I was talking to a friend last week who was vexed. Why, he wondered, was his colleague, a man with over 40 years of experience in his sector, so reluctant to express a point of view? He clearly had one. If you sat him down of an evening, with a cognac and a good cigar, he undoubtedly could have talked all night about the state of the industry, its challenges and possible solutions. It would have been informed, intelligent and, most probably, fascinating. But ask him to express the same views to a regulator or a journalist, or write them in a blog post, and he would dry up. All very frustrating but not, in my experience, uncommon.
Why is it, though, that otherwise smart and experienced people are so reluctant? Maybe it is the worry of being wrong, publically, which holds them back? This is understandable but misguided. Opinion is the currency of the intelligent and the golden key which gets you into the debate, and the very fact that there is a debate suggests that there is no right (or wrong) answer. Taking part in the debate establishes the person as a thought leader, as a reference point, as someone who has delved deeply into his subject and has a solution, or has identified a problem, who can see an obstacle or a pathway. This is excellent positioning and most organisations are interested in this in some way or form. But it all starts with a point of view.
There is also the worry, of course, that a point of view might be unpopular or stir up trouble. This is a risk but differentiation is increasingly hard for organizations wanting to shape their own environment to their advantage and opinions have the advantage of being free and ever more easy to express, repeatedly and in multiple ways. The return, therefore, often outweighs the risk. As an aside, a point of view about the future is always interesting and has the added advantage of being impossible to prove wrong.
Given all this, one of the most useful questions we can ask our colleagues is, “what do you think?” I always feel that, as consultants, there is a slight reluctance to do this as we feel that we should have the answers and be ready to give the client his point of view at the drop of a hat. I’m not sure, though, that this is necessarily helpful. A point of view manufactured and imposed is never as powerful as one deeply held and authentic, and an opinion passionately held is more likely to inspire and enthuse others. We need to make sure that we have pushed ourselves and our colleagues hard to uncover these. Only then can we unleash the true power of the P.O.V.
Nick Andrews is FleishmanHillard’s Reputation Practice Leader for EMEA. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.