The Lure of Thoughtertainment

The Lure of Thoughtertainment
Photo by Jorik Kleen on Unsplash

Thoughtertainment is my word for content that looks like thought leadership on the surface but, in fact, serves other ends. As the word suggests, some of it may even be entertaining to read and think about. But the deeper you dig, the more you realize that it just doesn't have a lot of substance. 

What’s The Difference?

For what it is, it's fine. I don't want to point fingers. Some of it I even enjoy and recommend. There are worse things people could do with their free time. I'm calling it out because it can be a distraction for a thought leader whose goal is to advance thinking and promote change within a highly specific area. It doesn’t contribute to the growth of an organization or industry.

It's not ultimately about anything. Instead, it's designed to get its reader to keep consuming it—more likes, more followers, more book purchases. It continues to market itself in an abyss whose bottom you can never get to.


For example, take the work of thoughtertainers like Brené Brown, James Clear, or Cal Newport. Their work is often insightful and beloved by millions. But their ultimate purpose is self-fulfilling, getting more people to buy and spread the word and boosting their authors’ net worth. 

Compare their impact to the work of Seth Godin, who has changed the way marketers look at their craft, or Satoshi Nakamoto, the pseudonymous developer whose initial Bitcoin whitepaper and implementation effectively spawned the multitrillion-dollar market for digital assets.

The Reality of a Thought Leader

A thought leader works on a daily basis to improve the way things are done within a clear area of expertise. Companies innovate and grow, customers make better and stronger decisions, employees make bigger commitments, and industry domains continue to improve.

From the vantage point of ideas-led growth, the work that lies behind thought leadership is critical. Specificity is key to achieving sustainable ideas-led growth. Behind thought leadership lies a product or service, not a vague notion of a personal or corporate brand. 

As a result, much thought leadership may not have a general audience. It presumes a certain level of subject matter knowledge on behalf of the audience and actually needs to do so in order to go beyond the superficial.

Sustaining Growth

Because it relies heavily on expertise and systemic business growth, thought leadership may also not be able to keep up with the rhythm of thoughtertainment. Thoughtertainers typically show up with in multiple content posts a day across many channels and in many forms. 

In fact, the more a thoughtertainer becomes a cottage industry in their own right, the more likely they are to have a team of marketers and content creators maintaining that steady cadence of material. Efforts focus on sustaining content, not sustaining growth.

Format Inspiration

However, thought leaders certainly can learn from some of the things that thoughtertainment does well. It's a great example of finding innovative ways to get ideas across in ways that engage audiences. Thoughtertainers and the teams behind them are usually masters of the nuances of many channels and platforms.

It can even be helpful to find a few thoughtertainers you like and figure out ways you could emulate the best of what they do. After all, thought leaders definitely do want to engage people and keep them coming back for more. It just can't become the sole purpose of your underlying thought leadership, or your “thought leadership” is simply another form of personal branding and entertainment.

Restoring Focus

The lure of thoughtertainment can make you lose focus on the core of meaningful value that only you can deliver within your industry. Broad-brush pop psychology or pop philosophy doesn't have much place in the work generating and using ideas to foster growth. 

Instead, keeping that core at the center of what you do will allow you to build thought leadership that sparks change. Fewer readers, perhaps, but more impact in precisely the areas that you care most about.

Three Grace Notes

"Uncovering foundations is always dangerous, for who can tell what lies in wait among the fault lines in the logic of our universe, what creatures sleep and dream amid the tangle of roots from which human knowledge grows?" — Benjamin Labatut, The MANIAC

"Our best foot forward is to think of the brain not as a producer of mind but rather a transducer of mind. Transducers take one kind of input and turn it into a different kind of output. A light bulb transduces electricity into light. A thermometer transduces heat into a number." Neil Theise, Notes on Complexity: A Scientific Theory of Connection, Consciousness, and Being

"People get to believing and even to professing the apparent answers thus arrived at, suffering mental constrictions by emotionally closing their minds to any of the further and possibly opposite “answers” which might otherwise be unearthed by honest effort—answers which, if faced realistically, would give rise to a struggle and to a possible rebirth which might place the whole problem in a new and more significant light." — John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez

Note: The links above are affiliate links. I'm using them in lieu of paid subscription tiers or digital tip jars. Seems like a much more graceful way to generate financial support while sharing more thinking and writing that can guide thought leadership.

One Last Thing

I'm all in on The Regime on MAX. Reviewers are complaining that it's not comedic enough to be satire and not dramatic enough to be political commentary. It's too smart to fall into any single genre. Kate Winslett makes every moment worth it. Just watch it with a view to what it is rather than what it's supposed to be.

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