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The Hermit and the Evangelist

Hidden away, cunningly

Vinnie went into her sister’s room after the funeral and discovered a mysterious, locked chest. She’d planned to gather her reclusive sister’s papers and burn them—as she’d promised she would do. But when she unlocked the chest, she discovered a treasure which would alter her life and change the world.

The chest contained forty handwritten and hand-sewn manuscripts containing some eight hundred poems. Vinnie knew that her reclusive sister had written some poems, a few had even been published anonymously, but they never received much attention.

On that day, Vinnie broke her promise to her “Emily.” Instead of burning the poems, she decided with a “Joan d’ Arc” fervor, that they must be shared with the world. Livinia “Vinnie” Dickinson spent the next thirteen years evangelizing the poetry of her sister, Emily.

If Vinnie hadn’t seen the beauty in her sister’s poems; if she decided to toss them into the flames; if she didn’t push to get them published—then one of the greatest American poets would have quietly passed, virtually unnoticed, from the world.

The brain is wider than the sky

Now, you might think that Emily Dickinson’s locked chest of masterpieces is a once-in-history aberration. However, after working with thought leaders for many years, I’m convinced that the “hidden treasures in the attic” problem occurs more frequently than we might think.

Artists, visionaries, and thought leaders bring value because they can see the world in a different way. But these insights do not come quickly or easily. Many thought leaders recognize that in order to develop their ideas they need intensely quiet periods—time where they can step back from the world and think.  Few thought leaders are as reclusive as Emily Dickinson (or if so, we haven’t met them!)

Great ideas remain unpublished and unseen for many reasons. Here are three common reasons that I’ve seen thought leaders hoard their “treasures in the attic.”

Intellectual Curiosity

Intellectual Curiosity drives thought leaders to develop their content, but when it’s set to overdrive, it can lead to abandoned and incomplete projects. Some thought leaders are drawn to their content because they love the challenge of problem solving questions within the area they’re passionate about.

A few years ago, I worked with a thought leader who gave me an extensive tour of his unpublished work. At one point, he alluded to a consulting tool—said he had spent several months building it. It was truly enterprise ready, but it had never been deployed. It was an attractive intellectual challenge, but once he saw the solution, he set it aside. The thought leader turned his attention to other projects, and he lacked a “Vinnie” to evangelize the ideas.

Impostor Syndrome

Many thought leaders suffer from Imposter Syndrome, chronically undervaluing their content and doubting their suitability as the messenger. These individuals tell themselves that although they have tasted success, their ideas really aren’t “good enough” for a larger stage. The antidote, of course, to Imposter Syndrome is an entrepreneurial “fail fast” mindset. However, these thinkers tend to minimize risks and actively avoid engaging with potential prospects and critics. Afraid of rejection, they never bother to test the market. In the end the ideas are just packed up and stored in attics and file drawers.

Time Constraints

Many single shingle thought leaders are trapped in a cycle where they have to personally deliver their content in order to generate revenue. That means lots of nights on the road delivering keynotes and workshops. Good ideas often come at unexpected times—sitting on a plane or while eating dinner at a “table for one.” These ideas are tucked into a folder to “someday” develop into real assets which could generate passive income. However, they’re forced to choose between content development and enterprise outreach.

Luck is not chance, it is toil

In both 19th Century Amherst, Massachusetts and contemporary society, there’s an inherent tension between roles of the reflective thinker and the social evangelist. Let’s look at it in today’s terms.

The Thinker

If you want to develop your thought leadership, you need time away from the rush and bustle to find those insights that make your content valuable to people and organizations

The Evangelist

If you want others to put your content into use, then you need to actively commit to the game—managing an outreach program, conducting demos, talking with prospects, writing proposals, and implementing rollouts.

Both roles require skill and disciplined effort. It’s exceptionally hard for any one person to excel at both roles simultaneously. Yet, both roles are necessary to make a meaningful impact in the world.

Vinnie could not have written great poetry. Emily, who rarely left the upstairs room of her family’s home, would have made a poor evangelist.

The soul selects her own society

If you enjoy the role of the thinker, take a look through your “treasures in the attic.” Why did you set these projects aside?

  • Did intellectual curiosity pull you in another direction?
  • Are you uncomfortable with evangelizing your work?
  • Are you simply running short on time?

Don’t count on your hidden gems getting saved from the fire. Take the time to consider who will lead your thought leadership evangelism and promote your ideas to the world.

Still hesitant about sharing your vision, maybe you have Content Paranoia?

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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