The Content Pyramid: The 5 Levels Of Becoming A Legendary Writer, Creator, and Thought Leader
Are you a Non-Obvious Pirate? Or an Obvious Non-Pirate?
Dear Friend, Subscriber, and Category Pirate,
Everyone today wants to be a Thought Leader.
They want to be seen as forward-thinking. They want to be celebrated as the guru, the expert, The All Knowing One of their industry. They want to be the keynote speaker, the best-selling author, the person listed in the next “10 Marketers To Watch In 2022” Forbes article (most of which are paid placements, just so you know). Because now that the world has gotten exposed to the power of digital “attention,” and everyone believes “the most valuable thing you could possibly have is an audience,” well, everyone wants one for themselves.
Unfortunately, as we wrote about in The “Me” Disease, the vast majority of people who want to be a “thought leader” or best-selling author in today’s digital, gamified world don’t have any leading thoughts. That is to say: they are not actually contributing new, differentiated ideas. What they want is to be “seen” as a thought leader—to collect badges of approval and amass “followers” and social metrics that send the signal “lots of other people say they are important”—without saying anything unique, meaningful, or different. More importantly, they want “the audience” without having to take the time to think deeply about who they are creating for and why.
They want the outcome without the process.
And there are strategies for doing so.
Cater to the lowest common denominator.
The way the business world has been educated on how to become a “thought leader” is to create content that doesn’t threaten, doesn’t challenge, and doesn’t require the audience to think—as loud and as often as possible.
The method to the madness is that when people scroll through their social media feeds, they are (usually) not looking to be challenged.
They are in a state of searching for confirmation bias.
“It takes every single person in the organization to achieve what you want to achieve.” Duh. Yes. Like.
“Authenticity is crucial to creating content that resonates.” For sure. Got it. Comment.
“If you want to change the world, you have to change yourself.” Totally. I’m a world-changer too. Share.
(Which is why the most viral content caters to lowest common denominator emotions: rage, joy, wonder, sadness, shock, surprise, desire, and so on.)
As a result, most people do not define “being a thought leader” as having something unique and different to say. The way the world defines a “thought leader” (especially the digital world) is by measures of public approval. It’s a video game. How many followers do you have? How many views does your content get? How many subscribers are on your email list? How many books have you sold? How many keynote speeches have you given? How many Forbes articles have called you an “expert?” How many recognizable names say you’re important?
Since this game is largely about external signals of credibility, it makes sense why so many smart, well-intentioned, successful people decide to optimize for the path of least resistance. Out of nowhere, they start posting BGOs (Blinding Glimpses of the Obvious) because this sort of non-threatening content is the easiest way to get Likes and climb the perceived ladder of success without ruffling any feathers.
We call this content-free content.
It gets Likes and Views. It lands you some followers. But after you (the consumer) eat it, you sort of feel like you ate a box full of Oreos.
Zero nutritional value, full of empty calories, and left feeling stupid.
The other option is to add complexity to sound “smart.”
This is how most academics and consultants approach thought leadership.
Reengineering The Corporation by James Champy and Michael Hammer was a seminal business book and management idea. It kicked off an entire subsector of management consulting that generated hundreds of millions of dollars in fees and made CSC Index “the bell of the ball” among consulting firms for a brief period during the ‘80s and ‘90s.
Engineering a business sounds very technical and complicated. This was intentional by design—to scare clients into thinking they needed help. Yet the core ideas were very simple:
If any business process/activity doesn’t add value to the customer, get rid of it.
Redesign every business process to cut costs, especially via technology/automation.
But isn’t this what companies are supposed to do anyways in the normal course of doing business?
The truth is, these ideas are easy to understand but hard to execute. And since simplicity doesn’t sell services, many academics and consultants try their hand at languaging to make a simple idea feel like rocket science to justify their fees to come in and do the work.
But we wouldn’t really classify this as languaging as much as anti-languaging, which is the art of making up new words and acronyms for simple ideas that sound equally appealing and intimidating at the same time.
Thought Leadership 101
Listen to the words.
In order to be a “thought leader,” you must be willing to LEAD WITH YOUR THOUGHTS.
This means it is your responsibility to say things people have not said yet. It is your responsibility to take risks, challenge conventional wisdom, and (dare we say) allow yourself to be creative—not in the art school “I’m-creative-just-like-you” way, but in the Elon Musk “I’m-going-to-Mars-F-U” sort of way. This is not about being outrageous or controversial for the sake of attention. It’s about taking the world somewhere new because you are already living in the future.
And you’re on a mission to get everyone else there with you.
The big question, “How?”
Anyone can say, “The key to creating content that resonates is to be authentic.” The problem is, do you know what that means? How do we measure authenticity? What action step can you take after hearing that advice? (Most people come up empty-handed.)
So, we want to put a compass in your hands.
We’ve put together what we like to call The Content Pyramid.
The Content Pyramid: The 5 Levels Of Becoming A Legendary Writer, Creator, And Thought Leader
There are 5 levels to becoming a legendary writer, creator, and “thought leader” in your field.
Level 1: Consumption
Level 2: Curation
Level 3: Obvious Connection
Level 4: Non-Obvious Connection
Level 5: Category Creation
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