Experts vs. Thought Leaders

Aug 31, 2010

Scott Ginsberg, AKA the Nametag Guy, is a well-known author and speaker. He started wearing a nametag 24/7 as an experiment in creating more ‘warm’ encounters with others back in November, 2000, and hasn’t missed a day since then. In fact, he even had his nametag tattooed on his chest. Scott writes about business networking, being approachable, how to make a name for yourself, and has been dubbed “The Authority on Approachability.” In 2008, he was voted as St. Louis’s “Young Entrepreneur of the Year,” by The St. Louis Small Business Monthly. (he lives in St. Louis) Most importantly, he is a straight-shooter and he talks about some topics that most other people wouldn’t touch because they’re afraid of offending someone.

Scott Ginsberg is one of my favorite writers. In fact, he recently sent me an autographed copy of his book, Stick Yourself Out There, pretty much because I ‘fan-girled’ all over him. I’m in the process of reading it now and will happily share my book review with anyone who is interested once I’ve completed it.

Ginsberg wrote an article yesterday called 10 Strategies Stop Acting Like an Expert and Start Being a Thought Leader. This is a topic that keeps coming up in recruiting circles and I felt it would be a great discussion topic here. Scott’s thoughts on experts:

“With the right tools, the right resources and the right strategy, pretty much anyone in the world could position herself an expert (on anything!) in about a month. Which brings me to my thesis: Experts are morons.

Those of you who’ve been in this business for awhile know what I’m talking about. It’s the Holiday Inn Express mentality – just because you took a couple of training classes or read a few blog posts, that does not make you a certified expert in [insert whatever topic area you want here]. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success, he discusses the “10,000 hour rule” – the idea that the key to success in any field is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing a specific task for a total of around 10,000 hours. Break this down and you have 417 days – about 1 1/3 years. But that’s if you’re working 24/7, which none of us can do (no matter how much we try!) – so if you look at this from a realistic time input standpoint, you’re talking eight hours a day x five days/week (regular work week), times 50 weeks/year (everyone needs a vacation!), so it’s more like five years of practice to achieve success in any given area. Even then, I’d say most people who’ve achieved this milestone, by this calculation of success, would tell you that they’ve still got a long way to go.

When considering how Scott describes experts vs. thought leaders, these days pretty much anyone can declare him/herself an expert, but it takes a thought leader to really encourage others to develop and hone their skills. Ginsberg says,

“Experts are experts because they say they are. It’s all about marketshare. And all you have to do is go to their website to see how much of an expert they claim to be. Thought leaders are thought leaders because the world says they are. It’s more about mindshare. And all you have to do is go to Google to see how much of an expert the marketplace claims them are.”

The cliche “Actions speak louder than words” comes to mind here. Today, anyone can throw up a website and claim to be the world’s leading expert on this, that, or the other. But do they have client testimonials to back it up? How about placements and billings? Thought leaders do – and it’s usually because they’ve studied the industry in which they work and know how to operate professionally within it.

Ginsberg’s article describes thought leaders as individuals who inspire others, allow for questioning and interpretive creativity of concepts, and drive dialogue to help deliver action items that can be applied to real-life situations. In other words, a thought leader is someone who makes you think for yourself in order to solve problems, rather than telling you exactly what they believe should be done. Experts, on the other hand, instruct without much flexibility (ever sat through a conference presentation where the speaker refused to answer questions?) and talk at, not with, their audience, never encouraging them to stray off the well-beaten path that they, the expert, have laid out.

So, would you consider yourself to be a thought leader in the world of recruiting? Who are some people that you’d classify as thought leaders, and why? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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