Unlocking the Power of the Mind Meld: Elevating Thought Leadership Through Collaboration

The Mind Meld - The images shows 4 brains, three are teal and the second one from the right is yellow with a yellow background.

Here in Pocket PhD land, we love collaborating with our clients. In fact, it’s integral to our work. We couldn’t create the thought leadership strategies or write the content we do without collaboration. And in the ideal cases, we end up with a beautiful content mind meld (Seriously! It can be a little scary sometimes).

I know we’ve achieved that mind meld when I go back and read a book I’ve written with one of my ghostwriting clients, for instance, and I can’t recall whether I wrote a particular paragraph or my client wrote it. Through the process, my words become theirs and their words become mine. That’s exactly the result we seek.

But achieving that level of collaboration can be challenging for many subject matter experts. Over the years, I’ve developed some tools to help make collaboration between our team and our clients easier. Let’s explore the main challenges and how our process greases the rails.

Challenge #1: The Cyrano de Bergerac Effect

One of the biggest challenges to collaboration is recognizing that each individual brings to the table their own preconceived notions about “group work.” Group work? Ew. I know. Personally, I don’t have a lot of warm, fuzzy associations with doing group work in school, and most people I know report the same. No matter how well a group project turned out, there were always group members who felt that they did more of the work and that others were free-riding. 

This is the baggage some bring to the idea of collaborative work, especially thought leaders. Some prospects I meet with worry that they will be perceived as playing the free-rider role if they work with a ghostwriter. And as highly ambitious people, this really doesn’t sit well with them. But this is actually one of the biggest myths about ghostwriting—that the ghostwriter supplies the author with ideas. I think this is the main reason many see ghostwriting as unethical too. We can call it the Cyrano de Bergerac effect. 

In case you don’t remember the play from high school English class, Cyrano was a dude with an absurdly big nose who wanted to seduce his cousin (yeah, it’s set in the 17th century) Roxane. Cyrano also happens to be a great poet. So he writes Roxane some love letters and has his good-looking friend, Christian, deliver them. She falls in love with Christian because of Cyrano’s words. In short, Cyrano does all the work and Christian reaps the rewards.

In this story, Christian didn’t supply any of the words or ideas. He was the ultimate free-rider and basically, Cyrano’s puppet. There was no collaboration and certainly no mind meld here. This is the picture many have of what it’s like to work with a ghostwriter.

Challenge #2: Insufficient Time, Lack of Reflection, & Resistance to Change

Once we learn how to work with the preconceived notions and baggage about group work, we often encounter some more practical challenges to collaborative work. 

The subject matter experts we work with are often juggling multiple responsibilities and as a result, don’t have a lot of time in their schedules for collaborative work. Insufficient time also creates another challenge—a lack of reflection. While subject matter experts have a lot of valuable information to share, too much of it stays locked away in their own heads because they simply don’t have the bandwidth to think about how to communicate it to non-experts. 

Finally, we encounter some resistance to change. Subject matter experts are used to going fast and going alone, while we’re asking them to go far with us. This can be a difficult pivot for some.

Greasing the Rails: Our Mind Meld Process

So how does our process overcome these challenges? First, for a mind meld to happen, our clients have to be willing to pour out their ideas. This requires feeling safe enough to be vulnerable. Because many subject matter experts enjoy the teaching aspect of their work, this is often easy to accomplish. The writers on my team and I also know how to play the student role very well. We ask the smart questions that put our clients at ease, so they can settle into sharing their big ideas with us.

We also make it clear that our clients are in the driver’s seat when it comes to their big ideas. As they share more with us, a content strategy and a distribution strategy come into focus. Then, we again collaborate, to make sure that strategy makes sense for everyone.

Although a mind meld doesn’t happen with every client, with those who are open to sharing their expertise and listening as we share our lessons learned through intentional experiments with other clients, it’s amazing how quickly we start thinking in sync.

When it comes to the more practical challenges of collaborating with subject matter experts, these can take a bit more time to negotiate. We know how hard it is for a CEO running a startup and focused on raising seed money or any CEO focused on scaling their business, to find even 10 extra minutes in their day. So we don’t recommend starting on a thought leadership strategy during the height of a big project like a funding raise.

We need about 90 minutes from our experts to create six weeks of content and a strategy. The time is non-negotiable. Given that we aren’t experts in the industries we write about, we rely on our experts to give us their guidance. This is the only way we can (a) write in your voice, (b) write something deep and unique about your area of expertise, and (c) do the research that enhances your ideas. The better our clients are at organizing their thoughts, the better the results.

Meeting with us for that 90-minute brainstorming is also important for giving experts the time they need to reflect on their ideas. Often this is the only time our clients have to simply sift through their ideas and get clearer on what their audience wants to hear from them. That reflection time is invaluable, not only for creating thought leadership content, but also for sparking new ideas and finding the clarity these experts need to continue innovating.

One of the happy side effects many clients experience after working with us is that they get better at talking about their product or service. So these brainstorming sessions serve a dual purpose. It’s not just a chance to get your ideas written down. It’s also time to reflect on your vision for your company.

Resistance to change is perhaps the most difficult part of collaboration. Again, if you think of this process of finding your voice with the Pocket PhD as yet another “group project,” then that mind meld we’re after will remain out of reach. But if you can find a way to open up to the idea that our expertise in writing and translating ideas for non-expert audiences combined with your subject matter expertise can produce magic, then we can do amazing work.

We have been through this process with clients who at first were resistant to the idea of collaborating with us. Once they understood how our process works, once they saw that they could remain in the driver’s seat while outsourcing the writing and getting guidance on what strategies are worth their time, their walls came down.

It takes time for this mind meld to happen, but ideally, at the end of working with us for the first six weeks—working with us to find your voice—you will start to feel this process working and you will become a true believer.  

The mind meld is next-level collaboration. It’s what great creative and strategic partners can achieve. And it’s what we strive for at PPhD with each and every client. Contact us if you’d like to give it a try. 

Image by Freepik