We live a world where you can now watch simulcasts of the Metropolitan Opera (instead of buying tickets to regional opera performances) or “study with” superstar professors in MOOCs (instead of settling for the instructor nearby). That’s amazing for customers and top talent, but it means there’s less room for average performers. Your company – and you - can’t get away with being the best option at hand. In a global economy, standing out becomes imperative.
There’s a lingering cultural belief that if you just work hard enough, you’ll be lauded as an authority if your work merits it. Unfortunately, that’s a recipe for professional disaster. People are overwhelmed by the clamor of their direct reports, Facebook friends, and Twitter followers; they just aren’t paying that much attention to you. Individuals – and the companies they work for – must be willing to invest time in developing powerful ideas and sharing them with the world.
Indeed, building a strong professional reputation is the single best way to protect, and advance, your career. As I describe in my new book Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It, when you’re recognized by others as an authority in your field, clients and employers want to work with you, specifically.
To succeed in today’s economy, you don’t have to be a worldwide superstar, but you do have to be deliberate about identifying the place where you want to make a contribution and starting to share your ideas. The competition is fierce, but if you even begin to develop thought leadership, you’ll dramatically outpace your competitors, most of whom never even try. Here’s how to start taking action.
First, create the space to develop your ideas. Research by Professor Teresa Amabile of Harvard Business School shows that even though multitaskers who are operating under time pressure feel like they’re being more productive, that’s actually an illusion. Take more time, slow down the pace, and you’ll allow your best ideas to percolate.
Second, don’t be afraid to mix perspectives. In Stand Out, I profile Eric Schadt, a noted scientist who made a mark as one of the first to leverage the power of Big Data in biology. Why was he able to see its potential early on, when so many of his colleagues didn’t? It turns out that his original training was in mathematics and computer science; his familiarity with quantitative analysis gave him a unique skillset that became a competitive advantage. Similarly, you can mine your own background. What skills, experiences, or perspectives do you have that might shed new light on your own projects? (If you’d like to learn more about how to develop your own breakthrough ideas, you can download my free 42-page Stand Out workbook adapted from the book.)
Third, share your ideas. You can’t become known for your ideas if you don’t share them. I interviewed more than 50 thought leaders for Stand Out, and they all worked to spread their ideas through channels like blogging, speaking, contributing on internal employee discussion boards, etc. It can be intimidating at first to speak up, but the rewards are vast: you become known as a thoughtful professional who has a contribution to make, and the ideas you care about can have a greater impact.
Finally, build a community around your ideas. Your ideas may be brilliant, but if you’re the only person talking about them, they’ll never succeed. Instead, you have to motivate others to buy in and start spreading the word. Whether it’s through creating in-person meetups or online discussion groups, it’s helpful to enable others to connect around a shared vision and goals. At a local level, in Stand Out, I profile Robbie Samuels, who brought together Boston’s nonprofit community by launching an innovative Meetup group. On a global scale, author Eric Ries’ Lean Startup has become a true movement, with more than 850,000 Meetup participants in 85 different countries.
Join the conversation
I’m pumped that Stand Out is IBM’s Social Business Book Club selection for June, and I’d love to continue the conversation about how you stand out in the workplace and what that means in the social business era. Here’s how to dive in:
Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Reinventing You and Stand Out, and you can receive her free Stand Out Self-Assessment Workbook and follow her on Twitter.
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