#041 - Thought Leadership
Back in 2010, Ben Horrowitz said
"Content-free executives have no value in startups."
As the information landscape around us continues to outpace our ability to manage it, this truism is affecting all knowledge workers - not just executives in the frontier of business and technology.
It's not enough today to be a "generic" leader or thought worker. Today, we must have *perspective* about the world around us.
Today it's vital that leaders are able to rapidly take in relevant information from the world around us, make sense of it, generate insight, and make a decision. This process is what we mean when we use terms like *Thought Leadership* or *Perspective*.
Luckily, this is a skill that can be learned and mastery over the ability to create thought leadership consistently over time will become more and more critical to succeed in our careers over the long term.
Thanks for joining us today and don't forget to hit the subscribe button and reach out at [email protected].
Robert Greiner 0:05
I do you have a topic for you, which I think could also bleed over into our internal Dallas podcast? And maybe we could start the discussion about it here and continue it?
Charles Knight 0:14
Robert Greiner 0:15
there and maybe you can be a little more inside baseball on our internal one. I'll try to set the stage as briefly as possible. Do you know there's a company? Andreessen Horowitz their venture capital?
Charles Knight 0:26
Robert Greiner 0:27
you've seen that? Yep. Okay, so Ben Horowitz wrote a book, The hard thing about hard things. And there is a blurb in there about executives, okay. And some guidance around, hey, if you're, it's a little startup centric. But my interpretation, how I've been thinking about this is this applies generally, and is becoming more and more important, anywhere you are, if you want to grow your career, that kind of thing. So this talks about, hey, you get a new executive, you need to make sure they're demonstrating monthly, weekly daily objectives, you want to really show, hey, we're producing immediately. So there's this trend. Now, what I don't think they really mean is write this code, or build this deck. It's like outcomes that you're mobilizing and driving a team to achieve. And then there's this line, where it says, Hey, content, free executives have no value in startups, no value in organizations. And I think the idea there is, hey, there's no such thing anymore as like a generic leader. That's just let me go into this group and lead some things, I think you have to have a point of view, a perspective on what the future holds, what direction your organization should go in? What little bets are you going to place everywhere apart? What opinions do you have? What direction are you headed in, and it could be around your industry, it could be around your customer base market forces, the technology, you're building, the products you're making, it doesn't matter. But you have to have an opinion about something related to your role, your sphere of influence your sphere of control, and then actively working to move the organization in that direction. But it starts with I think, a well articulated, intentional, well thought out opinion around one of those things. And so we have an internal process called the point of view, which is has some baggage around it. But what it does is it puts you in the crucible and molds you into a content filled executive. It prepares you for success at the next level. But you also come out of it, not only with a perspective and some thought leadership in a single area, but the ability to go generate more perspectives and thought leadership and content for whatever area you're in the future. And I wanted to get your thoughts on that. Because the trend what we've been doing for a while, and we keep revisiting every now and then about Okay, should this go away? Should we water it down? Should we do these things to it? It seems like the trend in the knowledge worker space across organizations is coming more and more towards you need to be a content full executive. And maybe we were a little bit ahead of the times there. But it does seem like we're on the right thread and people that go through it tend to be better off than people who don't I don't know, what do you think about it?
Charles Knight 3:12
Yeah, I definitely see the parallels and what they're saying I haven't read the book. And so I'd be curious to hear more. If there's, I don't know if that's just like a one line aside, that you get from the book, or if that's like a core focus of the book, but maybe we can get as
Robert Greiner 3:26
of the onboarding new executives. So it's like a paragraph. It's like, there's some information dense essays, basically. And so this is a component of a larger picture that I heard, brought up in it and another discussion. And then as I started thinking about how that applied to our world, I was thinking, hey, there's something here like this is clearly becoming more and more important, because the leaders who are even well established and experienced in their career, if they don't have these perspectives and opinions, it tends to, like I mentioned earlier, just not go well, things don't go well, if you just want to be a generic leader.
Charles Knight 4:03
Yeah, yeah, I think that connects back to some of the things that we've talked about around being a specialist or generalist, the and at our firm, we strive to develop generalists who have the capability to solve problems in a variety of different in a variety of different areas, and in different ways. And I think we live and breathe, knowledge, work, knowledge work is it's a funny thing, because knowledge work has been a phrase that has been around for quite some time. But in recent years, there's been this surge of focus around data that go we need to get a handle on our data. And I think, I wonder if we're, if what we're pointing to is we're going back to our roots of what is the foundations of knowledge work? Maybe not, I don't know, it's probably another topic we can dive into. But what I react to there is there's so much data in the world, and so much information that we're presented with at any given time, and we can seek out all of the information in the world, right? It's a Google search away, that not having an opinion on how to interpret all of that information means you're not, you're not capable of being a leader, or an executive. Because in the future, it's only going to get worse. There's only going to be more data, more information, and more of a need for leaders to be able to rapidly take in relevant information, make sense of it, and spit out a direction or an insight or make a decision. And I think that's a skill that can be developed for sure. I think I would call that thought leadership. That's a skill. It's like you don't just you're not just born a thought leader. There are skills and tools that you can learn and practice to produce that leadership. And that is a critical skill in this day and age for executives and leaders. I agree with a lot. It's interesting phrasing, they said content free.
Is that what they said content?
Robert Greiner 6:10
Yeah. Content free executive?
Charles Knight 6:12
Yeah, that's interesting. But I agree with the premise for sure.
Robert Greiner 6:15
So you may have seen me go into concentration mode and type, you said something that I wanted to make sure got captured. And I'll use some of my own words, data that is a Google search away, is not valuable. Everyone has access to it. It's not differentiating,
Charles Knight 6:31
Robert Greiner 6:32
And we have entered a stage of this exponentially expanding information landscape, whatever you want to call it, there's too much information. We're drowning in it, drowning in data. So what you're saying is, there's more of a need for leaders to be able to rapidly take in relevant information from the sea of noise, make sense of it, generate an insight or an opinion, make a decision because of it. And you bundled that flow into something you called thought leadership, which are you named thought leadership, which can mean several things. But I think that's a great definition. And that ability to synthesize and distill and pluck out what's important, and move forward intentionally because of it is a skill that can be learned. And not only is it a skill that can be learned, it's a critical skill to master as it's only going to get worse, like information is not slowing down, we're going to be talking a year from now in it, the total information on the planet will have doubled or something.
Charles Knight 7:32
Yeah. And the I remember seeing something years ago, around the time, I was developing my first point of view about our company. And it was a simple graph, that was in some big consulting companies white paper, and it showed a linear line that represents human's ability to adapt to change. And it's relatively flat, right? slight upward slope. And then it had layered on top of that, the increasing rate of change of technology. And it's an exponential curve, right? It's like it starts off flat, and then it goes up exponentially. And at some point, the lines diverge. And they put a dot past the point at which it diverges. And it was meant to say it's like, Hey, we're past the point, where humans are able to keep up with how rapidly technology is changing our world. And that became, that was like a lightbulb moment for me. That's it's the reason why you and I, we grew up with Facebook, right in college, but I've never touched tik tok, as like, I can't keep up with that. I didn't even do Twitter, right? It's like, I stopped with Facebook. Because it's changing too much. There's too many platforms like there's too many newfangled things, it's hard enough to keep up with a consumer device, like a smartphone, much less all the different apps that are out there. And that that's a real simple example of what that chart was trying to illustrate. And that seeing that chart and realizing that's where we are like as, as individuals as humans, it actually was a big relief. Because I think up until that point, I was struggling to keep up with the latest and greatest technologies, the latest and greatest languages, you know, programming languages that were coming out. And when I saw it, I was like, Wait a second, I don't need to do that. Because I can never win. Like I can never win if I just try to keep up with all the technology that's coming out. And so I took a pause, and I reflect and I said, If I can't win, that way, there's got to be another way for me to win. And that's when I remembered we're trained to think in terms of patterns. Right? There are consistent patterns that apply no matter what type of technology we're using, no matter what type of problem we face. And, and very quickly I realized like there's things like systems thinking that you can learn that is a skill that can help you in any situation, figure out what's the root cause of the problem? What's the right way to approach and design a solution? And that was a pivotal moment in my career where where I almost let go of this fear of being, what's the right word here becoming obsolete? Yeah. Because I didn't understand the technology at a low level. And what I realized is, Hey, I can transcend that and gain the skills that will make me always relevant, and even more valuable than those with specialists who have the time, energy and interest to stay up with the latest and greatest of one particular technology. Because I think it is possible if you just focus narrowly, but that was that's never been my interest. I've always wanted to be a generalist, an executive and things like that.Robert Greiner:
Yeah. But let me add on to that, that, you're also building a perspective and going very deep on smart cities. So it's the what we're not saying here is let the wave of technology crash over you, and you're just left where you're at. And we work with people who have been left in the dust. And it's just a slow, painful decline to obsolescence. And maybe you hope you can retire before that happens. We're not talking about that here. What we're talking about is building a set of skills that are almost like first principles, you're building your ability to learn, you're building your ability to go deep on a subject and research and distill, find what's important, and have a perspective on it and push on that, and that evolves and adapts over time. But what you're really it's not really smart cities like that just happened to interest you. It's all the things and activities you're doing to get up to speed on it. And this time next year, it may be something different, or maybe the same. But you're talking about that sort of first principles view.Charles Knight:
Yeah, yeah.Robert Greiner:
Because the world around us is changing too rapidly, you have to pick somethingCharles Knight:
I'm not learning about and wanting to go deep and be an expert in smart cities. And so I want to look at what's out there from a smart city space and come up with a different perspective, like a different angle that only I can bring, because I'm a unique individual, but also because I have this generalist mindset. And I've got a broad base of experience and interests. And it's in that it's in that different perspective, or looking at the problem from a different angle, where there can be incredible value to be found. And can I share a quote with you that I am pleased in my first point of view? So it's by a guy named Stuart Brand. I don't know if many people would know who Stuart Brand is. He's of all the major tech movements. Now think about the personal computer, and to things like trying to bring back the woolly mammoth. I don't know if you've heard that before. There's companies out there that are trying to recreate the woolly mammoth, this guy's involved in all of it. He's also the he created the the movement around Earth Day. And we have we celebrate Earth Day, every year. Like he started by pushing to get a full picture of the Earth from space, because like, we've been in space for a while. It's like, why haven't we seen a picture of the Earth from space. And he went on to build this catalog. And it's a fascinating guy. I watched a documentary about him recently. And he's also the founder of the long now foundation. So he's trying to bring long term thinking into humanity. And he's building into a mountain, like a 10,000 year mechanical clock. So it's an entirely mechanical clock, but I'll just go on for 10,000 years. And it's meant to be kind of inspiration for us to think about the long term right to address those things like climate change and existential risk of humanity in any way. Fascinating individual. He has a quote, here it is, once a new technology rolls over you, if you're not part of the steamroller, you're part of the road, once a new technology rolls over you, if you're not part of the steamroller, you're a part of the road. And there's some rich stuff that we can unpack there, as we talk about the rate of change and technology and all that sort of stuff. But it's to me, it encapsulates when he says we're not telling you that you should opt out, you got to find a way to not only ride the wave, but steer it to this, I believe that technology co-evolves with us as humans, and we have a responsibility to shape its evolution, because it's certainly affecting our evolution. And we need to work together to make sure it's headed in the right direction. So
I feel like I've got a responsibility, yeah, to stay engaged and to bring my own thinking about how to ethically use AI and all that sort of stuff.Robert Greiner:
And it's interesting to think of that too, because there's also there's a perishable nature to this as well. And we have some very heavy points of view. Internally right blockchain deep security stuff smart power grids, voice of customer like math organization, change management at Scale like, all the things that you would expect sort of smart people to be thinking about and pushing on. And every year, what I've noticed is the standard for what constitutes a perspective, a worthy articulation of thought leadership grows, I looked, one of our very first points of view that was published and accepted, was basically saying, hey, you should take all of your Excel spreadsheets and create these new database driven applications from them. And we have a an approach that will come and survey your organization, figure out what all the spreadsheets you have randomly on people's computer, this is before Cloud Storage. So you have all this risk, right, and homegrown macro functions and all these things, and we're going to compile them, we're going to do build applications, server based applications for replacing your Excel spreadsheets. Today, that's ludicrous. Like you would be laughed out of the room, if you went in and said, something like that. But there's a pattern there of, hey, you have a bunch of individuals doing their own thing, maybe you should go in and survey and figure out what's important and build a centralized component. But you go from that to like, how to use blockchain in healthcare, right? Like, it's the distance that's been covered in less than a decade is just massive, and that's only getting faster. So to your point, you have to build the skills required to get up to speed in this new area quickly, and generate thought leadership generated perspective, create something unique, place your bets and move forward. It's not Hey, I'm just gonna, I'm just gonna go and focus on cloud 100%. For the rest of my career that may not make it.Charles Knight:
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And what I think I'll share too, is that we've been talking about thought leadership, with big T, like big t thought leadership, like the formal POV is that we develop at different stages in our career at our firm, but I think thought leadership is everywhere. And it can be at very micro levels. So maybe it's micro thought leadership. And part of what what I do when I'm coaching people on developing their points of view is to try to get them to see this as an exercise in building thought leadership. And that that starts simply with being really intentional, and being thoughtful about what you consume, whether that's an article that you read, or a book that you read, or podcasts that you listen to, and being thoughtful about why you're consuming it. And what do you want to do with it, because I think, a byproduct or an effect of all of this information that is being thrown at us against our will as a result of algorithms, but also intentionally because we have access to all of it is that we undergo such cognitive load that we feel like we've got to get, essentially, to Inbox Zero, it's a quantity thing. Let me consume as much as I can. And let me get through all the articles that have been shared with me that I'm supposed to read because of my roles. And most of the time, people have nothing to show for it. They can say they read them. But if you ask them, it's like, can you synthesize any insights from all the articles that you read? Or do you? Was there anything valuable in one of them that you want to share and apply? Nine times out of 10? It's like, I don't really remember. And that'sRobert Greiner:
just like intellectual entertainment. Yeah, it's the same as watching science fiction. At that point, you just you're aiming at peeking your interest in something, but you haven't gone through the steps of distilling and making it your own and then creating an opinion aboutCharles Knight:
Yeah. And so as a result, we get so used to consuming that we don't know how to create, and we can take like a creativity angle to thought leadership to because it does require, I wouldn't say a leap of faith, but it does require creativity, right to think about what you're presented with. And imagine what else could it be, if not this? Right, as opposed to just accepting it? It's, what if it was different? Yeah. What if we prioritize something else? How could this be different? How could this be better? That's, I think that's the at least my hypothesis, right? If that is a skill that we can teach people like, how do you read? How do you take notes about what you read? And how do you synthesize those notes into some sort of opinion? And that's thought leadership, and people in high school can do that. My kids can do that. And they're, I should try it with them. I imagine they could. They're six and nine. Yeah. Anyway, clearly, you've had an interesting topic that I'm pretty passionate about. And that's why I do a lot of try to help a lot of people with developing their points of view because I know it's hard but it is a skill. Like a lot of people think that they can't do it. There's something fundamentally wrong about the way that they prefer to think, or that they don't have that vision that some people think is required. Man I call Balderdash and all of it and I think it's a skill that everybody can learn and I'm trying to do my best to help people there. What do you think being a content for Executive, can that be overcomed? Are there some people who will never be able to rise to the level of leadership and being an executive who can provide that thought leadership?Robert Greiner:
Yeah, that's a great question. And going to it, this is a learnable skill, this is a skill that's can be trained can be learned can be improved on. I think a proxy for that is that you created things a year ago, five years ago, 10 years ago, that you might look back on and say that was terrible, and you've improved and your expression of creativity of your ability to do your craft or your work grows by nature of you doing it. And I think Denzel Washington was saying, like, there's no such thing as good or bad. There's just trained and untrained. And so there's a level of effort here that I think anyone is capable of the leadership thing, my personal view, I guess, it's my professional opinion, leadership is a series of behaviors that can be learned. And I read somewhere like Michael Phelps, so 12 gold medals, or however many he won, his hands like actually have webbing on them a little bit, a little part of, and so he's like, genetically engineered to be good at swimming, but he put in more work than anyone else too . And so I do agree that you may be more predisposed based on how you're wired, to more easily exhibit leadership behaviors, fine. Anyone can learn and grow. And you can learn it for free. There's tons of resources out there that can get you started, some of which we've talked about on the podcast. The thing though, is okay, so if we go back to this idea of like content, and perspectives and points of view, it was very much like the opinion that Ben Horowitz shared was around startup executives on the frontier of knowledge work. Now we're saying, Hey, we're seeing this trend collapse into other executives and leaders. And if you're an individual contributor, doing knowledge work like this is coming for you. Like by the time our kids enter the workforce, this will be just a baseline expectation for them. And so these are skills that if you want to keep up with your career, your craft, if you want to keep growing, I think has to be built. And at some point, you're going to wake up, and it's going to be your reality, regardless of I think what level you're at.Charles Knight:
Yeah. And I think that gets at something that I want to, you know, thread I want to pull on around creativity, because I believe you're right thought leadership is, is a skill that can be developed at any stage of one's career. And I think that there is something that I think is not able to be trained, that is required for continued thought leadership over time, I think people can learn the skill, and they can produce that leadership. But to do it over time, there has to be something else that comes from within the person. And to me, it's either, and I don't have a fully formed hypothesis here. It's either curiosity or inspiration, it there needs to be one of those two things present. Plus, having learned the skills of producing thought leadership, that is required to be able to be able to maintain over time, this status of thought leadership. And because it's not enough just to produce a piece of thought leadership, you've got to do that, from here on out. And I'm focusing on smart cities right now, before that it was artificial intelligence and machine learning. In five years, it'll probably be something else. But there's a thread that connects all of these topics together, that deeply motivates me. That's like, it's a desire to leverage my professional and personal interests to make my community a better place. And smart cities is the next incarnation of that, because what I find is, once I teach people, hey, thought leadership starts with reading of taking notes and stuff like that. They're like, Well, how do I find a topic? What are you interested in? And for some people, they don't know. They don't know. And I have to give them permission to be curious, and to see what they want to learn about. And so that there's an element of continuous learning. I don't know curiosity, having some sort of inspiration or motivation that I think has to be there to be a really effective thought leader or content executive, wherever you want to phrase it. What's your reaction that Robert,Robert Greiner:
was thinking, you said smart cities, you said AI ml. Those are very heady, lofty things. You also we were in a discussion just six weeks ago, I think that you had a really interesting perspective on how an organization should manage their data. And this wasn't a self driving vehicles situation. This was a manufacturing situation, like solved problems, but it was like a really interesting perspective on how to survive and thrive in the next 10 years from what you do with your manufacturing data. And there's like this wide range which has stemmed from an initial curiosity of making the community around you a better place which splintered out into all of these interesting areas. And I have There's a quote from Richard Fineman, but I'm trying to find it. And that's how I'll cut. I'll cut all this out. Because you asked, say, What do I think about what you said, Richard Fineman had this idea of, hey, here's my 12 favorite problems. And here's so here's a quote from him. Yeah, you have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind. Although by and large, they will lay in a dormant state, every time you hear a new trick, or a new result tested against each of your 12 problems to see whether it helps. Every once in a while, there'll be a hit, and people will say, How did he do it? He must be a genius. And so I think what you're very appropriately pointing out is like a tactical practical thing that worked for you in your career, which has been validated by Richard Fineman said there's really no as far as geniuses go. Yeah. Like, if he says this works, it probably works. And you have an interest, you have an interest in making the world around me a better place. What does that even mean? Right, but you've thought you're thinking about it. And then smart cities, oh, that's, that could reduce poverty that could increase safety that could do all these things. How would a city run itself? Is that a single AI system? Or is it a system of systems and like you, you can go into like data, Ai, all these things start to make sense now, because of this core interest that you have. And you've come to these conclusions. After years of consuming, nutritionally rich information. That's the key. And then you've synthesize made your own wrote down, thought about and ultimately created an opinion around, but you didn't do it all in one massively busy month, you just slowly just like consuming rich information, and shoving out all the bad stuff to the degree that you can. And then over time, that's where like, the compound effect really comes in. And so as a next step, maybe write down Wait, what's 12 problems that you're interested in solving could be around being half of mine, when I did this exercise, we're around personal stuff, like how to be a better Dad, how to be a better husband, those kinds of things? And like, how do you raise kids that maximally increase their chances of being functional, balanced adults like that? That's how we haven't figured that out? Yeah, there's no formula there. Yep. How does that work? And I think going through the exercise will help unlock and you can't help but think of these things. Once you've asked yourself the question.Charles Knight:
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, there's, I don't know if they're, if this is common or not, but a lot of what I do, whether it's personally or professionally, I tried to connect together. Like I want everything that I'm doing in all areas of my life to be unified in some way. It doesn't have to all be there, but it's one, okay, where I focused my time from a nonprofit standpoint, overlaps with things that I talked to my kids about, right, because I want to show them about being servant leaders and giving back to their community and smart cities overlaps with the nonprofit stuff that I do through the specific types of engagements that I tried to, to work with, and smart cities covers off on the professional stuff that that we can do from a solutions standpoint, you see the overlap between all those things inside, I just, I strive to have them all be connected, because I think that's the only way I can make sense of it all. And I can have this like enduring motivation that's required to really make a difference. Like, if I focus on this for my entire career, I might move the needle a little bit. But because these are really complex problems, like you talked about, okay, how do you solve poverty in our cities, it's part of that's the digital divide, and that the stuff doesn't get solved overnight. And so you have to keep it top of mind for a long time and take every opportunity that you can to move things forward. But I really don't know if that's just is everybody like that wired to try to unify things? Or no, no,Robert Greiner:
I don't think so. But there is a key point in there, which is you may have these sort of unattainable, even problems you're pushing on. Like you may get to the end of your life and not have influenced that at all. But your act of trying one gives you individual purpose, which I mean, that in of itself is priceless. But that the exercise you go through to push on that problem makes you a better consultant makes you a better employee makes you a better leader. Even silly things. There's a couple of analogies. I've been thinking about playing golf. So you could argue besides like the days of deals on the golf course, or that's not even really a thing anymore, but I was thinking about if leadership is a series of behaviors that the hardest thing to tackle is the awkwardness of learning a new behavior. It's like changing your golf swing, that's super awkward. And then a month later, you couldn't go back to the old way even if you tried. Like it's just the muscle memories there. Are you have the deliberate practice idea where you may have Tiger Woods. The reason he won this tournament is because he sat in the sand trap for eight hours. Hitting golf balls out of it at all different angles. And so he never hits a shot in a tournament that he hasn't hit before. He's practice in a safe to fail environment like you already fail over here. So you don't fail when it counts. So this idea of you don't rise to the occasion, you fall to your greatest level of preparation. Those are two leadership concepts, for instance, that I have an opinion about, that are not as heavy as smart cities. But they're practical for me that I came to the conclusion around because of my experience playing golf, which I'm terrible at I'm horrible at golf, and those kind of like when you start to overlap, those ideas, I think is a really good way to start. And it doesn't have to be some PhD thesis. It's just like spending some time intentionally thinking through how these things apply. And most the time they weren't most ideas are bad, right? out of the gate.Charles Knight:
Yeah, absolutely.Robert Greiner:
But you just got to keep turning on it every now and then one more stick. And then it's the thing forever, that pays dividends.
Over time.Charles Knight:
That's, that gets down to something that I think a lot of us, myself included, experienced during the POV process. And to a degree I think still happens when I think about thought leadership and what that means whether that's a couple of slides for presentation to a client or sales proposal or whatever. It's a you can have the skills down, you can have some sort of interest in a topic, but the act of creation, imagine creating art. It's inherently scary. There's an element of putting yourself out there that is that has got to be overcome. And you give me a book The War of Art.Robert Greiner:
Yeah, Steven pressfield.Charles Knight:
Yeah, resistance. Yeah, that's so real. It's uh, I don't know if many people in our fields are very analytical engineering brains if they view thought leadership as art, but I do guy, I described the points of view as these are individual masterpieces that we're working on. And oh, by the way, masterpieces from the greats like Leonardo da Vinci, they carried those things around for decades, tweaking it every so slightly, every now and then. And so I see a lot of parallels between the great artists and masterpieces that they've developed over their careers and things like producing thought leadership over time. You know,Robert Greiner:
that's why I really liked the idea of craft, like you're working on your craft, it implies this ongoing practice, you're never you've never arrived, you can always get better, better, usually require some kind of mentorship. And so it's like, this skill involved in creating something. But there is like, yeah, there's certainly a creative artistic expression. Like even when you're doing like really hardcore analytical science, like the creativity of which you may ask a word a question on a survey, or combine two pieces of data together, or the way that you have to express your findings. You know, that's not all analytical.Charles Knight:
Did you experience fear when you're creating many of your points of view? Oh, my gosh, yes,Robert Greiner:
100%, because now you're set up against the standard. That's what it is, if you create a painting, and I think Ira Glass talks about this, he your taste very quickly outpaces your skills, it's much easier to learn to appreciate some piece of beautiful piece of work where, you know, people, if you talk about painting to get a facial feature could take a decade. And yeah, there's like a standard. So if you go create a painting, you have generations of master craftspeople, yeah, Master painters who have done a better job than you'll ever do. And when I was going through the POV, though, that part of the problem is, yes, you're putting something concrete down to be judged. And then the people doing the judging are the very people, I don't want to disappoint. And so that was like an existential crisis for me, not maybe not a crisis, an existential experience, where I was thinking, Okay, if I do this, like that's gonna, that this could go badly, these people could think I'm an idiot, and that would be soul crushing.Charles Knight:
Yeah, you're so right. It's on the one hand, given how much information is out there, whatever we create, you know, the vast majority of people aren't going to pay attention to, but in the situation where we have it designed as part of our growth and development at our firm. Yeah, you're presenting to people that you have looked up to and respected for a long time, and you don't want to let them down. And so that, that does add a bit of complexity and challenge for the Creator. But when we think about, okay, this white paper that I'm trying to write around smart cities, how many white papers on smart cities I've read, like, dozens, so I can write something and publish it, the vast majority people aren't going to read it, because it's, it's just one amongst many, even if it's highly differentiated and unique. There's just so much noise out there. And so I need to this is good reminder for myself. I need to lower the bar. I need to lower the bar, because I don't think that I'm going to let anybody down. But I do hold this unrealistic standard. Nobody's going to compare me to Picasso or Da Vinci except me. And that's the resistance that Steven pressfield talks about. So, yeah, there's I have, I've learned a lot in thinking about thought leadership as art, a creative expression, even though it is it requires some analytical thinking to just given the subjects.Robert Greiner:
Yeah, and just a really maybe simple example of that, though, there's a timing element here to where the thing you create may not be useful to someone until distant period in the future. So there's this website, Stack Overflow, I'm sure you've used it. This was what, gosh, 14 years ago, I had a goal on Stack Overflow, see, people ask questions about programming, you answer their questions, if they like it, you get up voted, if you get voted, you get reputation. And it's a community platform. So the more reputation you have, which you can only get through participating, the more sort of admin permissions you have. And I wanted to get 10,000, because that was the highest level of permissions. And so I spent a lot of time getting to 10,000. My reputation now on Stack Overflow is 27,144. It's gone up 5000. Since the last time I've looked at it, I haven't posted an answer in years, people keep coming across stuff that I've posted.Charles Knight:
it's benefited them, they click up vote. And that's that's the lowest t thought leadership, like it's just a solution to a very practical problem. Yeah, it just keeps showing up for his people who, gosh, 14 years ago, what they were elementary school, like when I answered that question, and now they're a developer, and they're like, hey, how do you do this? There it is. And so I think there's this timelessness in some information is definitely perishable. Some of this thought leadership when you really, when you have an opinion, and your opinion is unique, because your talent stack is unique, your experiences are unique, you're going to see things with a slightly different lens and perspective. We have, our values are closely aligned, you and I see the world almost completely differently. That's a wonderful thing. And so when you create these perspectives capture, that's why capturing them is so important. They'll be useful to people in ways that you don't predict, at times, you don't predict.Charles Knight:
that is so true. You've told me about that Stack Overflow story. And that'sRobert Greiner:
the top 2% of programmers on the planet, based on Stack Overflow, but I haven't I'm just looking at my chart right now. year over year, just a steady increase. People come across answers I posted that they find valuable. And I haven't haven't posted in, like I said in years,Charles Knight:
I think that just goes to, again, the pattern that we're seeing is it's so many. I wonder how many Stack Overflow readers consumers only are there like what percentage of community members actually post? It's got to be some ridiculously small number, like the whole Wikipedia thing.Robert Greiner:
Oh, yeah, there may be 100,000 users, but there's millions of page views a month. Exactly. Yeah,Charles Knight:
yes. Yeah, absolutely. orders of magnitude difference between contributors and consumers. And you're so right, like answering a question like that you can view as small team thought leadership. And I remember, in my stack overflow days, I consumed a lot. And I was like, You know what, I don't know enough. I don't know enough to put out an answer. And that stopped me. I don't think I've ever posted an answer on Stack Overflow. And again, it's that resistance, right? Like,Robert Greiner:
Yeah, you just put something as quick as mine was, I need to be first because at the time, they weren't showing you answers randomly. I wanted people to see mine first. And if they were I was getting a bunch of down votes, because it was wrong, I would just delete it. And then the good ones I would leave. That's actually what you just outlined, what we just talked about here in this micro example, is our approach to generating thought leadership, you're much more introspective, and you'll go and Tinker and make it like a polished product when it's done. And I'll do it more publicly and highly iteratively. And I'll mess up a bunch more. And there's no way that that's cool. There's no right or wrong answer. You're getting to the outcome, which is this expression of an opinion.Charles Knight:
But I will tell you, I did embrace your thinking there. Last year, when things were really volatile as a result of COVID. And all of the uncertainty that it brought. I remember in bracing, if I have an idea, I need to put it on paper and share it. Because if it's just in my head, it doesn't do anybody any good. And when things are chaotic, putting things on paper can help to bring a little bit of order. And I remember documenting things like hey, we just delivered a sales proposal virtually, like we we read I've never done that before, or prior to COVID. And so it's obviously I thought about lighting and audio and multiple screens.Robert Greiner:
Oh yeah, you
had the ring light. I remember that I thisCharles Knight:
I had the ring light. Yes. Like, you know what, let me just write this down and share it. Maybe that'll help somebody and who knows if it did, but I'm willing to bet it maybe helped one person and it was worth it then it's hard to see it. Though because we don't get immediate feedback, and we don't get feedback at all, sometimes on what we create, and that might hold people back to because they want validation or affirmation. And I don't know, I don't know if I'm that type of person or not. ButRobert Greiner:
we took an interesting turn here now that the I've heard this as a quote before, but I don't remember where. But if someone knocked on your door, right now, Charles and said, Hey, your great grandmother, Melinda night, from Ireland, like we've uncovered like a storage unit with some of her stuff in it from 100 years ago. And she had this diary. Do you want it? It just has the mundane stuff she did every day? Yeah, you'd say? Yeah, of course. Yes. Like, what was it like? Yeah, for Melinda night to live in, like Europe during this time?Charles Knight:
Yeah. Like, how did that even work? Then you would be like, super interested in that. And so I think there's, we drastically underestimate that some, you know, information is perishable. Some of this stuff still gets like maybe wine, right? Like it. The longer it sits, the more rich it becomes. And then at some point, it won't be useful anymore, probably. But you could be thinking in terms of decades, though, like this stuff can last for a long time.Charles Knight:
Yeah, that's part of the reason why, for our podcast, it's, it's like, Hey, we're in this for the long game, right? So if we pump out an episode, every week, for years, like we will have amassed a tremendous amount of we will have codified a tremendous amount of our knowledge. And that is hopefully forever available to anybody who wants it. Our kids, maybe complete strangers. And yeah, I think that's a great example of the compounding effect of creating thought leadership. In each episode that we record, each deck that we write is independent and stand alone. But collectively, it becomes like a rich knowledge base that that we can tap into. And this gets into some of the stuff that you and I are into around different kind of note taking tools, right, I know you're taking a course around. How do you build a second brain, which I can't wait to hear about your experience with that. AndRobert Greiner:
transformational. It's amazing.Charles Knight:
That's awesome. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But that's the sort of thinking that I think we need in this day and age. It's like, we need to embrace the exponential nature of technology and change, and build our own base of knowledge to allow us to respond, like to all of the complexity in the world. There's all these different expressions, podcasts, proposals, the stuff that we read the stuff we write, yeah,
it's all part of that.Robert Greiner:
And almost, undoubtedly, I don't know if this is unanimous. I'd probably bet that it is once you publish something. You're gonna wish you had done it sooner.Charles Knight:
Yeah. Yeah.Robert Greiner:
Just like a podcast. I wish we started years ago.Charles Knight:
Yeah, we talked about it years ago. And then when I think we might have I thinkRobert Greiner:
you were at some breakfast place. I don't even like breakfast. Yeah, yeah. So there you go. Alright, man. So if you, whatever I think in closing, you're and I'm going to go back to the notes here, because I really liked what you said, I wrote down in this world of information that's expanding exponentially, that we can never keep up with. There is more of a need for leaders for knowledge workers, for executives, doesn't matter. To be able to rapidly take in relevant information, make sense of it, generate insight, make a decision. That's thought leadership that's having a perspective maybe was not required 5-10 years ago, the trend is definitely coming for you whatever level you're at. You have to be able to build this skill and express opinions about the world around you.Charles Knight:
Awesome. Maybe we'll dig into this topic a little bit more. I'm bummed. Igor couldn't join us today.Charles Knight:
Yeah, yeah. It's wonderful topic. Yeah. Thanks for bringing up Robert.Robert Greiner:
I think he went to grab some sushi. Without us.Charles Knight:
I'm so jealousRobert Greiner:
in California. He sent some pictures that looked really good.
jealous tooCharles Knight:
We miss you Igor.Robert Greiner:
Yes. All right, man. Hey, it was great talking to you. Thanks for hanging out, buddy.Charles Knight:
That's it for today. Thanks for joining. And don't forget to follow us on Twitter @wannagrabcoffee or drop us a line at [email protected]