Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Some thoughts on Thought Leaders.

I don't usually dig David Brooks, the conservative op-ed columnist for "The New York Times." Most days he's a little too smart and smug for my liking. Additionally, he has the ability to whitewash over reactionary sins I regard as Cardinal. For instance he'll accept a Republican candidate's denial of evolution as inconsequential.

However, I read Brooks' column whenever it appears. In part because the op-ed columnists of the Times are the geniuses of the paper--a paper many consider the best and most important in the world. And in part because even when I hate what he has to say, reading his column costs me no more than two or three minutes time.

Today, however, Brooks said something I really love. You can read his whole column here. But here's the part that struck me: "My main impression over the past five years is that the conference circuit capitalists who give fantastic presentations have turned out to be marginal to history while the people who are too boring and unfashionable to get invited to the conferences in the first place have actually changed the world under our noses."

I think there are three things to note in Brooks' quotation. 

1. There are people who are "conference circuit capitalists." That is, they talk. And talk. And talk. They don't actually do at all.  They are innovation theorists. The last thing the world needs is more theory.
2. Most of the real work that may actually change the world is never done under the heading of "we're going to change the world." The same way I'm sure Picasso never set out to paint a masterpiece. You don't set out to change the world. Set out to do what you do, and if it changes the world--well, consider yourself lucky.
3. Boring and unfashionable--the fat kid at the dance--get things done. They might not be the people who you want to go to Austin with, they might not be eloquent. But they work.

Every time I watch a TED video and see their themeline "Ideas Worth Sharing," I vomit a little bit in my mouth. No one at TED--though it certainly seems well-funded, ever goes back and says, "You know I looked at our ideas worth sharing from 2007, and actually a good three out of four of them weren't worth sharing, in fact, they weren't worth a damn."

Last week I was cleaning my computer files and found a Forrester Report from 2009 on the future of marketing. Not a single one of their predictions came true. The modern day equivalent of a magazine I read when I was a kid, "Popular Science." We were all going to live in a future of flying cars, space travel, colonies on Mars and a chicken dinner you can swallow like an aspirin.

Who rates the thought leaders?

No one.

Don't even give that idea any thought.


Philip said...

Would be fun to see those 2007 Forrester ideas that flopped. Future post?

george tannenbaum said...

Philip, I've been thinking about writing that post. But it means I'll have to retype their excruciating drivel. And I'm not sure I could stomach it.