More Thoughts About Influence.

I get lots of interesting mail about the Top 100 Influencers project over at There are any number of people who want to be on the list. There are great insights into the idea of influence. It’s a rich dialog.

I’m looking into influence because I think it’s a central piece of the business puzzle. As organizations flatten and old fashioned command and control systems fail, influence will be the dominant management style. Understanding what it is and how it works is an essential part of any business leader’s agenda.

I received a couple of complex notes this morning that described cabals within the industry, talked about the bullying that goes on in online communities, wondered about the difference between industry influence and the consequences of doing a job well and solicited my feedback on this or that person’s influence.

Some of the stuff I just can’t touch on the basis of an email. The area is provocative and the more I examine the subject, the more I find really  strong feelings.

I  wanted to share the note I wrote but didn’t send. Ultimately, I decided it was better to keep this particular set of ideas out in public. One of the central notions of the Top 100 Influencers project is to make clear some things that are murky.

I have some trouble with a number of your characterizations and I’m not sure that it’s worth the energy to go down the road with  you. Like most people, I evaluate opportunities on a risk-return basis. My plate is very full these days.

The online media is a a harsh environment and it’s easy to get singed. Myself, I retreat from situations where all I get is guff. It seems that everyone has choices in that regard.

– start your own scene.
– stay out of places that irritate or inflame you.
– withdraw altogether.
– keep showing up and getting abused

After a while, the conspiracy theory wears thin. Why on earth would anyone go where they are going to get beat up? Choosing to show up for the abuse repeatedly is pretty much the same as dishing it out. It’s sad the online world allows gangs of bullies to pick on weak people. But, anyone who is dumb enough to continue to come back for more deserves what they get. While I don’t understand it, the only way I can explain it is a deep level of pleasure on the part of the person who returns. That’s every bit as awful as the bullying. You might even say that coming back can only be thought of as provoking the beating.

You’d certainly say that of someone who kept returning to a neighborhood where they got mugged. The first time, they’re a victim. The 20th time, they’re asking for it.

I don’t find much of the digital world to be the most important influence on the industry. The people who change thinking and are conduits for ideas typically have enough time to focus on that. While it’s not always the case, just doing the job is not a way to influence things. Involvement in bigger projects and bigger ideas is essential.

There’s a really funny thing about influence that I’ve tried to explain in the series.

Most influence is oriented to maintaining the status quo. It’s a paradox. Most of the people who are influential speak of transformation but actually are happier when the staus quo is a fixed thing. It’s simply easier to be influential when the world is a fixed place. Some people work to protect, nourish and expand their influence

There are some people who disrupt the staus quo and make really interesting things happen. They tend to be vendors from outside the industry whose products or services change the game. Bill Warren, Jeff Taylor, Reid Hoffman and Evan Williams come to mind. Occasionally a recruiting leader like Michael McNealis so transformative that vendors start copying his methods.

Interestingly, I am going to do an all-digital Top 25 influencers list that is entirely generated by algorithm. There are an enormous number of elements including reach, relevance, reputation, network, friend density. What I know for sure is that some folks will make that list who won’t make my manually developed list. That’s because the things I think of as influence go far beyond volume and reach online. But, five years from now, it will be possible to do the work I’m doing by automated process.

Part of the way that I figure out who’s influential is by asking everyone I talk to who they think is influential.

I’m not sure you get the scope of the project. My plan is to conduct 500 one to two hour interviews over the course of the year to get to 100 on the list. I’ve had about 110 of the conversations and have yet to feel comfortable that I know wh’s on the final list or exactly what influence is/means.

Some things that strike me as indicators of influence

– people do deals on your recommendation
– concepts for tool design bear your imprint
– future processes and procedures bear your fingerprints
– lots of people think you are influential
– you provide access to major communication channles in the industry
– some people are scared of you / distrust you
– your company has a large desktop footprint
– a lot of people acknowledge you as a role model / shining star / expert
– you are in a critical seat in a key institution
– people outside of the profession think of you as it’s rep (probably through TV and consumer Book sales)
– you are thought of as “the” expert in a specific niche
– lots of people use your strategic models for planning

It’s not at all inclusive but should give you a sense of where I’m coming from. In earlier pieces, I explained much of the process I’m using and most of the insights I’ve stumbled upon.

I hope this is helpful

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