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The 5 Factions of Divergent Thought Leaders


Take the Faction Quiz here:


One Choice Can Transform You!

What a great marketing line for a thought leader, right? Except it’s the log line to be found on the cover of Veronica Roth’s first novel in her trilogy about a futuristic world (Chicago, actually) in which everyone has to choose the prime “virtue” that feels most authentic. After a Harry Potter-like “choosing ceremony” each person then belongs to one of five factions: Abnegation; Amity; Candor; Dauntless; or Erudite. For life! (Unless you can’t stick it out, in which case you end up, like the Dalits or “untouchables” in India, as factionless.)

Those who don’t fit neatly into one of these categories are labeled Divergent. And they’re considered dangerous. Because they don’t think the same as everyone else. Or, rather, they think like everyone else does but all mixed up together, not in one neatly proscribed way.

The book was a great read (I’d just finished Stephanie Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, and Scott Westerfield’s Uglies series (Uglies; Pretties; Specials; Extras) and needed a new “fix.” As you’ve probably gathered, I have a thing for dystopian Young Adult novels. And it turned out to be an excellent movie, out in theaters — at least in the U.S. — currently.

Divergent Thought Leaders

Back here in 2014, it seems everyone is claiming to be “divergent” in the sense that there are so many self-appointed thought leaders out there. But how many of them warrant being described as such, based not just on their ability to think but on how well they lead others? Who provoke the response, “I would never have thought of that,” then have the ability to guide new behavior and action based on that different perspective?

How would the faction system rate you? Take a look at the connections I see between Roth’s five faction system and thought leadership. (If you want to take the faction quiz to find out your own results, here’s the link. Me? I’m Erudite, Dauntless and Candor, ergo Divergent. No surprise there!)

Abnegation: This is the “selfless” faction, the ones who give up looking in the mirror and fixating on themselves to think about others first. Their primary concern is what they can contribute, rather than what they expect to get.

This is a value found in true thought leaders. You know, the ones who aren’t always banging on about their products and services. And, at the extreme, often send messages that are contrary to their business bottom line (Patagonia is a good example) because their focus is on shared values. (The reality being that when clients or customers share your values, they’re more likely to spend money with you anyway.)

Amity: This faction can be summed up in one word–relationships. Enough said?

Well, not when it comes to the misunderstandings that so many marketing folks appear to have about their target audience and what’s important to that group, not themselves. As Nancy Duarte pointed out in a recent Inc article entitled Great Speakers are Like Yoda, Not Luke Skywalker:

Usually, it’s all about the information you want to give, instead of being about the information the audience wants to receive. You need to spend an enormous amount of time thinking about what the audience wants to receive. You need to really think through who you’re talking to, and how to make a deep connection with them. Then you need to create content that supports that.

The same is true for thought leadership. Get to know your audience better rather than assume, as most marketers tend to do, that they already know what their target market wants. (Read this Marketers from Mars report from ExactTarget to get a dose of reality!).

Candor: Arguably the faction that is the most misunderstood. Candor isn’t about shooting-from-the-hip and saying the first thing that comes into your head (otherwise known as a lack of boundaries). It’s more to do with giving frank, impartial advice irrespective of whether the recipient wants to hear it or  not.

Likewise, thought leaders candidly communicate their position on a topic. they occupy a “white space” uninhabited by others. This can, if you don’t have the right culture to support a thought leading position, be problematic. As Craig and I say in our book #Thought Leadership Tweet: 140 Prompts for Designing and Executing an Effective Thought Leadership Campaign:

What internal concerns might there be about giving away so much intellectual capital?How will you allay those fears?

This is not something to brush off lightly. As these AIM engineers found when battling with AOL management, outlined in this Mashable story. Candor are fearless in that regard.

Dauntless: This is the faction home to the heroes of the Divergent movie and book, Tris and Four. They’re not necessarily fearless because that can lead to taking unnecessary risks (although jumping off and on moving trains at high speeds seems pretty daft to me!). But they’re definitely undaunted. That is, not the kind of people who will be put off or discouraged by challenge.

That’s why we like to use the mountain climbing analogy when sharing our perspective on thought leadership.


Click on the graphic above to read the quote in the top right hand corner  (actually prompt #140 in our #Thought Leadership Tweet book). Dauntless without a doubt.

Erudite: This is my natural home, other than “divergent,” being someone who is never happier than when my nose is in a book. And it’s just what the name suggests: here you’ll find the folks who are well-read, well-informed, curious thinkers. They are hungry for knowledge.

Similarly, thought leaders have acquired sufficient knowledge not just in one field but a variety. Because, as any number of commentators on creativity and innovation point out, erudite thinkers (as distinct from subject matter experts) add value by making unique connections between many bits of knowledge.

As Frans Johansson points out in The Medici Effectideas are transformed when you’re used to living life at the Intersection:

A place where ideas and concepts from diverse industries, cultures, departments, and disciplines collide, ultimately igniting an explosion of ideas leading to extraordinary innovations. Breakthrough ideas are most often “intersectional” and occur when we bring concepts from one field into a new, unfamiliar territory.

And that’s why the powers-that-be in Roth’s dystopian world of Divergent are so afraid of these rarities: because they have the power to change things in ways that are different, unorthodox, totally unexpected!!

Just like thought leaders. Well, the ones who actually live up to the name.

So — what do you think is THE most important value of a thought leader? Or, as I’ve argued here, is it more a case of not simply being singularly selfless, relationship focused, impartially upfront, courageous or knowledgable, but “divergent”?

And are you?

Dr Liz Alexander is co-founder of Leading Thought. Connect with her on Twitter at @Leadthought or @DrLizAlexander






About Dr. Liz Alexander

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