well:

‘I think “thought leader” is one of those things that only matters when someone says it about someone else.’

Personally I still do not like that actual phrase, I think it’s just a tad asinine, but if someone was to say to me “Sarah is great, she is a real thought leader” I’d know they thought Sarah was pretty good (unless I knew the commentor also did not like the term 🙂 )

Now I know and understand that there is a cultural difference here. In the USA, blowing your own trumpet is seen as normal and in fact sometimes expected. It’s not seen as anything like as arrogant, or arrogance is just accepted more in the USA. I’ve never really been able to make up my mind which of those two is the largest factor. At the Bulgarian autumn conference last year, one of the organisers brought up this point of how we Europeans describe ourselves and how the American presenters did. Rob Lockard did a fine job of explaining how he felt that in the USA you have to state who you are, what you have achieved, and what recognition you have had. If you don’t, your audience (or potential employer) thinks “well, if this guy does not think they are any good, why should I?”. The British Reserved approach of almost apologising for our achievements does not cut it. It was also interesting that the Bulgarian lady thought the British were slightly amusing in our often abject apologetic nature whenever we mention that we might not be utterly useless.

But I come back to my point about people who I think have shown us the way and yet are not at all arrogant. Some of those leading people who liked the twitter comment are American. I’ve had discussions with some American friends about this over the years and I’ve found that many of them do not like this “in your face, I’m so awesome” attitude. So I don’t now if the US cultural difference on this is all over the US or all through their society. It still leaves me somewhat confused.

I guess there is a balance between stating who you are and what you have achieved and, once you know the cultural differences, you might want to modify your approach. I am far more bullish about my achievements when I introduce myself at an American user group than I am in the UK. In Europe I actually play up the self effacing Brit, as it usually gets a smile to break the ice.

But whatever your culture, I don’t think coming across as arrogant is ever going to really impress people. Better I think to stand quietly by what you have done and, if you are blessed, others might describe you in glowing terms. That, to my mind, is way more important. But not as important is simply being a nice person. Or at least not too much of an asshole.

I’ll leave the last word to Leo Tolstoy.
leo

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Comments»

1. David Thieke - January 6, 2017

Martin,

Thanks for the below excellent analysis of  the Orwellian “Thought Leader’ position.

The below email reminded me of a very arrogant  VP  on one of my old jobs, who actually tried to create an official  title of  ‘Thought Leader”and gave Yoda as an example. His Grand plan for becoming a Jedi Mystical Thought leader though was stopped in his tracks, when a friend of mine showed up in his company wide presentation on How to become a thought leader, dressed up as Yoda . The Grand plan for World Domination thus ended with everyone cracking up laughing and the VP standing there red faced. 

Thanks for the making me smile and laugh. 

Please keep up the Great blogs !Cheers, Dave Thieke

From: Martin Widlake’s Yet Another Oracle Blog To: david.thieke50@yahoo.com Sent: Friday, January 6, 2017 9:09 AM Subject: [New post] Friday Philosophy – How I Took The Step Up from Thought Leader to Paradigm Architect. #yiv9306665903 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv9306665903 a {text-…

mwidlake - January 6, 2017

Haha! That’s funny. “Lead your thoughts, I will! Hmmm!!!”

2. Neil Chandler - January 6, 2017

I’m a Thought Cynic 🙂

The English:

ZAPHOD: Did you think of that Earthman?
ARTHUR: Well, I did, it was just –
ZAPHOD: That’s very good thinking, you know that? You’ve just saved our lives.
ARTHUR: It was nothing really…
ZAPHOD: Oh, was it? Oh, well forget it. Ok computer, take us into land…

3. Susan - January 6, 2017

How on earth did you find the Tolstoy quotation? Have you actually been listening to me.. or was it google?

mwidlake - January 6, 2017

The first. Definitely the first option… Certainly not Google…

4. jgarry - January 6, 2017

It’s also frustrating when some arrogant bastard is actually a thought leader. The Seth Godin blog gets to me in that way.

mwidlake - January 6, 2017

He! Yep – very, very occasionally the arrogance is matched by skill. But I’d say only 1 in a hundred times that is true!

5. Craig Martin - January 7, 2017

You are correct that there is a whole lot of USA between New York and LA, which seem to me where arrogance is almost expected. My experience is that when you get away from those areas, most tend to be just as turned off by these juvenile tactics as you are – unless of course you “made” a lot of money and are tinted a specific shade of orange 😉

6. Noons - January 7, 2017

Agreed entirely on the “thought leader” thing.
I’d add “evangelist” to the bunch of “titles” that I just can’t agree with.
In fact, that one really p***es me off! 🙂


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