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A penny for your thought leader

Updated: 2013-04-26T20:39:37Z

It has come to my attention that I am a thought leader.

I did not set out to be a thought leader. I've never really set out to be anything, which is why it’s kind of funny that I have a bunch of diplomas and plaques on the wall of my home office with college seals and words like “award” and “excellence” on them.

I became a thought leader by default, because apparently the only requirements are having a pulse and an Internet connection. So the odds are very good that you're one, too. Congratulations! I’m sorry to say that being a thought leader isn't much more lucrative than being an owner of diplomas and plaques, but you can always use it to give your resume that extra sizzle. A huge number of people seem to think this works, because “thought leader” has shown up on dozens of professional bios I've read over the past weeks.

I don’t read professional bios as part of my thought leader duties; I do it because clients pay me to check the spelling of people’s names for publications. This means I spend a lot of time looking up resumes and blog posts and LinkedIn profiles.

We thought leaders especially love LinkedIn. As of 6:31 p.m. March 27, there were 75,569 of us there, just waiting for ... some thoughts that needed to be led, I guess.

If you’ve ever worried that a particular title or job description sounds too ridiculous to include in a professional profile, worry no more. There’s no room left at the bottom of that barrel.

For instance, I recently came across a marketing-advice article written by an “idea merchant.” At least, I think it was a marketing-advice article. I can't really remember, because I got all distracted thinking about questions I’d like to ask an idea merchant: How much do ideas cost? Do lower-quality ideas cost less? What if your inventory of ideas is overstocked? Do you have a clearance sale, to make room for new ones?

Maybe the idea merchant works with the “designer of social ideas and social objects” whose bio I saw recently. I'm not sure how one goes about designing social ideas, but the “social objects” thing sounds vaguely X-rated. So at least there’s a market for it.

Another question I’d ask an idea merchant is this: How do people with these “titles” manage to keep a straight face while handing out business cards? I guess it’s possible in Silicon Valley, which is its own universe of jargon-slinging and schmoozing and bluffing your way into vast amounts of venture capital. But could you imagine attending a networking lunch in, say, Lee’s Summit and coming home with a handful of cards from “marketing and sales alignment enthusiasts”? They're a thing, apparently. And they like to “architect strategies.”

Despite all the architecting and other noun-to-verbing, I do sort of admire these merchants and enthusiasts and designers of social ideas, because they have that swaggering confidence I’ve never had. I’m guessing their office walls feature worthless liberal arts bachelor’s degrees just like mine, and maybe even the same worthless master’s degree. (Journalism. Quaint, isn’t it?) Yet they are supremely self-assured. How else to explain someone who proudly markets himself as the “finder of the elephant in the room”?

At least I can take comfort in the fact that I’m a thought leader. Under the laws of supply and demand, that’s a good thing to be, since our numbers are dwindling. As of 8:04 p.m. March 27, we're down to 75,540 on LinkedIn.

Soon we’ll be as tough to find as that elusive elephant in the room.

Freelancer Sarah Smith Nessel writes about suburban life. Apparently the only requirements are having a pulse and an Internet connection.

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