Thought Leadership: Why Complex Ideas Do Not Sell

Thought leadership ideas

Did you ever think that the complexity of your ideas might be getting in the way of your success?

When people decide to make a career in thought leadership, they often focus on long-form ways to communicate ideas—such as keynote speeches, books, or articles. These activities prove that you’re serious, credentialed, and you know your content.

But here’s the problem. Most business professionals don’t have time to consume long-form content. They might hear a keynote at an annual conference or read a business book on a flight. Those formats are occasional luxuries that occur once or twice a year. 

Instead, the new “long-form” standard is a mere fifteen to eighteen minutes. People are only willing to set aside enough time to listen to a podcast interview, read a blog, or watch a TED talk. The business world wants ideas delivered—fast!

How do you address that need when you’re trying to sell your content into an enterprise? 

Your enterprise-level buyer wants to deploy content that will be relevant to their needs. They want to see clarity, brevity, and impact, and the content needs to show a direct connection to a KPI metric.

Your average learner doesn’t want their first encounter with your content to feel like they’ve enrolled in an MBA class. Simply put, everyone wants a few quick, powerful ideas to help them through the day.

Here’s a warm-up exercise we sometimes use when we start to work with a thought leader. We hand the person a 3” x 5” and a Sharpie and ask them to summarize their key content in this manner: 

  • Present the core ideas of your content, using five to seven bullet points.
  • Use simple language (no jargon).
  • Make it impactful to me as a consumer of ideas.
  • Make it easy for me to memorize.

When we put the Sharpie in their hand, the thought leaders often freeze up. They’re so used to expressing their ideas in a long form that they don’t know how to state them simply. Few thought leaders can complete this task with ease; however, the output is a good predictor of how your content will do in the marketplace.

A good content model will appear simple on the surface but provides room for lifetime development. For example, think of Stephen R. Covey’s classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It defines the content’s topic and provides an easy-to-remember list of behaviors. You can memorize the 7 Habits in five minutes, but each of those habits might take years to master. 

What does your content model look like? Take a 3” x 5” and a Sharpie. Give yourself five minutes to write it out. And then ask yourself, “Would an enterprise buyer or a learner see the value?”

Additional: Everything You Need To Know About Becoming A Thought Leader


About the Author

As the COO of Thought Leadership Leverage, Bill Sherman rescues smart business ideas—which are often trapped on the written page or the keynote stage—and evolves them into tools that transform enterprise organizations. Bill is a versatile, passionate leader, consultant, and guide for clients and his team. Through working with sole proprietors through Fortune 100 clients over the past two decades, he’s had a front-row seat to the complexity and changing world of business as well as the inner workings of organizations. He leverages this experience in his interactions and work for clients so they too can provide high-impact solutions, services, and products.