Thought leadership and the responsibility that accompanies it.

As you know by now, I love to share my opinions on "stuff", and to "bring you along" for the ride when we are working on stuff or thinking of new approaches, etc.

Recently, I was following some discussion on Instagram that arose when someone decided to create a sort of "information resource" for blackwater/botanical-style aquariums. A commendable, really cool idea, of course..although, hasn't this blog/podcast sort of been that for the past 5 plus years? The curious implication that there is no clear source of good information on this stuff made me kind of sad!

Interestingly, a lot of people associated with vendors jumped on this and offered both praise and criticism for this guy's idea. Some people loved that he was a "non-commercial source" for information on this topic (as if EVERY blog or podcast from someone who happens to be a vendor has a sales pitch in it...I mean, "The Tint" is just FULL of them, right? One big "ad" right? 😆...NEWS FLASH: Not everyone who has a business and a blog is a douchebag...). Some people were offended that someone was trying to "appropriate" the "thought leadership" in our sector, and a few actually called "B.S." and implied something to the effect that, "Well, that's what Tannin's blog 'The Tint' is all about."  🤓 Cool.

Now, initially, I was a little ticked off at the assertions by one guy who seemed to assert that we at Tannin, along with other vendors, have somehow implied that using our "costly botanicals" as one person stated does little more than color the water... I hate being heaped into general characterizations with other people who I know haven't does a responsible job educating the hobby.

I can't speak for other vendors. I can speak for us. What mede me perhaps most upset about this whole weird thing was that somebody implied that we are telling people that if you just "dump our stuff into your water", you have a "blackwater aquarium!" EASY!  The guy further implied that you can only have "real" "blackwater" conditions in a "biotope aquarium"- an absurd and off-base assertion, IMHO.

I mean, that's a completely bizzare assertion- downright bullishit, really, from someone who no doubt ever read a single one of our blogs or listened to one of our podcasts.

I mean, if there is one thing you can take away from over 5 years of this blog, it's that we have NEVER made such claims. In fact, in dozens of posts, magazine articles, podcasts, club talks, and interviews, it's that adding botanicals to your tank DOES NOT create a 'backwater aquarium." In fact, just last week we published yet another podcast/blog about this very topic, revisiting the definition of blackwater, and the chemical and ecological parameters which define it.

It's frankly bizarre how some people automatically assume that anyone who is taking a position on something, particularly when he/she owns a business, is a "charlatan" of sorts. It's exacerbated when the "accuser" has not done their homework. "Blanket accusations" suck. 

While we appreciate people jumping to our defense, I think it was quite unecessary. Our body of work speaks for itself. And personally, I think we've been doing a great job over the last 5 years calling bullshit on, well- bullshit in this hobby sector, too! I guess seeing this stuff sort of left me with one of those really "bad tastes", because it was such an inaccurate assertion.

And inaccurate assertions about the aquariums we play with are rampant.

In our world, that means people seeing the cool look and unique benefits of botanical-style aquariums, without making the effort to study the functions, occurrences, and processes which we need to expect and embrace when creating these aquariums.

A lot of hobbyists (and I KNOW this, because I talk to a lot of them...) simply don't feel the need to learn all of the good, bad, and ugly of this stuff before jumping in. I mean, these aquariums LOOK so cool, and there are so many out there- they can't be that hard, right? Botanicals must stay pristine and clean and perfect forever, like an aquarium ornament or something...Because it's all about the LOOK, right? I mean, "..the guy's tank on Instagram looked so cool..."

That's the disconnect, IMHO. It's a real "pet peeve" of mine, too- as you probably know.

Botanical-style aquariums are not a "style of aquascaping."

They are a methodology- an approach- to keeping aquairums, and with the approach come unique functions AND aesthetics. The aesthetics being a small (but important and alluring) part of the whole thing, really.

And I think that maybe some of this is a failing of me, the vendor and so-called "hobby authority"- because I need to find even better ways to get more of the information into the ultimate consumer's hands. Not just pretty pics and videos. My blogs, podcasts, and articles need to be MORE available. I'll work on it.

In general, it's also a failing of many vendors in the aquarium industry for trying to do all that they can to get people to simply purchase stuff without offering education in equal quantities. I say "many", because there are a lot of vendors that do a fantastic job of educating, too. Yet, there is ALWAYS room for improvement.


And finally- and perhaps most important- it's every bit as much about the individual hobbyist, who often jumps into something without making more than the most cursory, most superficial effort to learn more about what they are interested in doing in the hobby before jumping in. A lack of personal responsibility to educate oneself. This isn't a new phenomenon- it's been around for decades. I remember reading Tropical Fish Hobbyist when I was a kid, and a reader would write in about a tiny fish they purchased on impulse at the LFS, without knowing what it was, only to be just schooled by the magazine's editors because they bought a baby Gar, or something insane like that. 

I understand that, sometimes, it's okay to "learn on the fly"- that's fun for a lot of people...I know quite a few hobbyists like that. The kind who throw away the instructions for the new gadget they just purchased and jump right in and start "flipping switches and pressing buttons." And that's okay...I suppose. However, if you're going to leap before you look, shouldn't you at least consider what is supposed to be occurring?

I think so. 

So, yeah, I DO call BS on some of this.

I encourage every hobbyist to at least make SOME effort to understand what they're getting into before they go full speed ahead. In this age of Google and Facebook and tons of forums- there is simply no excuse for doing something in the hobby and being unpleasantly surprised when things go exactly as they're supposed to, because you didn't bother to do your homework.

Although I put out what I felt is a ton of accessible information- I obviously didn't make enough of it -or make it more easily accessible-to reach every person on every occasion. There are still a lot of people who aren't seeing it, or who have such skepticism of anything put out out by a vendor that it's somehow automatically tainted, I suppose.

Well, I can keep fighting the good fight. Sharing more; winning over skeptics. Asking the tough questions.

It's something I can work on. And I will. THAT is my obligation and responsibility.

And to my fellow hobbyists? Well we should all get off our asses and read. That's my metaphorical "spanking." I mean, just because you might have to do a little search here or elsewhere to learn about something in the hobby that you're about to embark on, it doesn't mean that you're somehow a "victim" of marketing manipulation or something. There is no excuse for ignorance in today's world.

You need to educate yourself. You need to go beyond simply looking at pictures. You need to put in the work. And you need to know that- even if you study and go carefully- stuff can still go wrong. And you need to know that there is no one person who knows ALL of this stuff.

We're dealing with Nature, and SHE controls the game. She dictates the process. She creates the aesthetics, and she determines the outcomes. Anyone who has kept aquariums for any length of time knows that you can do everything "by the book" and still fail. It's part of the wonder of Nature and the awesomeness of the Universe. Anyone who thinks otherwise is full of shit.

So what we can do- what we ALL can do- hobbyists, vendors, and lovers of aquariums- is to observe, learn, and SHARE our experiences. For the benefit of everyone.

Because nothing sucks more in the hobby than finding out after the fact that, if you knew all of the details, you may NOT have taken the leap quite so quickly. 

Now, getting back to the guy who wants to create a "non-commercial learning house" for information on blackwater/botanical-style aquairums...I say, go for it. It's good to have a lot of sources of information on this stuff It's bigger than just one company, one author, or one opinion on stuff. I hope you succeed- if your heart is in the right place, and I pray that it is.

However, understand that acquiring and gaining "thought leadership" and "authority" is  not just a "thing" you do. I suppose being one IS really sexy to some people. Yet, it isn't just about getting  a "Facebook like" or an IG or Twitter "follow"- it's about responsibility and sharing from personal experience- good and bad. It's not about bloviating like you know everything, or even simply sharing other people's work and using it to enhance your own credibility. Nope. It's about putting yourself out there every day and taking sometimes unpopular or controversial positions because it's what you believe. It's hard work. and a big responsibility.

It's an awesome hobby. A lifetime hobby. Please treat it as such, rather than a quick, easy thing to do on a weekend. Please take the time to read, study, execute, and share. Call out incorrect information and outright B.S. when you see it, and offer a contrary, helpful position when you do.

Educate yourself. Make use of the abundant resources out there. Even if you have to dig just a bit. Make Google your friend.Talk to fellow hobbyists. Reach out if you're not sure. Don't assume stuff. Don't let ignorance be your companion on the journey. Don't just rely on what you skimmed over or "heard..."-even if it's from me. Put in the work. You should want to- because just about anything that is cool and desirable requires some effort.

It's hard.

And yeah- we told ya' so.

Stay educated. Stay observant. Stay smart. Stay open-minded. Stay skeptical. Stay engaged...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics

Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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