Thought Leadership Tricks We Hate

A study just conducted by my colleague, Bob Buday, in collaboration with the AMCF and Research Now, found that bad thought leadership content actually lowers the reader’s opinion of the firm that publishes it. In other words, if your content is bad, you’re driving away potential clients.

That’s not good, and on some level almost everyone knows when something is bad. One way that people sometimes try to get away with weak content is to attempt to fix it by using one or more of the following tricks.

  • Rambling obfuscation: You can be sure that when a writer puts 50+ words in a sentence you can’t understand, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s just hoping you’ll think you’re the dumb one. This almost never works.
  • Haughty capitalization: Some authors try to make the banal sound novel by inventing a new proper noun for it. For example: the Elite and the Struggling, Whole Client Model (sic), System For Managing (sic), Orange Paper or Creative Capital. Some take the pretense up a notch by trade- or service-marking names they’ve made up, such as Last Mile Manufacturing®, Supply Chain Guardian™, or Enhanced Account Analysis™. (I’ve not made these up.)
  • Baseless bloviating: An article that expresses the author’s opinion on a topic without data or examples to substantiate it is precisely that — an opinion. And most opinions are not worth taking any notice of. Here’s one: “ROI calculations for IT projects are almost always wrong because they do not account for the business impact of the technology.” Almost always? Really? How can you be so sure? People whose opinions are generally respected, such as Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, rarely voice theirs without explaining their basis.
  • Adjectival insertion: Sounds painful, doesn’t it? It is. It’s a particularly lazy trick to use adjectives (such as proactive, strategic and holistic) to elevate the same-old-same-old. “A well-planned project is more likely to succeed” is a statement that’s hard to argue with, but not exactly a revelation. If the author says instead that “Strategic projects achieve greater holistic success when they are planned proactively,” it sounds (for a moment) as though he knows something we don’t. He does. He knows his adjectives.
  • Banal recommendation: “Be selective with your time.” (As opposed to wiling away the hours on Tinder?) “Deliver more strategic information to the board to enable better decision-making.” One question we ask ourselves about prescriptions here at Bloom Towers is “Would the opposite ever make sense?” E.g. “Deliver less strategic information to the board to degrade decision-making.” If not, there is no value in the prescription.
  • Self-exaltation: We are all defined in part by what we have done and by what others think of us. We are not defined by what we think of ourselves. If in his bio a writer tells us he is a senior supply chain consultant with 20 years’ experience, we can be reasonably confident he knows a thing or two about supply chains. If he tells us, without substantiation, that he is a leading expert and renowned thinker on anything (but especially on social media), he’s hoping to delude us. Don’t be fooled.

These tricks aren’t worth practicing. They might fool some of the author’s colleagues some of the time (and maybe even the boss), but they’ll drive prospective customers away.



Submitted by Matt on

Good post - kind of Orwells' Rules for execs...

But, it's 'practising' not 'practicing'. The verbal form takes an 's'. Sod's Law at work.

Submitted by Tim Parker on

I haven't cross-checked Orwell's rules, but yes, I am sure the principles of good (and bad) writing haven't changed since 1946. Practicing btw, is the US spelling, which I have to use because I live here and my spell checker doesn't let me write UK English. And neither do my colleagues.

Submitted by Rob Leavitt on

Nice piece Tim. I think "banal recommendations" is the most pernicious. Bad writing is of course pervasive (and damaging) but presumably can be lessened with good editing. But the "well, obviously" recommendations that are similarly common reflect a deeper problem with the very idea of thought leadership. I totally agree that asking if the opposite might ever make sense is a great, simple test of whether the recommendation is even potentially useful or interesting.

Submitted by Tim Parker on

I agree Rob. Haughty capitalization is easily fixed of course, unless the author wants to argue the point. Coincidentally, we were disussing on a call today how to diplomatically handle an author who insists on hyphenating Big-Data (hauthy hyphenation perhpas). In this case, the client's in-house proofers will fix it so we don't have to do anything. But a lack of useful prescriptions, though almost as easy to spot, is rather harder to fix.

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