With grand hopes and innovation bulbs flashing I founded the Quid Novi Innovations conference. We whimsically quizzed people about the Latin term. People thought a quid novi might be a food, a currency or even a disease. As we built our What’s New annual conference many guest speakers listed themselves as “Thought Leaders.”
I learned of dozens of competing conferences that enticed the thought leaders to travel to exotic locales to expound on their knowledge. Industry patrons advertise four, seven, even 14-day cruises where you can jam hard in between your doses of thought leadership.
Where are the thought leaders?
In the late 1990s Willie Brown, then mayor of San Francisco and previously a member of the State Assembly, said he would stamp out homelessness with new and innovative ideas. His bold plan was to corral the ‘thought leaders’ and fix the problem like cutting the head off a rattle snake sunning in your backyard. Homelessness didn’t disappear in San Francisco.
In college I volunteered to collect data for my psychology professor’s research on suicide prevention. Leaning into the task at the coroner’s office, I collected statistical data on completed suicides. There were images I’ll never forget, but I never saw his research conclusions. There is however, an American Association of Suicidology. I’ll bet they use terms like ideation and refer to the DSM (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual). Suicide rates have worsened.
Opinions on abortion are as divided as those on beheadings during the French Revolution — those in favor stayed in favor; those opposed lost their heads. Moral arguments fly as the numbers, rates and ratios continue to drop in many states whether or not they enact stricter regulations and/or clinic closures. We wait anxiously for smart thinkers to bring us together and help us uncover reasonable solutions. Abortions have dropped, but the controversy still rages. All sides focus on saving someone’s life while paradoxically straining to rip each others’ heads off.
Where are the thought leaders?
Eight people own as much wealth as half the world’s population — 3.6 billion people (Oxfam). Not too long ago it took a whopping 60 billionaires to match this feat. Even where economies soar the average worker often sees little benefit. A cynic might deduce that astounding productivity increases have largely funneled to less than a baseball team.
A former Hewlett-Packard director, Guy Mendt, spoke at one of my Quid Novi Innovation conferences. His talk was titled, “The idea is not the innovation.” His comments opened our eyes and got rave reviews. Turns out the thinking part is all too common. Everyone has the idea — what comes after all that brilliance is what’s missing. There’s someone at every dinner party or bar claiming he or she had the original idea for a gadget or book or solution now gracing the cover of Inc. Magazine.
Another friend who specializes in the healing arts told me the culprit is fear. She believes fear is the enemy we must tackle in all that we do. Worthwhile efforts in life [and community] are snubbed when fear flourishes. I interpret this as conquering fear so that ideas can turn into action.
To all thought leaders, please stop thinking — for a while. Spewing out too many ideas from polished stages does more harm than good. Come back to critical thinking before people start believing in sophomoric remedies and cultish slogans. The public deserves to know if you’ve actually done what you’re talking about.
To all thought leaders, please come home. The issue is in your own backyard — not on a cruise ship. Return from your excellent TED adventures and take at least one solution past the start-up phase. Don’t quit and ask for more money for a different idea.
Dear thought leaders, come down to earth and join with us to clobber issues like homelessness, suicide, the abortion question, income inequality — we’ve already wrapped them in enough fear.
Rick Griggs is a former Intel Corp. training manager and inventor of the rolestorming creativity tool. He runs the 10-month Leadership Mastery Academy. firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-690-7327.