Thought-leaders versus doers

Who writes what you read matters

Have you ever taken the time to think about where you’re getting your advice from?

I read a lot of articles every day. It’s probably in the vicinity of 10–20 articles per day. And every time I finish the article I click through to see the author. I check their credentials and see whether they’re a ‘thought-leader’ or a well respected industry professional. See, there’s a difference.

Thought-leaders versus doers

Sometimes I get intimidated by the amount of articles other writers produce each and every day.

Just the other day I came across a writer with a following of nearly 50K on Medium and was blown away by how much he writes and publishes. Along with his Medium publishing, he is the editor of a site that provides business advice to startups. Between those two outlets he’s publishing an article at least every day, but more likely 2 per day.

In addition, I noticed he’s already published 6 books on subjects like building businesses, culture change, generating new business ideas etc.

6 books?? Good god…

All this — the advice site, the publishing on Medium, the books — within only 3 years, according to his bio.

That’s enough to discourage any writer from continuing. For context — I tried to publish a blog post every day for a month and found that to be hard enough (I made it to 10 days). Now I’m aiming for 1–3 posts per week but can already see how that’s going to be a tough cadence to maintain.

Here’s the thing though.

As I was researching this author (and feeling an increasing amount of failure build up in the process), I started to think about the relationship of advice-giver to actual ‘doer’. Is this guy someone who’s doing things and writing about them, or just sharing his thoughts on what startup founders ‘should be doing’.

Because in my opinion, that advice is cheap.

From what I can gather, this guy may be a prolific writer but he’s in no position to provide business advice. Without the real-world knowledge of starting, running and owning his own business, how could he possibly know what it’s like?

In reality, all he’s doing is researching what others have done, and putting his own spin on it. If you have enough time, anyone can churn this content out on a regular basis — it’s everywhere.

Check yourself

I struggle to produce a blog post every day because I can admit that I don’t know enough about anything to share something worthwhile everyday. I write about content marketing and share my thoughts on that subject every so often, only because I’ve spent enough time studying it and applying it in the real world to know what works and what doesn’t.

For the most part, my writing is about my experiences and my opinion.

But these thought-leaders that tell you how to start a business, how to raise money and how to drive culture change in your company, I wonder how many of them actually do it? And do it well?

I mean, theoretically, I can tell you how to start a business. It’s simple, try this: Find a problem. Come up with a creative way to solve that problem. Build a product or service that does solves the problem. Hire a team. Add some marketing to the mix. Raise capital. Exit business.


Am I thought-leader now?

What would happen if we put these thought-leaders in a real position where they needed to make an impact on a company and actually lead the way? Or if they were to actually start a business. I wonder how their tried and true tips for success would standup then? Would their listicle on raising money and driving culture change be applicable then?

Don’t get me wrong, there are many thought-leaders out there that have the right mix of practical know-how and industry commentary. Generally, these people have worked years, even decades, within their industry. They’ve built and sold businesses. They’ve worked with the world’s biggest brands. And after all that WORK, they’re at a point where they know enough to be commenting on industry trends and their comments actually MEAN something.

Today’s young ‘thought-leaders’

I see a trend emerging today where everyone wants to be a thought-leader. It’s in. Especially for us millennials. Instead of working our way to the top, we’d rather position ourselves as digital gurus and skip to the part where we’re sitting on panels commenting on industry trends.

But it’s BS.

You’re going to tell me you know more than an industry veteran with 2 decades experience because you ‘get’ digital? Please.

The best thought-leaders emerge through experience.

People like James Altucher, Lori Greiner, Mark Cuban, Jason Fried, Arianna Huffington, Joe Pulizzi, and Robert Rose, are thought-leaders because they have done it. They have lived their experience. And in many cases they are still doing it — every single day.

They don’t just write about it. They’re not just peddling themselves on the speaker circuit.

They get their hands dirty and then document their success and learnings.

Be wary of the cheap advice

It’s cheap for a reason. You’ll find it plentiful wherever you look. Instead, look for advice from people that have been there and have something worthwhile to say.

That’s my advice — which, by my own definition, is cheap too — so take it or leave it… ;)