When There's No Payoff, There's No Thought Leadership

The New York Times ran a feature story last month with the fairly compelling headline, “I May Be 50, but Don’t Call Me a Boomer.”

Me, I’m skeptical of all generational tags – the Silent Generation, Generations X, Y, and Z, Millennials, whatever. As an old newspaperman, I know very well that they’re largely dreamed up by writers and editors desperately trying to fill space. More importantly, like any relatively intelligent person, I know that generalizations about large groups of people always have too many exceptions to be useful to anyone except those aforementioned writers and editors. And, of course, to the legions of experts who have made a living telling business people how to manage these various, allegedly vastly different collections of individuals.

However, the rap is that Boomers are nothing if not narcissistic, so, true (in this instance) to type, I read the article.

Its premise is that the term Boomer, generally used to describe anyone born between 1946 -1964, is too broad to reflect any commonality of type or interest.  The writer states that as he was born in 1964, his frame of reference is totally different than someone born in the forties or fifties. Like, totally. He goes on to list them: TV shows he didn’t watch; music he didn’t hear; drugs he did or didn’t take. It’s a long list. And because his experiences don’t align with other, older Boomers, then, well  . . . then nothing. And that’s the problem. The article is all premise, no payoff.

So Boomer is a useless description. No kidding. So what? So nothing. Nothing about what this might mean to anyone but the author. Nothing about what to do with this stunning insight. No suggestions for what this might mean for people trying to reach Boomers for any reason or even the Boomers themselves. No lessons. Nothing. Nada. 

I bring this up not to dump on the writer and editor who were just trying to fill space and did, after all, come up with a headline that enticed me to read what ran below. They did their job. Sort of. No, I bring this up because it is a common problem with articles that purport to represent thought leadership. They’re all premise, no payoff.

It’s easy to describe a situation or a problem. Healthcare is a mess. Businesses don’t pay enough attention to their human capital. IT projects are always late and over budget. Boomer is too broad a catchall to catch anything. It’s easy to support the premise with examples. You can find them anywhere. You can fill up a lot of space and use a lot of words listing them.

The hard part – the part that represents real thought and real thought leadership, not to mention good writing of any kind – is the payoff: What do you do now that you know? You’ve read the list, now how should you respond? What changes can you make? How can you turn the problem into an advantage? What does it all mean?

When I finished the article, I was a little ticked off. I think I tossed the paper to the floor. My time had been wasted. My time is important, at least to me.

I doubt you want prospective clients to feel as if their time has been wasted by the articles you produce, articles that are all premise. Make sure there’s a payoff. It may not be easy, but it's the least you can do. And if you can't, please, don't waste my time.

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