There’s a great article in Inc. magazine on becoming a thought leader in your industry. While it was written mainly for CEOs, there are some valuable lessons for associations as well. Contrary to expectations, becoming a thought leader is not about being the most intelligent person in the community. It’s about being unique and being able to teach and communicate your unique theories on your industry.
Association leaders have a great source of content available to them as well as a well-respected platform. Half of the hard work is already completed. So what’s holding many of you back? It’s not that you aren’t having innovative thoughts or lack the abilities to communicate them. Those details are easy. It’s not that you aren’t sharing them with your communities. You’re great at talking to people.
What’s keeping you from traversing that chasm between subject matter expert and industry leader? It might be your addiction to vanilla. It’s not enough to know your industry; you must offer to your audience something that no one else does in a way that no one else does it. Industry knowledge is first; applying the industry knowledge and making something new out of it is what you need to be a thought leader. What does that have to do with vanilla?
Vanilla is a delicious flavor but rarely memorable. You don’t go to the ice cream stand across town because of their amazing vanilla. You don’t toss and turn in bed at night dreaming about vanilla. If vanilla inspires at all, it is through an idea to use it in a new way or to add another flavor to it.
To be an industry expert you have to use your vanilla and infuse it with something completely unexpected (vanilla and garlic, anyone? maybe not the most appetizing pairing but definitely a memorable one.). Presenting information is not enough to make you an industry expert. You must serve it up in a completely unique way. But the problem with serving something like vanilla and garlic is that some people will not like it. That’s why so many continue to serve up vanilla time and time again. It’s safe. People are fine with it. No objections to a bowl of vanilla in front of them. The problem is, they don’t crave it and they don’t think about it later.
You need to give them something to love — even if a few of them hate it first.