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Less Upcoming Than Usual
Is a grounded thought leader even a thought leader?
A bonus Sunday episode!
Waking up this morning, my first thought was how different my job is now with less travel. Like many tech companies, we have smaller budgets for travel. The means I can only take three or so trips a quarter unless I get someone else to pay for it, or for customer/sales visits.
I dropped down a level in airline status due to decreased travel over the past year (and the lack of KLM maintaining your status to make up for COVID-times for several years). Yes, yes, “must be nice” and all that. I do a lot more at the desk work: writing, webinars and online talks, plus just general meetings/consulting about stuff.
That mix should have more videos, but as I mentioned awhile ago, after three years I don’t think my topic area works for videos. What do “executives” actually read and act on?
The explosion of social media is a huge blow to the developer advocate and tech marketing world. Surveys asking where developers got their info used to show that Twitter was up there.
Maybe I’m supposed to write more books? Arrange more online chats and panels in, like, LinkedIn? I was invited to an online CTO, like, salon last week. It was late on Friday night for me (living in Amsterdam), so I didn’t attend. That format is interesting…?
Is less travel better for my work, for my career, for my well-being? It must be better for, like, the environment.
Over the years, I’ve seen thought leader types…not so much burn out, as reach an end of their willingness to travel for work, or, maybe at the effectiveness of travel. You sort of run out of things to say at some point; you fill your audience’s idea-bucket. And once you start feeling like you’re repeating yourself, it’s hard to think all the effort you put in it worth it.
I’m not really sure what these grounded thought-leaders shift to doing instead. It used to be that you could just shoot out some clever tweets weekly to keep your thought leadering up, but that’s all dead now.
When I try to work on more content, there’s two problems I encounter.
As mentioned above, I can’t get the kind of eyeballs I would at a conference, just presenting to a room full of people. I spoke at a conference in Utrecht awhile back, and the number of people who followed my CTA and downloaded my book was huge compared to, like, the Internet as an audience on any given day. What do people in my field even read? I have no idea. Talking to people face-to-face is still incredibly effective.
Despite all of that, people seem to think my content flows are fine. One of the more interesting analogies people make is that I’m like my own little company, managing all aspects of content flow and my work. They say this about my co-worker Josh, who is even more so. Another co-worker of mine, Dan, has done an amazing job at this over the past year as well. And Whitney has built one of the most unique concepts I’ve seen in the years.
That analogy is good, and it means I need to build up more “flows” that I “own” rather than having them done by others.
For example, one of the reasons I moved to Europe in 2018 was to do more executive engagement. “Executive engagement” means doing thought leadership with, let’s say, enterprise architects, to VP of operations or applications, to “C-level.” It’s a lot of talking about culture, swapping stories about how larger organizations change how they manage software. And so forth.
I was incredibly lucky that Hinada was running that in marketing when I got here. Even before I moved here, she’d had me do several. Over about four years, including during the pandemic, we did something like 40 of these events. Maybe more. They were great: small rooms of people where one or two resulted in actual business. By the metrics, they worked. Plus, I mean, it was just fun to meet and talk with people. But, as organization and budget shifts happened, as they do in large organizations, and especially when she left, that dried up. What happened is that I did own that flow. I didn’t establish my own ongoing contact with that group of people, a “club.”
That’s what you have to build up as a thought leader: your own “following.” For over a decade, you could more or less rely on Twitter for that. During the pandemic, and maybe a little before, it switched over the YouTube. There’s newsletters now, and all the various post-Twitter things. Those post-Twitter things are way too new, though. We’ll have to wait several years to see which ones work. For me, LinkedIn is where I should be trying to build a following more and more…but even that is…weird. I don’t have enough analytics to know if the following I have is all vendors, or includes enough “customers” to care. If I look at who likes and otherwise engages in my content on LinkedIn, it’s mostly co-workers. This is great, of course, I appreciate it very much. My point is not that that’s “bad,” it’s that I want to make sure I have “customers” in that following as well.
(This leads to an intriguing theory: if my large LinkedIn follower base - at least, the subsection that engages with my stuff there - is vendors, then perhaps I should start thought-leaders for vendors more.)
What I don’t have figured out yet is the medium and the content type that works for me and also for that “executive audience.” I’ve really enjoyed doing this series of financial industry talks with my co-worker Darran. It’s been very satisfying. Maybe I can give that kind of thing fine, and focus a lot of my “own little company” efforts on promoting them.
And, a little side-note on how mercantile my word choice is here: “customers,” “eye-balls,” “promotion.” I mean, yeah, sure - pure as the driven snow and stuff. If I were an independent book author (hopefully, not of the take-down-able airport book variety), perhaps I’d be saying “readers” and “consulting engagements.” A thought-leader mostly exists to drive business of some kind, whatever words or obsequious phrasing you’re using. I prefer to just be plain-spoken and open about it. I work at a company that sells stuff! I’m part of the funnel, and even lead-gen.)
Anyhow, so long as I can use the priority lines at Schiphol when I need to travel, I should be fine.
Speaking of! Upcoming
Talks I’ll be giving, places I’ll be, things I’ll be doing, etc.
July 11th How Cloud Native Improves & Ensures Security, Governance, and Trust in Finance, online talk. August 21st to 24th SpringOne & VMware Explore US, in Las Vegas. Sep 6th to 7th DevOpsDays Des Moines, speaking. Sep 13th, stackconf, Berlin. Sep 14th to 15th SREday, London, speaking Sep 18th to 19th SHIFT in Zadar, speaking. Oct 3rd Enterprise DevOps Techron, Utrecht, speaking
I was going to include this in the regular episode today, but the mix of reviewing a podcast and two cups of coffee into the morning thinking seemed discordant. I’ve been thinking about the above a lot recently: the changing nature of the work I do driven by the constraints I now have. So - there it is!