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  • Writer's pictureSteve Hearsum

“I am an Amazon best seller! Woohoo!!”



One of the ways in which people like me – consultants – increase our profile and generate work is, apparently, through writing or speaking. The former might entail blog posts and articles,...or books. In all likelihood, this means working within or partly within the Amazon ecosystem. It is a publishing and retailing behemoth, and, whilst problematic, is difficult to do without if the aim is reach and sales.


Part of the attraction is that it offers the opportunity, if your masterpiece sells enough copies, of making one of the 'bestseller' lists. Here is where it gets fun, and lots of posts can be found on LinkedIn proclaiming proudly that someone has become an ‘Amazon Bestseller’.


Really? Truly?


I hit the Top 5 for the Occupational & Organizational Psychology category one week into my

being out and it was reasonably high in another two, although at time of writing it is well down on that (Oh no…Must...find…way…to…go…up...the...charts…). So what did being Top 5 make me, exactly? Should I now proclaim loudly my best seller-y-ness? I’ve had people encourage me to game the system, to offer free or £1 copies of the book in return for a (preferably) good review. Amazon’s algorithm likes those too, apparently, as it sits in its digital den feasting on bytes and bits. A key driver in this quest for visibility is the need to promote ‘thought leadership’, or rather to support the elevation of ones profile to that of a ‘thought leader’, even though the irony of gaming the system in this way seems the antithesis of genuinely exhibiting leadership through deep thinking.


This is a fractal of the wider #thoughtleadership dance that adds little value, says more about our need for self-promotion, and nothing about the quality of thinking on offer in a given book. My own attitude can best be summarized by this paragraph from my book, No Silver Bullet:


“There are tens of thousands of people on LinkedIn who describe themselves as a ‘thought leader’, and several dozen companies even have the term as part of their name. Many of them are ‘dynamic’, offer a ‘shift in perspective’, are ‘ground breakers’ or offer ‘the very best thinking from the world’s brightest thought leaders’. Some can help YOU, dear reader, become one yourself. I have, occasionally, been described as a thought leader, and when that happens, I refute that, and try not to look too much like a cat that is hacking up a furball.”

In short, I see the label of ‘thought leader’ as being more about a need to elevate oneself into a place of expertise, and this becoming imbued with wisdom and knowledge. Specifically, it enables projections that allow us to abdicate responsibility for our own agency in favour of the belief that there is someone who has ‘The Answer’, and through their thought leadership they will tell us what it is. The artificial driving of sales on Amazon is a small part of this collusion between buyers and sellers of Silver Bullets, as the former manage their anxiety and mitigate the risk of failure (in an illusory way) by seeking the latter, who sell them something that promises to dampen the discomfort of not knowing what to do when faced with reality.


Linked to this is the myth that ‘thought leaders’ are somehow radical disruptors and bringers of new knowledge and insight. Typically, no. As Harvey et al note:


“… not everyone can be a thought leader because if everyone is challenging the status quo, there is no status quo to challenge. Yet, a survey of CMOs [Chief Marketing Officers] found that 82% of clients expected that firms will be thought leaders and produce insightful content.” (2021: 13)

Ahem. Methinks we have a problem here


If the answer is to fluff our feathers by gaming the system, we just create more dependency, not less. If that is your intention, en fair enough, although my sense is many authors do not, at least openly, want that. Showing up fully who we are as practitioners, consultants and, yes, people with useful thoughts to share, means not colluding with unhelpful and illusory ideals of omniscient and omnipotent perfection.


It is important we embrace our imperfections, contradictions and, in my case, daftness, rather that perpetually quest to ensure we present an idealised version of ourselves. Put it this way: I am the man who sent his daughter to school with a glass jar of mayonnaise, happily ignoring his wife’s advice that, maybe, this was a daft idea. One mayonnaise slathered school bag later, and I welcomed Mrs H home by opening the door and saying “I was wrong and you were right”, as she looked at me somewhat confusedly.


If we cannot accept and work with our own messiness, we deny reality and create the conditions for that to extend into our client work. If that means our books and pamphlets and posts garner less coverage and likes, so be it. Far better we think about how to write and spread useful ideas in a way that does not make things worse by perpetuating the market for Silver Bullets.



Reference

Harvey, W. S., Mitchell, V. Jones, A. A. & Knight, E. 2021. ‘The Tensions Of Defining And Developing Thought Leadership Within Knowledge-Intensive Firms’. Journal of Knowledge Management. 25(11). pp. 1–33.

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