What is a Thought Leader? A Rose By Any Other Name Should Use the Other Name

The term "thought leader" is attributed to former Harvard Business Review editor in chief Joel Kurtzman.  When Kurtzman was editor-in-chief of the magazine Strategy + Business, he first used the phrase in 1994, labeling those he interviewed for their forward-thinking, savvy business ideas as "thought leaders."

Today, "thought leader" is a phrase that has been so overused and misapplied that many find its use suspicious.  Use it, and be ready: for many, it sets off the internal "BS alarm." 

Last year, Rob Cottingham at Read.Write.Web. suggested that "thought leader" be one of those buzzwords we no longer use.  Once useful, Cottingham finds its had all its life sucked out of it by overapplication.

I agree.  Don't get me wrong:  I like the phrase.  I like it.  Problem is, so many have used it and so many have stuck it on folk that are so obviously NOT thought leaders that it's just not valuable any longer - at least not in a good way. 

It reminds me of fajita tacos.  Boy, were they great when they first arrived.  We'd all go to the restaurant downtown and await the hissing cast iron skillets as they sojourned through the dining room to our white linen tabletops.  Beef, chicken, onions, bell peppers, charred and lovely and steaming. 

Now, you drive through any taco franchise and order a couple of fajita tacos and they arrive in a paper sack, with some salsa and guacamole on the side if you're lucky.  Still tasty, but just not the same.