When we entered the thought leadership marketing business back in 1998, our clients rightly asked us what would make them thought leaders. We told them then, as we tell them now, that there are two pieces to the puzzle: great content and great marketing programs that implant that content in the minds of their audience.
“But what makes content great?” we were asked. We said seven criteria -- focus, novelty, relevance, validity, practicality, rigor and clarity -- separate thought leaders from thought laggards. You can read that article here. We published that more than 10 years ago. Since then, others have issued their own list of content criteria, the most recent of which was from the insightful B2B marketing blogger Chris Koch.
A decade later, we realize we left an important attribute off our list, one we haven’t seen on other lists. It’s the attribute of “coherence.”
Our original seven hallmarks didn't ignore it altogether. We implied it in the attribute of “clarity” (which we defined as communicating a concept in language understood by the target audience). But coherence is a nuance of clarity, and as we’ve discovered one not well understood. By coherence, we mean that a great point of view simplifies a very complex problem and provides a clear solution to it. The Oxford English Dictionary defines coherence as “reasoning of which all the parts are consistent and hang well together.”
The best way to bring coherence to a business issue that we’ve seen is to create a unifying theory – an overarching framework that explains the elements of an issue and how to solve it. Such frameworks decompose a problem and its solution into a few comprehensible elements. Michael Porter’s five forces of competition explained what made some markets attractive and others not. Reengineering guru Michael Hammer’s business system diamond articulated what companies needed to have super-efficient business processes.
It’s now banal to say that complexity is increasing in business and society. But it’s true. Those who can do the very hard work of turning an extremely complex and critical problem into a simple and helpful solution capture minds. By enlightening, their ideas become highly engaging.
Albert Einstein once said, “It should be possible to explain the law of physics to a barmaid.” He believed complex issues needed to be simplified to be understood, and had to be understood to be acted upon. American jazz great Charles Mingus once remarked, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”
When they tell customers how to solve a business problem, companies too must be able to make the very complex very simple. That’s what coherence – and the frameworks that generate it – are all about, and why they are so important.
How much have strong frameworks helped your audiences embrace your points of view?