One of the disservices of a socially mediated society, one where talk radio subsumes real public broadcast, is that we are now all ‘thought leaders’; sadly its a notion that currently holds weird cache.
Daily on SAFM, we receive another press release from a publicist, selling us a thought leader – the CEO, the Manager, the Captain, the Entrepreneur, the Celebrity Influencer, the Influencer without the Celebrity; Rodin’s Thinker is no longer alone. There are world-views, grandiose statements, short-termisms, and florid gestures, all under the heading of thought leadership. Often the press release is littered with ‘facts’ that can only come from hours of Google search, a narrative that is sold by the savvy media maven who set the marketing strategy. It does the CEO/Manager/Leader/Captain/ Celebrity/Influencer no favours when they come into interview. Quickly what was sold as a thought provoking topic turns into a simplistic preamble to selling the business to the public. (By the way, I’m not for one minute suggesting a moratorium on the press release; we are desperate for real news and insights.)
Not every thought leader is a leader. Not every leader has to be a ‘thought leader’. We need to dispense of the glib sales pitch, and cut a swathe for those whose interrogation of the world offers us respite, solace, debate, wit, wisdom, fresh insights and fire. On the weekend I interviewed a young seven year old who has started a plastic recycling ‘business’ to support his family. His parents are both jobless owing to the pandemic. In highlighting the extraordinary toughness and inequality of South Africa right now, I learned from his simple words; small stories, big ideas, massive inspiration, real change, at any age. I interviewed the musician Msaki – the conversation gave depth at a time when the waters are shallow, stillness when the waters are choppy, insights when the waters are stagnant. Msaki’s power as a musician and wordsmith lies in her interrogation of the anger, grief and joy currently taking hold of South Africa, also what it means to be a woman, when the word spells fear for many. Her slowed up, and deafeningly quiet cover of Blk Sonshine’s Born in A Taxi (still to be released) is true thought leadership. We just have to listen, and sometimes we discover wisdom in the smaller stories.