Stand Out

By: Dorie Clark



Standing out these days is a difficult task. Consider this - there were 1.4 million books published in 2013. In January of 2016 there were 275.9 million blog accounts on alone. It’s a crowded marketplace of ideas, to be sure. But almost every single day somebody new is starting a journey and launching an idea that will make them millions of dollars.

Dorie Clark is here to tell us how that person can be us.

Finding your breakthrough idea

The first section of the book is all about finding your breakthrough idea, and the different ways you can discover it.

Developing your big idea

As Clark points out, the true thought leaders of the world are driven to ask questions that others have not. Ideas like Einstein’s theory of relativity and Ghandi’s vision of non-violence are great examples.

Like Einstein, Ghandi and the thousands of other thought leaders who have roamed this earth all shared one thing - a questioning mindset. This mindset starts with questioning the assumptions that most of the world takes for granted.

Take Uber for example. The ride-sharing startup that is now worth billions of dollars was born when the founders asked themselves why they couldn’t just push a button on their phone, and a regular driver would show up who had some time to spare.

One of the other ways you can find your big idea is to always be on the lookout for “what’s next”. Most people have a large amount of fear and anxiety about what’s going to be changing in their industry and in their world, and if you can help them navigate through it all, your work will get noticed. So, spend a lot of time in the trenches and get as close to any cutting edge research as you possibly can.

Developing your expert niche

Clark suggests that instead of developing a broad theory that tries to make sense of everything happening in the world, that you become the go-to expert on a niche that is currently being overlooked by others. You can easily expand from there once you are known in that niche, but it’s almost impossible to go the other way from a generalist to a niche creator.

You should be qualified and sufficiently interested in the area you choose as your niche. This could come from a number of places, but it almost will always arise out of a passion. A great example of this is Nate Silver, who at one time was a very bored accounting firm employee.

In his spare time he created a website that rated Mexican restaurants in Chicago. But he also loved baseball, and utilising the statistics he learned in college, created a tool for ranking players’ performance. It turned out to be very accurate, and very popular. But then he turned his attention to politics, where he tried to repeat his feat and predict the 2008 presidential election.

Again his model was surprisingly accurate, and even more popular than his baseball model. In fact, the New York Times licensed his blog for three years, he wrote a best-selling book, and went on to perfectly predict the 2012 election as well. He literally followed his passions and transformed both baseball and politics with his creativity.

Once you’ve found a niche you want to focus on, then it’s time to distinguish yourself in your niche, and expand on it. The best way to distinguish yourself in your niche is to differentiate yourself from everybody else who is doing something similar.

Consider Rachel Ray, who rose to fame because she was the exact opposite of everything else that the food world stood for. She cooked easy, accessible and tasty meals in less than 30 minutes. It wasn’t the type of thing you were expecting from a Food Network star, but there she was alongside some of the greatest chefs in the world. Standing out will almost always require you to do something radically different than what already exists today.

Create new independent research

One of the best things you could do in order to develop your personal brand is to generate new independent research. It’s probably the fastest and cheapest way to make a name for yourself.

There are plenty of areas that are begging for new research. For instance, are there products or services that aren’t being reviewed sufficiently, or not at all? Start reviewing them. Are there things that you (and other people) wish they knew, but don’t? Go find out the answers and share them.

Combine ideas

One of the most powerful things you can do to develop a big idea is to combine ideas that nobody has thought to combine before. One recent example comes from Eric Ries, who created the Lean Startup movement by combining two seemingly opposite ideas.

The first idea was lean manufacturing, the goal of which is to streamline a production system so that no effort is wasted and quality is maximised. It was created at Toyota, and spread around the manufacturing world like wildfire in the late 1980’s.

The second idea was that of customer development, a process that describes how a startup most efficiently decides what products or services it should deliver to the marketplace.

The combination of these two ideas was the genesis of the Lean Startup movement, which remains incredibly popular in Silicon Valley, and has now spread across the world wherever startup companies are forming. Interestingly, many very large companies are now trying to figure out how to apply this methodology to their models, and Eric Ries is now a rich man because of it.

Create a Framework

Now that you’ve found your niche and started creating content, it’s time to package it up in a way that the world will find memorable and compelling. One of the best ways you can do this is to create a framework that is easy to understand.

For instance, when Chip and Dan Heath wrote the book Made to Stick, their framework for creating ideas that stick was SUCCES. Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, and Emotional Stories. The fact that it’s missing the S on the end of success only makes it more memorable.

Now let’s consider how Robert Cialdini rose to popularity in the psychology and business world by releasing his framework on how to influence people. It was based on observational research he did when he realised that the fundamental principles behind how we persuade each other to do things hadn’t been articulated.

His research uncovered that reciprocation, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority and scarcity were the things that could motivate people to action. He turned that framework into a book called Influence, which has been the main thrust for the rest of his career since its launch in 1984.

Now let's move on to talking about how to build a following around your ideas.

Build a following around your ideas

There are 3 different ways to build a following around your idea - building one-to-one relationships, communicating one-to-many, and finally building a community. Let’s explore each of them in turn.

Building one-to-one relationships

The first thing you can do to start becoming a recognised expert in your field is to create a professional development group of peers who can help you get to where you want to go. Some people might call this a Mastermind group, but the idea is simple - that many minds are better than one. And many people who can refer you to people you want to meet is better than slugging it out on your own.

The second thing you can do to is to build relationships with influencers by interviewing them. You might consider starting a podcast like Bay Area attorney John Corcoran did with Smart Business Revolution, where he interviews thought leaders he admires. This is the proverbial win-win. John’s audience gets useful advice from thought leaders, and John gets to build a relationship with that influencer. Just make sure that you spend the time to nurture that relationship before and after the interview.

The third thing you can do is to leverage your affiliations. Connecting with people you went to the same school with is a lot easier than connecting with somebody cold. The same goes for connecting with people who are in the same association groups with you. The point is to grab the lowest hanging fruit when it comes to networking, and you’ll speed up your ascent up the thought-leader ladder.

Communicating one-to-many

This one is pretty simple - if you want to be known for your ideas, you have to start sharing them. As Clark points out, in the past you would have to wait for a magazine, newspaper, television or radio show to “pick” you. Today, all you need to do is fire up a blog and start writing.

Clark’s own personal journey exemplifies the power of this new economy we live in. When she was writing her first book (Reinventing You), she secured an agent, wrote book proposals, and waited for one of the publishers to offer her a deal. The publishers basically told her that she wasn’t famous enough.

Rather than packing it in, Clark started sharing her ideas everywhere she could. She wrote on her blog, and started reaching out to people who could reach her to ever more influential people. Eventually, she was introduced to somebody who works at the Harvard Business Review, who eventually ran a blog that eventually became the book Reinventing You. That secured her book deal and her life has been transformed as a result.

So don’t wait for somebody to choose you. Get started sharing your ideas. Today.

The other side of the one-to-many discussion is participating in social networks. You need to strategically think about where the people who might be interested in your ideas are spending their time online, and then go there yourself. Ask yourself - what is my audience reading/watching/listening to today? What new platforms are emerging that you could “be early” on and build a large following?

Once your ideas start to get some traction, you should be thinking about how to scale your impact so that you get the largest return for your time.

For instance, ask yourself how you can turn one piece of content you write into multiple pieces of content. Here’s an example. Do a podcast interview, and then turn that into a blog post about the conversation, tweet out the best quotes, turn those quotes into a Slideshare presentation and finally create a one-minute online video explaining your biggest takeaway. It’s more work, but the hard part - the actual content - is contained in the original podcast interview.

Build a community

To finish off our Stand Out journey, let’s discuss how you can build a community around your idea so that other people help you create a movement that you could never accomplish on your own. The easiest way to do this is to become somebody who connects other people, with your idea at the centre of the conversation.

Peter Shankman created a newsletter that did just that. He built a PR firm over the course of a decade, and he would invariably get calls from reporters asking him if he knew anybody who could be a source for a story they were working on. He did his job so well that eventually he was overwhelmed with these requests.

So, he started a Facebook group that he would use to send out these requests to his contacts. He quickly shifted to an email newsletter which he called Help a Reporter Out (HARO), and soon had three hundred thousand people reading his emails 3 times a day. Yes, three hundred thousand people, three times a day. With a list of that size, they had an open rate of 79% (the average newsletter has a 30% open rate).

By connecting a group of people - reporters and PR people - he grew a side business that had revenues of nearly $1 million per year driven mostly by ad revenue. He eventually sold it to a PR software company for a tidy profit. It pays to look for opportunities to connect people together.


Standing out in today’s marketplace is getting both harder and easier at the same time. If your ideas are average, you’ll find it harder than ever to gain the attention you need in order to succeed. If you can find the right breakthrough idea, your rise from unknown to recognised thought leader will be quicker than you ever thought possible. So, what are you waiting for?