How Research-Driven Organizations Become Thought Leaders

Don’t Do It All

“Most people, even the productive, have a day that is at least forty percent slack” says the economist, professor, blogger, podcaster, tweeter, book author, research center director and Bloomberg columnist Tyler Cowen. 

And you’re telling me you can’t do thought leadership?

On the other hand, being a professor is an “octo-job,” says ecologist, professor, blogger and tweeter Terry McGlynn — eight jobs, of which “outreach specialist” is one, “yet another thing that we’re doing on the side.” No wonder turning out even the occasional piece of content for non-experts usually falls below the line. 

So get off our cases about the thought leadership, OK?

In response to the question “How do you do it all?,” health economist, professor, blogger, tweeter and New York Times columnist Austin Frakt composed this 20-point list of his daily and weekly habits. Frakt’s list has taken on cult status, but it boils down to three unsurprising things: 

  1. Schedule your writing time (for first thing in the morning); 
  2. Manage a small number of things you say “yes” to (and keep most of them burning and in constant progress); and 
  3. Say “no” to almost everything that most smart people these days still say yes to — obsessive Twitter, compulsive TV watching, meetings, entanglement in organizational and institutional politics. 

In other words, don’t do it all. In fact, do only a tiny fraction of “all.”

The most successful thought leaders I work with work like Frakt. They schedule regular — usually daily — time to come up with ideas and create content for non-specialists. They choose to do this, and they automate that choice.

My consulting practice has evolved to become more and more about first supporting those choices — through structure and accountability, to me and to an audience.

There’s always a ton of chatter about the latest promotional shortcut, the latest productivity porn. But if you’re not consistently creating something to promote, it’s pointless to worry about gaming some algorithm or taking cold showers at 4AM.

I read Frakt’s list every couple of months, to help me recommit to my choices. As he says at the end:

There are many other ways to be productive and types of productive people. Some of my very productive cobloggers work in very different styles, for instance. It leads me to suspect that one is not productive because of one’s methods, but one is simply productivity-oriented first and then develops personalized methods to suit.