David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
How Can They Lead If I Can't Follow Their Thoughts

December 6, 2017

For somebody who loves words, I sure can hate language.  Nothing obfuscates more than jargon and trendy language. I thought of that today when I saw a headline from Philadelphia that promised "Convening Thought Leaders Across the Region." What the hell is a "thought leader?"  Now more than ever I get the idea of a "thoughtless leader," and men all over the world are shaking from the notion that women are getting better and better as "thought readers."  But, what the hell is a "thought leader?"  (On another day, I might want to nitpick the idea of convening, which adds it own irritating gravitas to the event in Philadelphia.)

Just this past June, in fact a few days before my heart attack, I note, although I am not foolish enough to suggest a thought that the story led to my cardiac arrest, the New Republic published an interesting article called "The Rise of the Thought Leader," arguing that thought leaders were the creation of the very rich to counter the narrow-mindedness of academic intellectuals.  In a country that has always eschewed intellectualism, the American super-rich still needed an expert voice to mouth their world views.  Eventually the New Republic article discusses the rise of the Think Tank, idea factories that can exist only on the funding of the super-rich.

(As a side note, what the hell is a Think Tank?  It could be a place to put people as they enter a bar so that they avoid the Drunk Tank.  Or, maybe a powerful symbol from the hippie movement: "we don't need armored tanks, man, we need think tanks".)

The New Republic article captures quite well the effects that these influences have had on traditional universities and colleges, ranging from the money no longer donated to science projects but to business buildings; to the strange bedfellows being created when industry uses money to affect university research.  It truly is a bleak time for traditional intellectualism -- the pursuit of knowledge simply for its own good -- in this area of thought leaders, think tanks, and fake news.

Forbes just in the last week published the awful (and this is not easy to say because for the most part I still enjoy Forbes) "Nine Unique Ways To Brand Yourself As A Thought Leader." It should be one way: don't do it; if you have to brand yourself as such, you aren't as such.  It's amazing that anyone could accept the following pieces of advice with a straight face:

  • Under "Build Credibility as an Expert," we are told "don't be afraid to 'fake it until you make it'." Honestly, that is a direct quote.  No wonder we have trouble getting the young to understand that sometimes one has to wait for a lot of hard work and experience to pay off.
  • Under "Tell Your Story," we are told that our story is the single most important element of our brand, and that we "should write it down, practice it, memorize it." Good lord, why do I need to practice and memorize my story? It's my fucking story. I should be living it (or, in my case, almost dying and then coming back to live it some more).
  • Under "Brand Your Look," we are told that all of our content should have the same look and feel to them.  Ladies and Gentlemen, the franchising of ideas.  Choose Ideas from my dollar menu!
  • Under "Be Consistent," we are told to keep our "branding guide" handy.  If everything is the same, why do we need to keep our guide handy?

Not surprisingly, all of this puts me in a poetic mood:

Here's A Thought

When my leader has a thought.

Does it end up in a box,

Or showcased on Fox,

Or branded as scalding "Hot?"

Here's a thought,

Do with it what you wish,

Teach a man how not to fish,

Toss away any petri dish,

Incubation is simply a risk,

When there's a thought.


When my views come from a tank,

Has there been an epiphany,

Or simply subtle tyranny,

Or something stuck in infancy?

Here's a thought:

Trust what your mind wants to do,

Sit back and let the ideas stew,

Test them to someone else's view,

Maybe always hold them slightly askew,

And take no thought of how they label you.