I remember watching an old film on TMC, as a kid. There was a line toward the end of the film, which one of the main characters said, if you want to make history, you have to write it. That short line, from that black and white movie, altered the course of my life. As a kid I recalled that line often, and as an adult I have lived my life by it, as I realize the character was in a way referencing the impact of thought leadership.
Thanks to the inter-webs and social media, obtaining a platform is now less formal, easier to access and more directly influential to business and culture. The days of thought-leadership being an exclusive fraternity, available only to think tanks, academics, politicians, and the rich and the famous are over. Written platforming is the most diverse and inclusive way, to engage in the world and share perspective.
This shift in culture and technology, has allowed the art of thought-leadership to become a weapon of mass construction, especially in industries where many people of color, have found decades of generational destruction. In my experience, anyone who has ever felt oppressed, un-empowered and unheard; including myself, can use thought leadership as an opportunity to reclaim and attain their power. Below, I have listed how thought leadership can empower more people of color in creative industries.
1. We create and control our own narratives
Those who control a narrative, control the lives of society with their bare hands. Ava Duvernay’s biopic of the Central Park 5 depicts (among many things) how a misinterpretation of a culture and its language (and of course institutionalized racism), cost 5 young boys over a decade of their lives and the remainder of their childhood. The concept of “Wilding out” or “Wilding” was inappropriately translated to the unfamiliar white and conservative population as destruction, rampage and riot. This fueled an already destructive fire of perspective on how America perceived black youth. Instead of correctly interpreting a simple comment from a young boy, as having fun with his friends, it was reflected as an intention to cause mass harm and violence.
Imagine if the journalists covering the Central Park 5 understood what “wilding out” actually meant. Consider what could have happened if even more people wrote about their personal experiences of hanging out with their friends, while being black AND more people had access to read and hear these perspectives. What if the headlines from that case were created by thinkers who could speak to, fact and experience instead of fear? How could the fate of those 5 boys have changed, if the narrative was controlled by people who looked like them and knew young boys just like them?
2. We expand the outward perception of our own cognitive diversity
There’s one response to D&I that really pisses me all kinds of off. It’s the sentiment that diversity of thought is the most important kind of diversity. Truth be told it’s a very All-Lives Matter response.
Yet, through thought leadership we have an opportunity to share our perspective about everything from innovation, to business, to creativity, to leadership and Inclusion. Thought leadership can show that the breadth of our knowledge, is just as diverse as our skin.
It is our experience in this world, through the nuanced lens different shaded skin, that offers a different perspective about the things we know. It’s easy to find people who know different things, but what is impressive, is to find a person who can add new perspectives to the things we already know. That’s what we do as people of color. We experience the same world, on a different path, that only we can speak to. We should write more about that path, and own it.
3. We’re the first to own our ideas
In creative spaces, we are hired to find solutions for problems, on behalf of the company we work for. That’s fine. Giving an idea away isn’t the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing that can happen is actually the giving away of an idea, without acknowledgment and a thank you, then watching your idea end up in the press, on award stages and hash tagged across social media without your face tagged anywhere near it.
Through thought leadership we are able to document our Ideas first, promote them, archive them and reference them in perpetuity. It will not matter who has access to the ideas down the road. These same ideas can be incorporated into the work you contribute to in the workplace. The difference is, this time around, you’ve already validated your perspective externally. No need for that half ass pat on the back.
4. We assert our expertise
If you google Diversity & Inclusion in creative spaces, you will find countless stories of people of color recounting workplace experiences of being told or made to believe they were less-than. Transparently, I even chronicled my own experience in a post called “Why I Quit My Job”. This idea of being less-than is often projected upon us in the form of a discount of our intellect. Somehow, WE do not know enough about industry, creativity or the culture, even though WE have the same education and years of experience.
If we consider the implications of Thought-Leadership, it really doesn’t matter what a boss or colleague says about you. Because, as long as you can document it, and you can support it, you should write it. A simple Linkedin post, or submission to Medium or Blavity about a topic of your choice, relevant to your lane of business, can reconfigure the perception that YOU are not enough. Why? Because YOU are asserting what you know publicly, and YOU are documenting it on a platform that can be referenced for years to come. Thus, YOU are proving you’re smarter than your average (insert office asshole here).