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Expanding Your Reach Through Thought Leadership | Malcolm Hawker

Expanding Your Reach Through Thought Leadership| Malcolm Hawker | 447

Come out from behind the paywall to reach a larger audience.

An interview with Malcolm Hawker about moving to a smaller firm and stepping outside the paywall.

In a world filled with so many voices, how do you distinguish yourself, and show your value?
By sharing your ideas freely, and bringing the audience to you!

In today’s episode, I’ve invited Malcolm Hawker to join me for a discussion around the value of sharing thought leadership insights outside of the traditional advisory paywall. Malcolm is the Head of Data Strategy for Profisee Software, where they help enterprises solve complex data quality issues that hold them back from so many initiatives.

At a previous company, Malcolm’s insights were placed behind a paywall; in order to gain access to his ideas you had to “buy in.” Malcolm shares why he moved to a smaller tech firm, ditched the paywall, and immediately saw results. While the larger firm had brand equity and recognition, the freedom of medium and message he’s achieved at his new position has allowed him to reach a far broader audience while maintaining alignment with the needs of his company. That’s the best of both worlds!

Malcolm discusses how he learned to listen to potential clients, and ask probing questions that get right to the root of their issues. This process often takes them into “negative space” – breaking open new topics and challenges that are critical to their future. This is where thought leadership has its most impact for your audience – and they’ll reward you with loyalty, knowing that your ideas are sound.

In addition to paywalls, scaling, and crafting a narrative, we discuss authenticity and entertainment. Malcolm shares how video can be a powerful tool to reach an audience, but warns that a balance between insight and entertainment must be found in order to bring value to your work. While your audience is unlikely to watch a bland talking head, they’re looking for new ideas, insights, and awareness of their challenges that really makes them lean in and say, “This thought leader gets it!”

This episode is great for explaining why there’s value in sharing your ideas – take a listen, and see if you agree.

Three Key Takeaways:
  • Leaving the paywall behind can have long term benefits that offset the revenue made from being behind the paywall.
  • As a thought leader for a vendor you need to have separation. If you want to be recognized as a trusted expert in your field you can’t simultaneously be peddling your company’s product.
  • Everyone has value to add. Share your ideas and insights and the value will come back to you in time.

If you need a strategy to bring your thought leadership to market, Thought Leadership Leverage can assist you! Contact us for more information. In addition, we can help you implement marketing, research, and sales. Let us help you so you can devote yourself to what you do best.

Join the Organizational Thought Leadership Newsletter to learn more about expanding thought leadership within your organization! This monthly newsletter is full of practical information, advice, and ideas to help you reach your organization’s thought leadership goals.

And if you need help scaling organizational thought leadership, contact Thought Leadership Leverage or reach out to Bill Sherman on Linkedin!



Bill Sherman How will people find your organization’s ideas and where will they engage with them? If you don’t purposefully answer these questions, the answers will most likely be they won’t find the ideas and they won’t engage with them. So, today I want to talk about expanding your reach through thought leadership, and I’ve asked Malcolm Walker to join me. Malcolm is the head of data strategy at Profisee Software, and he and I will explore how thought leadership works within and beyond the paywall. We’ll talk about being more competitive through thought leadership, and we’ll explore what it takes to expand your reach. I’m Bill Sherman and you’re listening to Leveraging Thought Leadership. Ready? Let’s begin. Welcome to the show, Malcolm.

Malcolm Hawker Thanks for having me, Bill. I’m excited for our conversation.

Bill Sherman So, thought leadership struggles with the concept of a paywall. Often organizations say, Hey, these are our best thoughts. Let’s keep them behind. Whether it’s for clients only or you have to purchase them. What are your thoughts on that?

Malcolm Hawker I sit I sit out in the open. I have no paywall currently, but I’ve experienced both. So prior to my current role at Profisee, I was an analyst with Gartner. I lived exclusively behind a paywall, so to get to see me what I do and did talk to me and access my research and my thought leadership, people had to pay a lot of money. And that model worked. Oh, okay. Obviously it works well for Gartner. Very, very successful company, it’s been around a while. But in terms of growing our market and in terms of expanding my reach and expanding my impact was very limited. As a matter of fact, I actually ended up leaving Gartner in part because I wanted to make a bigger impact within the market because it was certainly limited by being behind that paywall meant that I was talking to Fortune 1000 2000 company. That’s great. That’s great. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very limited market. So, I decided to make a jump to a smaller company that gave me the freedom to operate outside of a paywall. So that’s where I live and breathe, right?

Bill Sherman So let’s talk about when you come and step beyond the paywall, what do you gain and what did you lose?

Malcolm Hawker It’s a good it’s a good question. So what I gained was access to a far, far broader audience. Far, far broader audience, because there’s people out there that are looking to LinkedIn or looking to the Web or looking through Reddit, are looking to anywhere for insight, for leadership and guidance on issues that they struggle with that are near to my world, which are all data related issues, governance challenges, those types of things. So, I gained a much bigger audience. That’s obviously the biggest key and I get a lot of freedom, right? I could kind of pick and choose the channels that I wanted to operate in. Previously at Gartner, it was pretty much written research or what they called important, which are phone-based interaction one on one with the analysts over the phone. And so part conference interactions obviously as well I with his partner conferences on stage because it’s that kind of stuff. But the delivery channels for the inside of Gartner, we’re limited right now outside the paywall and outside that experience. I can pretty much define my own distribution channels. I can be operating wherever I want to be, however I want to be, or however my company feels that I should. That aligns with kind of where I want to take my individual brand, where my company wants to take their brand. Right. So a lot more freedom on what content is delivered. A lot more freedom around the messaging itself. Right. I feel like my messaging is really mine now. When I was behind a paywall, it was curated, wasn’t entirely 100% curated, but it was most certainly curated. We had editorial themes that we wanted to stick to. We had kind of tracks and we had perspectives that aligned to corporate perspectives, and that was fine, that was great. But but being where I am now, I’ve got a lot more freedom around my messaging and the content that I create where I go kind of my editorial calendar, my editorial focus, my thought leadership focus and how I do that. What did I lose? Some interesting things. One, obviously, I was working for a big company that was selling insight, was selling thought leadership. So the brand equity drive of a Gartner or Faust or an IDC or others that sell this would include like a McKinsey or Deloitte or any big company that is basically paying for or were you paying them for insight, leadership and guidance.

Bill Sherman Right. When you’re a brains-based organization.

Malcolm Hawker Exactly.

Bill Sherman Yeah.

Malcolm Hawker Bingo. Right. If you if you are if you’re a knowledge worker. Right. There’s a lot of kind of brand equity that goes along with working for Gartner or for [muffled] or McKinsey consulting. I work for a smaller software company now, so they gave me the freedom to kind of exercise, thought, leadership, the best way that I felt that it needed to be exercised. But I did lose a little bit of that kind of brand cachet. But we’re building it we’re building it back up. Really interesting side effect here that I that I noticed was that when I went to go work for a software companies across a software company, one thing that I kind of lost is it didn’t lose it completely, but I didn’t anticipate this at all. I thought, Hey, I’m a Gartner analyst, I’ve got to have some weight in the industry. You know, people are still going to want to hear what I have to say, which is which is true. But I lost the ability to access a lot of conferences, industry conferences, because I work for a software company. I would reach out to this conference, hey, we’re doing a conference about whatever ABC things related to data my work like hey great I’d love to speak. I’m a Gartner analyst. I’m a thought leader. I’ve got some great stuff to add, some great value to add your to your audience and the answers are sorry, you work for a vendor, you’re going to have to pay, right? And sometimes my company’s willing to do that. But in terms of the overall opportunity to speak at these conferences, we have one certainly exceeds the other. So I’ve kind of lost the ability to have complete freedom in terms of what conferences that I’m participating in, which was a bit of an odd side effect that I didn’t anticipate. But that’s been the thing some of the some of the downside there. So in all it’s been it’s I would say it’s been a win, oddly, in moving from a company that sells thought leadership to being kind of on my own a bit of a sole proprietor as.

Bill Sherman Well and the ability to be one step aside and adjacent to the product marketing and sales of the organization. Because if you’re 100% that voice, then as you said, you’re perceived as vendor.

Malcolm Hawker Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly right. Well, so that’s kind of a that’s the tightrope that I have to walk. Right. My company and my boss or CMO fully supports me being and positioning myself as a thought leader. And we are very, very conscious to avoid appearing like I’m peddling anything. Right?

Bill Sherman Right.

Malcolm Hawker We don’t we actually don’t want me to be associated with peddling software out there being overt about it. And I am not. I actually consciously work hand to sales. Sounds a little bit odd, but I kind of have to consciously work at avoiding creating the appearance that all I’m trying to do is sell my company services or the software, even though they pay my mortgage, which I’m extremely grateful for. But we believe and the proof will be in the pudding here. It’s yet to be determined, but we honestly believe that the best way to kind of approach thought leadership and building my brand as an expert in this space depends on avoiding any sort of perceived conflict of interest of needing to sell this stuff.

Bill Sherman Well. And there are things that you can do which classic marketing cannot. So category education, category creation is easier when you’re practicing thought leadership and being in a position where you can weigh the pros and cons without it sounding like 100% of the time your call to action is a “talk to one of our salespeople.” Right.

Malcolm Hawker Right.

Malcolm Hawker And yes, there is a place and the need for that. But at the same time, that doesn’t fit with the call to action on education.

Malcolm Hawker Yeah, no, I completely agree. Now again, there’s another bit of a tightrope there that I need to walk with my internal skills organization in that I’ve already experienced. I’ve been doing this about five months now, meaning my transition away from Gartner and I’ve had two experience situations where I’ve had people come to me. One was at a conference, a couple of others referred LinkedIn, where they’ve reached out to me and basically have said, Hey, I trust you, I want your insights. And it basically said, Go, don’t push me over to salespeople. So I’ve been having to kind of manage my own opportunities, conversations very, very delicately because there’s this this balance that I have to maintain between helping a lot of people day in and day out and becoming a consultant, right where I’m devoting time to these people who have reached out and expressed a trust in me and want to work with me as an advisor. That’s exactly what we’re going for. But at the same time, if I did that all the time, over and over and over again, I wouldn’t be out there building my brand. I wouldn’t be helping Clay because I could be I would just be a consultant.

Bill Sherman Well, there’s a difference between the evangelist who’s out there speaking to ideas and the consultant who’s solving problems. And if you’re an unpaid consultant, that is sort of worst of both worlds, right?

Malcolm Hawker Yeah. Well, why do you use the evangelist phrase? Because that’s the role I was recruited for. So it’s the recruiter. The job posting was evangelists. That’s what it said. Now, I didn’t actually choose that as my title. I had some conversations.

Bill Sherman Say more about that. How did that conversation go and.

Malcolm Hawker Where did you at? Well, so my CMO recruiting thing and we had conversations about the title and he said, well, how do you feel about the title? Do you feel it’s an appropriate title for what we’re trying to accomplish here? And I said, yes, it’s a completely appropriate title, but I’m not sure it’s the one that I want to use because it’s not being used within my customers, right? My customers and the people that will be seeking my insight, my guidance, my input will not be seeking an evangelist. Right. This is an inside out. But but what what my clients want is something else. They want somebody who didn’t want to be viewed as a trusted advisor and not somebody who’s trying to evangelize something to that.

Bill Sherman So did that inside come from your time in the world and Gartner or how did that aha come to be?

Malcolm Hawker Yeah, it was really it was really through my time at Gartner. Right. Which is, you know, this is this is about delivering value. Right. So, yes, my company sees me as about as an evangelist out there, Bill, making a bigger pie, as it were. Right. Making a bigger market, growing the size of the market, growing awareness, growing demand, building demand for our solutions in the market. That’s my job. But my external job is to be out there adding value and it’s free, right? Hopefully you will come to us to buy our solutions, at which point obviously there will be a cost. But my job externally is to go and provide value to help people overcome their challenges, to help people understand what best practice looks like. And that’s what it is exactly what I learned at Gartner, which was the clients that had success, the clients that were getting value from my conversations were the ones that, I mean, don’t sell, right? I’m not trying to be sold. And interestingly, that’s something that Gartner kind of just hammers into rules into your head from day one because of their interesting position in the market, in that they don’t want to be seen as favoring anyone. Right. You want to be favoring anyone.

Bill Sherman Very much in editorial position. Yes. Where you’re keeping clean hands from that perspective.

Malcolm Hawker Exactly. Exactly. And that’s actually a Gartner as a matter of policy. Right. To keep those hands clean, you be out there saying we prefer A or prefer B or privacy. Now, of course, they have their beloved magic quadrants that actually put a fence around who’s in the industry and who’s not in all this, which is, I guess, is a slight form of favoritism. But when I was having conversations, I could not say I recommend or I recommend. De What I would say is, well, you may want to consider A, B and C or companies with your requirements, with your limitations, with your budgets, e.g. and F may be good options. And I still do that. I still do that. But what I always say is when I’m having these conversations is, well, let me put on my Gartner hat. Right, right. And I often speak in third person, which I know can be weird and or I will speak in pearls. I’ll say, well, we think this and we think that. I can imagine sometimes that the people are talking to you direct is like, what kind of mouse in his pocket will lose this guy? But. But, but. Yeah. Avoiding overt favoritism. Selling is something I have to do and just not do.

Bill Sherman So you talked about that role of getting out there and engaging in the conversations with your audience. Right. And there’s a couple of pieces there. Sometimes the challenge is sparking a conversation that’s not going on, that needs to be had. Other times, it’s contributing to a conversation that’s ongoing, and sometimes it’s listening and really absorbing. And so, you have to be not only out in the world engaged, but also seen as listening. So, it’s not just one direction. Push content out there. Hear you doing that.

Malcolm Hawker I’m doing it. Well, I’m not entirely sure. So it’s a kind of to paraphrase kind of flavor, one is net new. I would view it as going to net new insights, right? Absolutely. I’d say, like, tell me something I don’t know.

Bill Sherman Or I should be thinking about, but I’m not today.

Malcolm Hawker Exactly right. And that stuff is important and it’s valuable. But honestly, establishing brand new beachheads is harder, particularly on LinkedIn, because it seems like the algorithm doesn’t favor net new things. Right? Because if people don’t know them, they’re not going to click on them. They’re not going to like them, they’re not going to follow them. They’re not going to comment on that. And if they see, well, that’s.

Bill Sherman True on all algorithmically driven content. You can’t SEO optimize for conversations that aren’t happening.

Malcolm Hawker That’s exactly right. However, I think that’s where the greatest value rests in. Tell me something that I should be thinking about that I’m not talking about great perspective on something. Tell me a new way to solve this variable problem that I’ve been wrestling with for weeks and weeks, that that swimming is very attractive to me because I know I know that if I establish a beachhead somewhere and I’ll get the model, for lack of a better word, it could be very, very lucrative. I would argue there’s plenty of these, at least in my world, in the data and analytics space where people will go and create these new words and they do this all the time, like go great in the tech space. This happens all the time. These new words that pretty much mean the same as the old words, but they’re brand new words so that you can market them and position around them.

Bill Sherman Well, we could have a long conversation on the difference or similarities between knowledge management and thought leadership, right?

Malcolm Hawker Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So to make a long story short that that’s quibbling the tell me things like that, I don’t I’m not really thinking about that. I should be thinking about that should be aware of. It’s a big area of focus for my. Because I think it’s needed in the channels that I play and particularly LinkedIn. I think it’s needed and I think that it could be incredibly valuable for me and for the people that trust me as a fund. For example, one of the areas where I’m betting significantly is probably roughly 30% of my day-ish and not this one topic, but this notion of kind of establishing a beachhead is I’m really focused on blockchain and crypto currencies and what that means to my corner of the world. I happen to think that it’s relevant and most of the people in my world don’t think it’s gold. So that’s a start. Then there is number two, the kind of this one way, which is, you know, talk about everything that everybody else is talking about. Right? Right. Add on add new insights at a different point, at a different perspective. And this to me, this is the world of legit, right? This is what I see day in and day out, everybody piling on to propagate or topic B that are well-established and can be. Often those conversations can be slightly inflammatory and slightly divisive because then you get some tribalism building up and I really try to avoid that. But at the same time, it’s the stuff that people are clicking on, right? If you have these kind of because A versus B or these like these specific, I’ll use the word tribes, the lack of a better word, but these specific kind of people kind of align to this solution is the best way to do things that people like in other solutions, the best way to do things that will kind of create the divisions. And then there is, you know, the back and forth. It is very common on Twitter. Another challenge about channels that I try to avoid, but that’s probably 30, 40% of my time as well. Right. Which is easily probably a little more than closer to 40%, which is just kind of contributing to things that other people are saying. Because frankly, a lot of that has to do with aligning myself with other thought leaders that have bigger presences than I do. Right. So. So I want to be the guy tag in the post from the person that has 200,000 followers.

Bill Sherman Right. And you also want to be seen as someone who adds value in the comments. So that comment pops at the top, you’re visible, etc.. Right. And it’s a challenge of when you’re joining a conversation to distinguish yourself. Either you have to push your position further out to try and make it distinct, or you have to try and put, like you said, the twist on, right? I think of the old seventies police procedural show Columbo. Right, where notoriously at the end, the Columbo, the investigator, would turn and just say, Oh, and one more thing to the suspect who was the murderer. And that would be the thing that would unravel the puzzle, right? Yeah. It is very hard to just drop into a comment and deep and pull a Columbo, right?

Malcolm Hawker Yeah, I actually remember Columbo. My parents made me watch that of Peter Falk.

Bill Sherman As did mine. As mine.

Malcolm Hawker Yeah, yeah, I remember that. But yeah, I guess I’m trying to come up with my Columbo moments I’ve linked in the mike drops. Right, right. Exactly as it were. They’re infrequent, I’ll be honest. They’re infrequent. Sometimes they work. I had. I had one recently. Where were this complete celebrity? And I won’t name any names, but this complete celebrity in one of one of my worlds that I live in, the data analytics space, this complete celebrity responded to to something that I tagged her in, and I had no idea she was going to do that. But that drove like 50,000 impressions to that one post, like, right. For some reason I don’t know why, but the celebrity chose to respond to this. I don’t know what secret sauce I get. I don’t know what I did differently and different, but obviously it was good enough that this person would comment back and that all of all of her acolytes are now are now listening to what I have to say. So, yes, that’s an important part. Number three is just listening. Right. This this to me is professional development. This to me is maintaining my edge, maintaining my thought leadership. Right. This this is understanding what’s going on in the market, what people are saying and not saying. I just spent a week last week, last week in Seattle at an industry conference at Microsoft’s big annual event as part of the listening. Right. What’s going on out there where people are saying, what are they not saying? So being active and being present in the industry in any way that you can, whether that is conferences or whether that is attending virtual events, I’ll be doing that tomorrow afternoon where I was kind of sitting in that could absolutely bear a certain amount of fruit. I’ll give you a specific example. I had signed up for an industry event. It was an online event and we’re I was just watching it and there was a chat window along the side during this one presentation. The presentation was about the metaverse, and I found that I found it fascinating. A lot of people were out there saying, okay, well, this is kind of silly. And who wants to pay millions of dollars for JPEGs of information? Okay, fine. But I said, you know, I think this is from this year and this is interesting and there are use cases in B2B world. And that was that was it. I thought that was I was kind of mostly just listening to this part of this presentation. Well, the organizer of that conference reached out to me individually and said, I like what you had to say. Would you like to come and speak to my next conference? There you go. Aha! Eureka. Yes. I sure would about to do it again up in December. So the intent there was just to listen, to learn. And because I have a hard time not contributing in the right environment, that actually led to something. So, yes, all three are important. And that is, again.

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Bill Sherman So one of the things that you said that I want to underline here in that listing is the negative space, because we often focus on what’s said versus what’s not being talked about. And I think part of thought leadership’s opportunity is to look at that negative space. And I think about the plastic FedEx logo where there’s the arrow between the E and the X, but until it’s pointed out, you don’t see it. And so in some cases, thought leadership is looking at the pattern of dots of conversation within industry or within your vendor ecosystem or your customers and saying, what are they talking about? What’s three years ahead or next year that they better be talking about now because they need to be prepared for?

Malcolm Hawker Yeah, and that’s a really difficult skill to build, I think. I think that I came at that I don’t want to say honestly I just came at that from 30 years of being is a big part of that being in product management related goals where I had specific training in essence to. Read between the lines. Right. Users will say what they want. But that really isn’t what they really what they really want. What they’re saying is something that they’re not actually saying doesn’t make any sense. But what they’re.

Bill Sherman Asking for is not necessarily what they what they mean.

Malcolm Hawker Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So I had a decent number of years of training, of being able to listen and to be able to say, okay, wait a minute. Right. They’re saying they want webbed feet and they want feathers and they want an orange beak. Okay. Must be a duck. Well, hold on a second. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s an amphibious form of transportation. I don’t know. Right. I’m being glib. But the training, as in the partners, will help me to be comfortable with probing a lot more, with listening more within, and then asking all of the right questions so the listening doesn’t have to transfer over into some sort of interaction. But yes, what’s not being said could be equally or even more valuable because then it would lead you back to schooling one, which is talking about things that nobody else is talking about.

Bill Sherman Exactly. And that that creates the cycle. Right. Where if you’re constantly putting things out and just jumping on random beachheads. Good luck with that. Right? Right.

Malcolm Hawker Yeah. Well, this is another part of something that I’m honestly still trying to figure out, which is my narrative. Right. Like what? What is? If I was to do the tombstone exercise with my wife, I thought leadership career. Right. What would my tombstone exercise be? Well, here’s your list. The thought leadership career first. Malcolm Parker. Who was that? That that that focus that that that that and help that that that got by whatever right. Like what would the if retrospective positioning statement for lack of a better word. I think that could work. What would that what would that position 70 or what would that tombstone exercise look like? What would you how would you like to be remembered like your remember for helping or how were you different? And I’ll be honest and say that that’s evolving. And I’m still trying to figure that out because I’m still trying to figure out what pieces of spaghetti or sticking to the fridge, which ones are not well.

Bill Sherman And there’s also a piece on that where you have to look and say what is timely for the moment where people are leaning in, but in 60 days or a year, that topic’s going to be passé. There’s only so long you can talk about Y2K, for example. Right. Yeah. Versus what is evergreen and can evolve as the conversation evolves. And especially something like your world in data. Yeah. That’s substantial, right? Yes. Because whether you’re talking about blockchain and our understanding of blockchain today versus where it’s going to be in ten years, that’s going to be a night and day difference.

Malcolm Hawker Totally agree. But this also explains why in my world there are a disproportionate number of thought leaders in data science and AI now.

Bill Sherman Right.

Malcolm Hawker Right. And if you do what I’ve done as a part of my research, as I just went through LinkedIn and pulled up names and went down a whole bunch of rabbit holes, and literally it was a couple of weeks long exercise that there are reporting tools for this. So be it. But I try to figure out, okay, well, who are all the thought leaders in my in my universe? Right. And I kind of occupy a corner of the universe, but I was looking for every.

Bill Sherman Well and we all do as individuals, as organizations, there is no even a single organization that can occupy all lanes in a in a conversation.

Malcolm Hawker Right. And what I found in that is that there were a lot of people that were around just kind of whose narrative was very, very closely aligned to data science via email. Because I think to your point, though, it’s kind of evergreen, right? It’s not going away. It can be applied to a lot of different use cases. It’s timely. It is technically difficult to execute. So there’s a lot of things. Reasons why I think people are focusing there, at least those that are really kind of focused on thought leadership. What I also found was, is that there are a lot of people who are focused on thought leadership and what they’re really focused on is building a training or academy type experience and that that’s their business, right? And that’s okay. Fantastic. I’m fully supportive of that. That’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m not trying to necessarily monetize my thought leadership a lot of times my insights at least directly. But I think your point is, is valid here, which is for your narrative. What where do you want to be and how do you want to be remembered? Those two words, you want to be remembered for people. You’re your name. What are they and what is your kind of your broader narrative? I’m really still trying to figure that out because.

Bill Sherman Well, and I would push that even further, because we’ve been talking about brands. I would say that both individuals and organizations have brands, so personal brand and then the organizational brand. But there’s a middle lane in there for thought leadership, which is the brand for the ideas. I typically called it a platform, right? And so you want your ideas to be able to go out into the world, have a reputation for themselves and become what I would say is self-replicating. Right. That other people start talking about them. And rather than try to force a term or a buzzword in the industry, people go, Oh, that’s a shorthand for something that we’ve needed to describe. Right? Or That sums up an idea. We want that. And so when you build the brand for your ideas. It doesn’t have to rely on you as the messenger. Sometimes you’re the roadie sort of for the band. And that’s fine, right? But you want the ideas to scale and you don’t want to be the limiting factor because there’s only so many places that you can speak on your own or so many articles that you can write. And so it’s about scaling influence and impact. Yeah.

Malcolm Hawker Now, that’s one thing what you just described. That’s one thing that analysts at Gartner are very good at. And so. Yeah. Well, so when your product is insight and you exist in an ecosystem of analysts that are arguably competing for mindshare and that are arguably competing for places on that conference stage at those podiums.

Bill Sherman Right. Right.

Malcolm Hawker In Bangalore and in Tokyo and in Sydney. And you get blown around the world. There’s only a limited number of spaces at the podium. And if there’s 100 podium spaces and there’s 2000 analysts, well, there’s this competition to get to that podium. Right. Right. So what happens is, is that analysts are actively trying to establish new veins, new genres of thought leadership to basically outcompete their competitor, internal competitors and get to the top of it. Right. So it’s it’s it’s interesting. It creates a lot of what I would call kind of odd byproducts in that often there is repackaging of existing insights where there’s just a minor speak, a word that is changed in insights that is changed, but it’s repackaged as something that is new. Right. If your product is toothpaste or toothpicks or other highly undifferentiated products or products that don’t change that often. There’s a there’s a lot of motivation to find ways to change them proactively, make it more of a marketing exercise than anything else that changes.

Bill Sherman Unilever or Procter and Gamble working on product categories for CPGs. You’ve got a limited number of levers you can pull.

Malcolm Hawker Exactly right. And I see that in the analyst community in that a lot of these best practices, a lot of the insights really don’t change that much. They certainly don’t change year over year. Right. They may change it for five, six, seven years. Right. Aligned with technology cycles related to new technologies and development of new technologies. But year over year, they’re not changing that much. So these analysts will go out there and try to change the way they create these new narratives, create these new storylines, create these new genres of insight that really aren’t that different. But where they’re kind of their core driver here is to differentiate themselves within that broader thought leadership community. Check out an interesting exercise, but our and they are very, very, very good at that because when they succeed at that, they outperform their competitors. Who are the other analysts that.

Bill Sherman Well and it’s the challenge both internal. If you’re an organization such as a Gartner or if you’re an organization where you’re doing the role that you are at Profisee, where you are in an ecosystem where ideas are constantly competing for mindshare, right? Regardless of where your audience is, you want attention. In a world where we judge when we scroll through social media and we determine, is it relevant to me or not in 2/2 bites, right? Do I tap more? Do I scroll past and just ignore it? That’s a harsh standard to meet and you’ve got to figure out how do I grab attention? How do I signal relevance so that the organization can punch above its weight?

Malcolm Hawker What a great thing. If there was one thing that I was trying to do for my company, it’s that, right? It’s find a way to punch above our weight. What? What a wonderful. What a wonderful thing. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do. And sadly, you’re right. There’s no shortage of voices out there. Right. There’s just not I. Before embarking on this journey about five months ago, I thought, well, hey, I’m expert or analyst. I actually know what I’m talking about. Not only was I a pundit, but I was actually an I.T. leader. I have plotted solutions. I’ve managed teams. I’ve actually been the guy climbing the hill. I’m as close as they come to an expert in this space. You’ve got the.

Bill Sherman Gravitas. You’ve got the labs or the reputation.

Malcolm Hawker Yeah, yeah. And having actually practitioners. I wasn’t just this ivory tower guy. I’d actually been a practitioner. I thought, okay, well, get out there. And, you know, I’ll, I’ll bubble to the top. No, I’m not bubbling to the top. And there’s a lot of news out there that I didn’t know were out there. And I’ll be honest, really smart people with really great things to say. Right. And that’s well, that’s great insight. I wish I had that three years ago when I was working at Burger because I would have used it. But the point here is, is that there’s no shortage of viewpoints, there’s no shortage of people. And in my world, which is honestly, I don’t know the world of data, but there’s a lot of us out there. And how do you differentiate? How do you distinguish yourself? How do you establish that unique voice? It’s something certainly that I’m trying to figure out. You know what is interesting things I really try to avoid? And maybe I’m trying to avoid it too much. I don’t know. But I’m trying to avoid being weird. And I don’t want to be a sideshow. I don’t want to be producing a lot of content that is like me singing in the shower. Right. Right. Or produce content that may be funny and entertaining, but really doesn’t have very much to do with what I do for a living. I see a lot of people that do that and are very successful at it. Now, maybe I should be more open to that. I don’t know, because I do see there that there’s a certain degree of authenticity and I like that. Right. If you can do it in an authentic way, if you can be, you know, singing a little Lynx lip sync in the shower or is or if you can be taking a video of yourself while you are dancing, or I don’t, I don’t know. But it doesn’t have anything to do with data management. Right. It’s right. It’s something else that is probably entertaining and light and generally more akin to what you probably see on Tik Tok or Twitter. Right. So, I think if you do those things well and you’re authentic and that shows that it could be a net positive. But if it’s not authentic and it seems contrived and it seems like you’re trying to entertain so much that that can backfire. So for me, when looking at that, like positives, negatives is what you can gain, because what you could lose is like, okay, I’m just going to avoid being fake. I don’t I don’t I don’t need that. I’m okay being the boring data guy.

Bill Sherman But as you said, there is value in being authentic. Right. And showing a little bit of yourself. Because if we especially on social media, right, if we were at a conference, we would get to know each other even in a five minute sort of bumped into each other over coffee at the break between sessions. Right. I get a sense of who you are. It is very hard, without consciously revealing a little bit of yourself and social media to signal who is the voice behind this. Right. And we are creatures of interaction. We look for connection. And you were talking about earlier about spotting a lot of smart people in your space. And you can look at it as a downside or you can look as an opportunity go, wow. There’s a community of very smart people here who are going to expand my thinking, challenge it, and we can carry on these conversations as far as we want to take it. Right. And so it’s this balance between who are you talking to? And the way that I think of it is the more that you spread the peanut butter thin, the harder it is to be relevant to anybody. Right. So you have to sacrifice in some ways and go, yeah, 99.9% of the world is going to look and go, Oh, it’s that boring data guy in my feet again. Okay. Yeah, that’s fine. But for the point 1% or the point 5%, that’s excited to see they should light up and go. That’s cool stuff. Tell me, though.

Malcolm Hawker Yeah. Yeah. My happy place here. One area that I’m pretty comfortable with is when it comes to authenticity. For me, that shows in my passion, right? If you watch any of my three or four short four little videos that I post out on LinkedIn or other videos that I that I take even ones that are kind of instructional. The ABCs one, two, three type videos. Right. Right. It’s pretty obvious, at least I think and I’ve had this I’ve had people tell me this, this is good. It isn’t just me looking at a broken here that I’m passionate. Right. And that I care about what I’m talking about and that I care about the people that that may be listening to the things that I have to say. So that’s one area where I feel that if I if I double on that, if I double down on that and I stay passionate and I stay interested. I’m focused on topics that I’m really, really interested in that field that I know a decent amount about. That’s where I can live and breathe. And maybe from that place I can try to branch out a little bit. I’ll give you an example of people way that that that I kind of kind of stretch my comfort zone into kind of being slightly entertaining and potentially a little over 50. I live on the east coast of Florida. I live at this area called the Space Coast. And about 30 miles from here is Cape Canaveral. And I’m relatively close to the beach. And if you go out to the beach from there, when Elon Musk is launching rockets, you can see it’s pretty cool that there’s these like dry trails and at night it’s all skylights up. So I figured to myself I was doing this video on how to launch a specific solution in our case is called MDM, How to launch Instagram. And I thought, Oh, there’s an interesting metaphor there. I’ll take a video of myself of the three or four things you need to think about when you’re launching an MBA program and the metaphors with the rocket. I knew exactly the rocket launch would be, and if I timed this right, I could be doing my thing on LinkedIn and this rocket could basically come out of my shoulder and take off and it might drop level, right? So right about there, it’s the middle of the day and it’s the beach and it’s windy. And I was using a lab, so I think this was okay, but I was recording it on my phone. So I have the arm out and the telltale selfie framing and I’m doing my thing and I’m aware of the time as I look. Wait a minute. Hold on a second. I should have seen the rocket. Find out. Looking like I was looking at the screen, which was pointed behind me. And I should’ve seen it by now. Look over the beach. And it was. I felt like it was, it was like less investment from WKRN, I don’t know, the seventies TV Yeah.

Bill Sherman We’re doing some of these television shows.

Malcolm Hawker All day, right? And I felt like I was like a mobile, the mobile news reporter and I was like, I was looking guys like, well, people are looking up at the sky and okay, well that I look like I was like, Oh, that’s there goes the rocket. I missed it. There’s the exhaust. And as it turns out, my head was completely blocked. The one place that I could have had my head in the frame. Right, right. And there was a lot of room. There’s a lot of like the the one place where my head was, where the rocket. And if you look at the video, there’s this little like this little white orb that goes like it gets out of my head and I was like, okay, well, best laid plans. Let’s make plans. So be it. My dog was in the way blocking from the rocket, but hopefully. And I’ll see you next time. So, yeah, that was my stretch into being as an entertainer and going a little bit.

Bill Sherman But a couple lessons there in terms of getting ideas out there. The deployment doesn’t have to be perfect, right? It can be authentic. And the other piece you talk about showing passion, I think video is an excellent medium for that because the spark in the eye, the smile, the nonverbals, all of those things that you show when you talk about a subject, you can reveal. Right. Right. And the more signal that you can put in on that, you know, white papers are high idea, low signal rate in that regard. So as we begin to wrap up, I want to ask you a question. I know you’ve moved into the world of beyond the pay wall for leadership, but my question is this. If you were to go back to your younger self and offer a piece of advice, what advice would you give?

Malcolm Hawker Oh, gosh, these are my current.

Bill Sherman Terms of practicing thought leadership. So gosh, what to prepare you for today.

Malcolm Hawker Yeah. So number one is you are always a thought leader. Everybody is a thought leader and everybody has value to add. And just because you may not be a VP or a senior director or somebody with an extremely large title, you have a unique voice and you have perspective. You have experiences that matter and are valuable and finding ways to share those experiences with other people in any way possible without an expectation of return. Meaning if you are able to share what you know and share your insights, share your experiences, what works, what doesn’t matter doesn’t does it matter? If you do that, it will come back to you, right? And just because maybe you’re just starting your career, maybe you are young in your career, maybe you’re just trying to figure out the ropes. You still got a valuable story to tell because you still got valuable experiences and people will want to hear that. So going back, if I were to go back in time, I would have been doing the things that I’m doing now more often. I would have been out on social channels. More often I would have been doing more pro-bono work. I would have been publishing stuff on wherever and LinkedIn subreddits. It doesn’t matter. I would have been publishing stuff and sharing my perspective and sharing my viewpoints because I think that if I had done that and I’d reached the point where I am now, I would have had a lot of this stuff already figured out and I would be in a far better place. I would be potentially a sole proprietor, maybe I even have a small company teaching other people about how to do this. But I do know now. I do know now you have a unique voice. You have things that you have value to add. And the more that you give it, the more that you throw it out there, the more that it will come back to.

Bill Sherman Fantastic. Thank you very much, Malcolm, for joining us today and for a wonderful conversation.

Malcolm Hawker Thanks so much, Bill, I enjoyed it.

Bill Sherman If you’re interested in organizational thought leadership, then I invite you to subscribe to the OrgTL newsletter. Each month we talk about the people who create, curate and deploy thought leadership on behalf of their organizations. Go to the website. and choose Join Our Newsletter. I’ll leave a link to the website as well as my LinkedIn profile in the show notes. Thanks for listening and I look forward to hearing what you thought of the show.


Bill Sherman works with thought leaders to launch big ideas within well-known brands. He is the COO of Thought Leadership Leverage. Visit Bill on Twitter

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