thought leadershipHere’s a bit of a warning for anyone claiming to be a ‘thought leader’ or expert on a particular topic.

A recently released intriguing research study suggests that self-proclaimed thought leaders and experts are more likely to “allege knowledge of completely made-up information and false facts”. The researchers have labelled this phenomenon as “overclaiming”.

One of the experiments undertaken by the researchers was to list a number of personal finance terms which included three fake terms. The study consisted of 100 people who rated their level of expertise in personal finance. The research found that “people who saw themselves as financial wizards were most likely to claim expertise of the bogus finance terms.”

Two other similar experiments were undertaken, one on geography and the other on biology. The results of both experiments validated the findings of the first.

One of the advantages of academic study, especially at Master degree level, is the development of critical thinking. You don’t have to look very far to realise there are arguably too many ‘self-help’ books making claims of all sorts of things that will improve your life in some way.

Critical thinking allows you to sort through what’s opinion, rather than what’s fact, or at the very least, what has some level of evidence-based research to back up the opinion. Critical thinking also allows you to ask the questions of what hasn’t been covered by the research, and also to challenge potential flaws in the structure or findings of the research.

My point for any of us claiming thought leadership in a particular area, is to ensure we are applying critical thinking and not falling into the trap of what the researchers in the ‘overclaiming’ study warn as being the “real menace” of through leadership… which is as they conclude “not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge”.



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