Two good books on thought leadership, six bad ones

Philip Morgan

One heuristic for finding a good book on thought leadership might be to make sure the word "thought leadership" appears nowhere in the title or the book's contents.

I just reviewed the Kindle samples for 6 books on thought leadership (I know they are books on thought leadership because they have the word "thought leadership" in the title), and I feel like opening a dry cleaning business. I feel sad.

I feel this way because of the chipper, "hey sport, you too can be a thought leader!" tone they all have. One of them gave the very valuable suggestion of signing up for a "trend newsletter" to expand my thinking and, if money is a problem, finding an online event to attend.

I bought zero of these 6 books because that's how many of them evidenced believable advice about thought leadership (within the confines of the Kindle sample). Zero of these books seemed to address what I think are important questions:

  • Why do human beings with the need for services and the authority to buy them seek out thought leadership? Why does the buy side of the market even care about thought leadership? Do they care in the same way and use the same behaviors in every context, or does the context influence their behaviors in some deterministic way?
  • How does the buy side of the market become aware of thought leadership in the first place? How do buyers stay connected with thought leaders? What causes them to trust a thought leader?
  • What role do modern digital tools and platforms play in distributing thought leadership, and how do we exploit their power and minimize their constraints? What role does the social system of the market play in distributing thought leadership? How best to leverage all of this? How best to understand all this so that changes in the specifics don't threaten the thought leaders ability to reach an audience?
  • How does a thought leader evaluate and improve the quality of the content of their thought leadership? How can thought leaders become better thought leaders?

I bought zero of these 6 books because part of what feels sad about the contemporary Internet is that too many of the wrong kind of people believed the "hey sport, you too can be a thought leader!" message and started producing garbage content without ever wondering whether they really wanted the responsibilities of being a thought leader.

I have, however, recently read two books that show how thought leadership works. Neither of them use the word "thought leadership" even once.

The Anatomy of Humbug might be the best overview of the primary schools of thought on how advertising works. (I ordinarily think of advertising as a subset of marketing, but in this book advertising and marketing are roughly equivalent.) Thought leadership has played a significant role in defining and establishing those schools of thought.

Complexity is a pretty accessible primer on the study of complex adaptive systems wrapped in the human and intellectual origin story of the Santa Fe Institute.

Both of these books describe how ambitious, curious people led the thinking of an audience. If you abstract away some of the details, you'll see the shape of a journey that is applicable to almost any campaign of thought leadership, large or small, mercenary or missionary in nature.

"I won't call your name , I don't want no people to know you're in here" -- James Brown, "Doing It To Death"

I did not want to list the books I thought were bad because I don’t like throwing shade at other authors and who knows maybe they’re good after you get past the Kindle preview? Or maybe they're just for a very different audience.

Did I miss any actual good books on thought leadership that have the words thought leadership in the title or content? I'd love your recommendations.

One of the moving parts of thought leadership is a compelling point of view. One of my more effective workshops has been a 2-month online point of view workshop. Two important alterations to that workshop you should know about:

  • I've created a parallel repackaged version of it I call the One-Day 1:1 POV Intensive. It's either 1 full day or 2 half-days together with me in a 1:1 remote setting. I get more involved as consultant and co-writer than I'm able to in a group workshop setting. Details:
  • In 2022 I'll be experimenting with doing group workshops in a 1-day or two half-day format. I need to know if that works better for y'all than the "make sure you can attend most of 8 weekly meetings" format. Time to absorb and think about stuff is a feature, but so is being able to attend the event, and I want to see if a different way of packaging the material helps with the latter. No details yet, but please let me know if you have feedback on the "attendability" of a 1-day online thing vs. a spread-over-8-weeks online thing.