Thinking about thought-leadership

 

While the excitement around AI, and, more specifically, large language models (LLMs), seems to have subsided a little, discussions about its capabilities persist; at local networking events people from all sectors and of all skill levels have their firm opinions for or against. Many of those I come across believe ChatGPT is a panacea for small business owners. Like the artist I met recently, who seemed to have embraced GPT-4 as an all-knowing help-mate, they believe all their problems are now solved: “Chat helped me get my new website done. Chat helped me with the code. Chat helped me write the texts…”

 

Undoubtedly, LLMs like ChatGPT can be time-saving tools and are ideal for some tasks. However, when people suggest that writers should fear for their jobs, or claim that ChatGPT will be the key to them finally getting their best-selling book written, I can't help but wonder if their own writing experience has so far been limited to emails, social media commentary and sales proposals.

In my opinion, writing should not be about establishing expertise, but about showcasing it when you are already an authority in your field. Merely publishing a book doesn't make you an expert; experts are the people who should be writing books.

When it comes to writing thought-leadership articles or books, the trigger to start writing should be that you have an idea and you believe you know enough on the subject to write about it. Then, when you start writing, you are likely to find that the writing serves two separate purposes: you write in order to demonstrate and share your expertise, but the actual process of writing provides you with an opportunity to explore the subject in which you are already an expert. Through writing, you uncover connections, identify flaws in your arguments, and discover new insights and previously overlooked details.

 

 

I’m not saying that I never use ChatGPT. But when I do, I need to put together a multitude of ideas to provide a prompt substantial enough for it to generate an answer that serves my purpose. However, the act of formulating these ideas to create the prompt has in itself clarified my thoughts: I've essentially written the article myself and am asking ChatGPT to tidy it up. Unfortunately, what ChatGPT tends to do at this stage is remove my unique tone of voice and strip out what makes the writing mine. The text may be well-structured and correct, but I need to go back in and edit heavily so it actually says what I want and sounds like me. In the end, the time saved is negligible.

Writing should not be about establishing expertise, but about showcasing it when you are already an authority in your field.

The process of writing is essential to a non-fiction writer who wants to write insightful articles and provide value for their readers. I’m not talking now about the type of blog post that offers “Top 10 ways of doing this” or “Six reasons why that” as this is information that can essentially be culled from what is already out there on the web. The value that is added here is the gathering, organisation and curation of information so the reader doesn’t need to go hunting for it themselves. LLMs can be relatively good at this type of writing, as long as they are not asked to draw conclusions, give opinions or offer added insights.

Doing the preparation, writing a good prompt to give the LLM enough information to write an article that reflects your own knowledge, can actually be a very useful activity. But it’s a useful activity that we would normally call “drafting”, which most writers will do in one way or another. It’s like mind-mapping what’s going to be included in your article, clarifying what you need to include, gathering together the material that’s available. And then when you actually write, you organise further: you leave out things that aren’t now relevant; you find new connections; you think of neat phrasing; you put your personality into the article.

ChatGPT can structure your information but it won’t add that spark that is the insight only you can bring to your expertise area; it won’t know the hierarchy of importance that is your individual take on the subject; it won’t discover patterns or new insights as it drafts the article.

Doing the preparation, writing a good prompt to give the LLM enough information to write an article that reflects your own knowledge, can actually be a very useful activity.

So, if you want to write something that has your own opinion, or your own insight, presents ideas in hierarchical importance and highlights patterns or unique connections – essentially to write something that provides new value for your readers – you probably need to write the article yourself.

Perhaps most importantly, relying solely on ChatGPT to compile and structure information denies you, the writer, the opportunity to learn. As E.M. Forster aptly said, "How can I know what I think till I see what I say?" Writing is a process of discovery, and one of the joys of writing about your area of expertise is that you learn yet more about it as you write.

Writing is the process of sorting through what you think you know.
― Blair Enns

If you’d like help telling your business story or writing your expert book, we have many years’ experience of writing in all genres and of the world of publishing. Clarity about a writing project can also come from talking through your ideas, so do get in touch for a chat.