How Is Your Position As a Thought Leader Hurting or Helping Your Cash Flow?

We hear a lot about ‘become a thought leader’ in your industry bantered about in a lot of the media.  But what does it all mean–and is it just some business school warm and fuzzy quest that sounds good at chamber meetings?

Monetizing thought is the subject of a biographical/historical report I am putting together at the request of some old (and I use that term advisedly–because it’s true!) marketing professional services clients who recently contacted me.

Monetizing thought is the logical outcome of the manifestation of the marketing of your intellectual capital.

In the old days (starting with the 1970s up through the 2010s) the purist form of monetizing intellectual capital is the professional services industry. The clients I have had who were attorneys, consultants, accountants, engineers, physicians and others. All, obviously, professional service marketers.

Obviously, the crux of all business thought is to earn money while helping people–a win-win-win affair. At least that is how it is drawn up on the old  business whiteboard.

Not to belabor the thought leader lead-in point, but I want us to come to some sort of definition that can be sort of mutually agreed upon.

A thought leader could be described, loosely, as one who a) is recognized as an expert in his or her field by their peers, competitors and industry in general; and b) has found a way or ways to convert their knowledge into cash (or the equivalent) for their company or nonprofit organization.

But Should Thought Leaders Be a Generalist or Specialist In Their Company?

It is entirely possible to be a jack of all trades, master of many. How? Specialists overestimate the  time needed to “master” a skill and confuse “master” with “perfect”…

Generalists recognize that the 80/20 principle applies to skills: 20% of a language’s vocabulary
will enable you to communicate and understand at least 80%, 20% of a dance like tango (lead and
footwork) separates the novice from the pro, 20% of the moves in a sport account for 80% of the
scoring, etc. Is this settling for mediocre?
Not at all. Generalists take the condensed study up to, but not beyond, the point of rapidly diminishing
returns. There is perhaps a 5% comprehension difference between the focused generalist who
studies Japanese systematically for 2 years vs. the specialist who studies Japanese for 10 with the lack
of urgency typical of those who claim that something “takes a lifetime to learn.”
Based on our experience and research, it is possible to become world-class in almost any skill within one year. Some readers (old or historical buffs) may remember the famous Earl Nightingale’s motivational tapes and books telling us that ‘a concentrated 20-30 minutes a day can yield amazing results within a year.
In Virtually Any Business, It Is The Generalist Who Sees The Big Picture
Is the CEO a better accountant than the CFO or CPA? Was Steve Jobs a better programmer than
top coders at Apple? No, but he had a broad range of skills and saw the unseen interconnectedness.
As technology becomes a commodity with the democratization of information, it’s the big-picture
generalists who will predict, innovate, and rise to power fastest. There is a reason military “generals”
are called such.
Are You Creating Boredom or Focus At Your Work?
In a first-world economy where we have the physical necessities covered with even low-class income,
Abraham Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs drives us to need more for any measure of comparative “success.” Lack
of intellectual stimulation, not superlative material wealth, is what drives us to depression and emotional
bankruptcy. Generalizing and experimenting prevents this, while over-specialization guarantees it.
The Good Thought Leader, In Running Their Company, Always Thinks Change of Venue
It also breeds empathy with the broadest range of human conditions and appreciation of the broadest
range of human accomplishments. The alternative is the defensive xenophobia and smugness
uniquely common to those whose identities are defined by their job title or single skill, which they
pursue out of obligation and not enjoyment.
The jack of all trades maximizes his number of peak experiences in life and learns to enjoy the
pursuit of excellence unrelated to material gain, all while finding the few things he is truly uniquely
suited to dominate.
The specialist who imprisons himself  or herself in self-inflicted one-dimensionality — pursuing and impossible
perfection — spends decades stagnant or making imperceptible incremental improvements while
the curious generalist consistently measures improvement in quantum leaps. It is only the latter who
enjoys the process of pursuing excellence.
 So, if this is your first time at considering yourself as a thought leader wishing to monetize your intellectual capital in your organization, you can see that there is value in pondering this subject.
Also, if any QSBJ readers would like to see a copy of my ‘Monetizing Thought’ biographical/historical paper, just drop me a note in your e-mail:
About Steve Lanning

Steve Lanning is a nationally recognized entrepreneur who has been creating his own paycheck since 1975 and loves to help others do likewise. As the founder of both the National Association of Business Coaches (sold in 2002) and the Consultants National Resource Center (for all marketers of professional services), he and his family have lived in three of the four states in our Quad State region. His passion is to see individuals and small businesses, start-ups to mature, discover and promote their strengths in building revenue streams individually, that, collectively, make for a strong region as reported on and celebrated by the Quad State Business Journal. He can be contacted at

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