A thought leader is a leading authority in their field of expertise. They have access to a wealth of specialised knowledge which makes them uniquely valuable. They have collected information from varied and comprehensive sources and most importantly, have packaged it so it can be effectively taught to others.
Whether they know it or not, organisations are driven by the opportunities created and discovered by the through leaders within.
How are you contributing to your organisation?
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memes: the essence of an idea
Motivational Leaders use the structure of ideas to make a difference: they really do need to think before they speak. An idea that is well constructed becomes a meme - it is able to be shared in a lot of different ways to people of all levels of understanding and still maintain its structural integrity.
The work "meme' originated with evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkin's 1976 book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins wrote that evolution depended not on the particular chemical basis of genetics, but only on the existence of a self-replicating unit of transmission and in the case of biological evolution that is the gene. For Dawkins, the meme exemplified another self-replicating unit with potential significance in explaining human behaviour and cultural evolution. The term meme has become synonymous with ideas, particularly ideas worth spreading.
Malcolm Gladwell, business journalist and author, wrote in The Tipping Point, 'A meme is an idea that behaves like a virus - that moves through a population, taking hold in each person it infects'. Ideas that move through society are built on what is often referred to as social object theory. Put simply, what idea have you heard today that would make it to a dinner party tonight? Motivational leaders take the time to study the architecture of ideas and use this to increase understanding and the influential impact of what they are communicating.
It's clear that ideas exist. They are, however, intangible, which creates a problem when leaders are communicating their ideas. A chair has obvious form, but an idea does not. Ideas exist in the space in-between. They exist in the space in-between your ears, the space that hangs between what I say and what you hear and the space that exists between a problem and a solution. Physical objects have dimensions that make them real, such as width, height and breadth. Memes also hae dimensions that make them real if you use them. Let's call them the north, south, east and west dimensions. (see figure 8.1 below)
Full spectrum ideas
The key to creating great messages is to structure them so that they dance across the full spectrum of left brain logic through to right brain creativity and then from concrete specific examples up to high order contextual ideas.
As expressed in the spectrum model in figure 8.1, you can see that every idea exists at various levels of abstraction (the vertical axis). At one end of the scale, you have very concrete expressions of an idea; at the other end, very abstract expressions of it. Tracking ideas across their compass points (speaking metaphorically) is an important part of motivational leadership.
Ideas also exist at various levels of logic and creativity (the horizontal axis). Just as we need both hemispheres of the brain, we need to mix logic (logos) and emotion (pathos). We need to have our ideas available so they appeal to both logos and pathos.
When you try to connect with someone, the attempt can be seen as a battle between putting in too much information (the south point on the model), resulting in the essence of the idea being lost, or making the message so simple (the north point on the model) that it is not seen as practical or relevant by those listening to it.
The motivational leader created full spectrum ideas. They know how and when to develop and deploy any or all of the five components of an idea (see table 8.1)
Unlocking your expertise: interllectual property snapshots
The five components of an idea are also mapped out in the intellectual property (IP) snapshots set out in figure 8.2. Each idea expressed on one of the sheets is a meme: 'an idea that behaves like a virus'. The five components are:
3. key point
4. case study
There is a certain architectural element to thinking before you speak, and this structure or design helps you engage more people more of the time. It's about seeing an idea in all its layers simultaneously.
For ease of understanding, let's limit the layers of an idea to three: the stuff you say that is specific (content); the point you are making (concept); and the big picture theme that that idea is a part of (context).
The stuff you say must make a point that ties into and paints a picture in the mids of others. So: stuff, point,picture. It is important to remember these three simple things around a message. Initially, you will need to craft a set of points (concepts) and then find different ways of expressing them (palette) so that you can communicate in a memorable way. Next, build a big picture (context) for the points. It must be both logical (left brain) and creative (right brain). Finally, you need some supporting information (content) for your ideas.
Within our Thought Leader Community, the Intellectual Property Snapshot, often referred to as a 'Pink' sheet (being printed on pink paper) is core to being able to craft a compelling message.
Each idea or main point should be represented on a single snapshot. It creates a depth around your ideas and forces you to create messages with substance and balance. There are three clear sections to a snapshot. The first is the Context section at the top, the second is the Concept section or middle third, and the last is the Content section at the bottom. A snapshot mixes these three together to communicate ideas with structural integrity so that what you thought as a leader and what gets heard - match up.
The context takes up space in people’s minds - the content takes time to share. The figure eight overlay on the snapshot represents this. Your key idea or point of concept should take very little time to communicate and by its nature take up very little mental real estate or ‘head space’ in the minds of your audience. Throughout the explanation of the theory in this chapter I will run a practical example at each step around the idea of 'the evolution of selling'; this idea will work as a concrete walk-through of the principles.
One way to create context - the idea's context - is to develop a visual model of your ideas. Creating context above every point you want to make is a master Thought Leader’s tool. Context is the 'big picture' representation of your idea. Often this is a diagram, a model, a metaphor, an allegory or some applicable quotes.
Context provides a broad framework to give people a map to a message or line of thought. People are often engaged as they understand the purpose of the detail, and if they get lost, they can refer to your initial map.
To create context, the first row in figure 8.2 (above), you can use models (marked 1) and metaphors (marked 2). For example I have chose expanding circles for the model as they imply growth and the metaphor of evolution is embedded in the ideas itself. So the top of the IP snapshot would look like figure 8.3. (below)
Models are at location 1 in figure 8.2. A model is geometric in nature and consists of squares, lines, circles, triangles, pentagons, graphs and every variation and combination of them. At it's simplest expression, a model is a visual representation of your key ideas using squares, triangles and circles. There are four main types of ideas you would communicate in the form of models. These correlate closely to Bernice McCarthy's 4MAT model of 1986. They are why, what, how and if. In figure 8.4 (below) they are expressed as a set, with some example models placed alongside.
Whether a model takes the form of a quadrant, some concentric circles, a pyramid or even a simple triangle, it helps you make more than one point. It helps define the conversational boundaries of any discussion.
Some classic models you may be familiar with include:
• Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
• Dr Stephen Covey’s First Things First model
• Robert Kiyosaki's Cash Flow Quadrant model
Become a model kleptomaniac. Capture and clipboard on your computer every model you see so you can study the anatomy of the models, tracking their structure, design and intent so that you can more confidently develop your own.
Use the combined power of models and metaphors to capture your idea to affect both the left and right hemispheres of other people's brains. Models are a fundamental tool for a thinking motivational leader. They enable you to capture ideas with elegant simplicity. It’s for this reason that they are first among equals when it comes to the five components of a meme.
Here are five thoughts to help you when working with models
1. Your geometry teacher lied to you! When creating models there are only really three basic shapes: a circle, a square and a triangle. Build your own models from these.
2. Layer your models. Each model should be able to be revealed at three levels of depth: the first is the awareness, the second is the distinctions and the third is the prescriptions.
3. Snapshots multiply fast. One great model may make several points and so will be duplicated on a bunch of snapshots such as the one in figure 8.2 (above).
4. Work the intersections. On every model you can often create finer distinctions if you work the boundary lines on the shapes.
5. Mix it up. Balance your geometry, try not to have too much of the same model in all your IP.
Metaphors are at location 2 in figure 8.2 (above). Metaphors are object and activity-based and can be sourced from real life and everyday examples. Some examples include instruments, household objects, hobbies, sports and environments.
Here are five thoughts to help you when working with metaphors:
1. Metaphors are personal. The best metaphor is not always the one that fits your point perfectly but rather one to which you can bring some enthusiasm and know how. A metaphor is a chance to show more of you and bring a multifaceted persona to your ideas and communication.
2. Clichés don't just happen! If you are going to use a cliché metaphor - own it, explore the metaphor to its nth degree.
3. A question of detail. A metaphor and a story can have the same structure and vibe - the metaphor is often the story minus the detail.
4. Stick figures must die. Don't draw a metaphor. A metaphor is by definition a word picture - don't draw it unless you have wicked illustration skills.
5. Don't suck up. The best metaphor is one that brings a different experience into the room. It’s better to pick a metaphor you understand completely than one that you think may fit your audience.
Models and metaphors are not the only tools of context, but they are a great start.
If the context is the big picture themes around an idea the concept is where you give those themes specific meaning. Love, is a theme; unrequited love is a concept. Your concepts are the point around which your models, metaphors, case studies and stories pivot. In the example of the evolution of seeing my concept may be expressed as shown in figure 8.5 (below).
THE KEY IDEA
Be clear on the point of your idea - why are you talking about it to this audience, or what difference will it make to this organisation, for instance. We call this the concept - it sits in the middle of the snapshot at location 3 in figure 8.2 (above) and is shown as a worked-up example in figure 8.5 above. You should be able to summarise your idea in one or two simple sentences that explain the whole point of what you want to communicate. From this singular idea, you then can create several different ways of delivering it. The point becomes the key identifier between one idea and the next . A snapshot may share a model (position1) with another idea, but the IP snapshots don't share a point.
A tool for keeping your point-thinking on track is the idea of a consistent or deliberate linguistic palette. When coaching leaders around word choice, we map out their key ideas and then ask then to express the idea again and again in different ways. They may express the idea simply so that a 7 year old may understand it; then express it inspirationally so that a 17 year old gets into it and so that a 37 year old (practical expression) and a 70 year old (sagacious expression) may understand it. This locking in and widening your different ways of making a point can actually help you think through and clarify what it is, exactly, that you are trying to say.
Here are five thoughts to help you when working with your key points
1. Try the AB solution. Each point you make should have a short, sharp, declarative statement (A), then a second sentence that explains your statement (B).
2. Book titles rock. When making your point it sometimes helps to think of A as the title of the book and the B as the subtitle.
3. Make your A sharp. It’s all about getting attention and cutting through the noise and information deluge.
4. Make your B clear. The B in your point needs to be very clear and will often involve two or more ideas in relationship.
5. Make a Powerpoint slide of your A's. The declarative statement is perfect for your slide shows when accompanying a conceptual picture.
To create content, the third row in figure 8.2 (above), you can use case studies (marked 4 in the figure) and stories (marked 5 in the figure). Gather examples, facts, stories and other detail elements to support or explain your point. We call this content. Like the big idea, you need to balance this to cover the whole brain. It’s the stuff that people connect with.
In figure 8.6 you can see some examples. It's difficult and unnecessary to write out the content long land on the IP snapshot. All you need to do is put enough details in a bullet point to remember your case study or story.
* Relevance Rocks - Make your case studies audience specific if you can. The best case studies are those that have huge amounts of personal relevance.
* Be a scene setter - Set the scene before you start the case study; explain why this case study matters and how it's illustrative of your point.
* Stack Statistics - In the telling of a case study you want to have a few minutes where you stack a set of statistics on top of each other.
* Introduce the complication or challenge at the start of the case study - This is often best done as a decision the leaders had to make or a realisation that they came to which forced the change or key idea behind the case study.
* Show pictures - Show pictures of real people and real places as you unpack the case study.
Here are five thoughts to help you when working with stories:
1. It's not all about you. The easiest story to tell is about someone you admire.
2. Silly me. If you tell stories about yourself, do so in a self deprecating way.
3. Follow the formula. Joseph Campbell created a story arc format of the Hero’s Journey. Follow it when you create your stories.
4. You, now and then. Stories are great when they are a mix of personal, topical and historical.
5. Stories are drama. So act them out, become characters, use accents and bring the story to life. Relive the story - don't recount it.
Present your ideas left to right. When you are presenting an idea to a sceptical audience (or really most audiences), it is smart to present the logic case first (model, element 1) and case study (element 4) and the emotional case second (stories, element 5) and metaphors (element 2).
Time and space! Content takes time to get through. Context is quick but fills up the space in someone's mind.
Don't stuff up. Ideas are better created from context down - content (stuff) is time consuming and often audience-specific.
The content matters to your audience and relevance is achieved through content, re-use is achieved through concept and context.
Prepare once - use often. The snapshot process is a leverage tool. It lets you take one piece of thinking and repurpose it into many different situations.
Read like a thought leader. Readers read about a great idea and say, 'What a great idea", teachers ask, 'How can I share that?' Thought leaders as, 'What do I think about that?"
Yes but, yes and. Great ideas are often built from the contribution to an exiting idea or the contradiction of it.