We’ve passed the mid-year mark, prompting many to reassess goals, strategies and dreams. But how can you make improvements and advance your career, organization or cause if don’t know where to start?
Take a step back and reflect on your personal experiences, accomplishments and struggles. If you tie those into your brainstorming sessions, you’ll soon see how easy it is to become a thought leader with your unique ideas.
Q: What’s one major mistake people make that prevents them from standing out? What about brands?
A: The first – surprisingly common – mistake that individuals and brands make is never even trying to stand out. They abdicate responsibility by saying, “I’m just a regular person” or “I don’t have anything distinctive to offer.” But that’s not true. We all have special insights, knowledge, or talents based on our unique experiences, and it’s time to harness the power that affords.
Another mistake is sharing your ideas with the world too early. It’s important to test your idea first with a small group of trusted advisors in order to refine the concept and adjust as necessary. That makes it far more likely your idea will be ready for prime time and that the public will eagerly embrace it.
Q: How has social media changed the way we spread our ideas to others? Should we only be approaching others digitally to share our ideas?
A: Social media has made it easier for ideas to spread rapidly and cheaply. If you have an idea, you can blog about it and post it on your LinkedIn profile immediately. But the profusion of information has also made it difficult to separate yourself from the noise. That’s why it’s important to have a balanced strategy of online and offline activities to establish yourself as an expert in your field.
I used to work in politics, and one popular saying was that a voter has to be exposed to your name seven times before they’ll even consider voting for you. Similarly, when you’re developing a reputation as an expert in your field, people will need to hear from you or about you through a variety of different channels. In politics, it might be yard signs or bumperstickers or TV ads or doorknocking. In thought leadership, it might be blog posts or podcasts or conference speeches or networking events you organize.
Q: Millennials have shaken up the traditional career approach by dabbling in several industries instead of focusing on one industry for life. Does this help or hurt their chances of getting noticed?
One of the most effective strategies for developing a reputation as an expert in your field is to specialize – to go narrow in a niche and own it. But that’s only one possibility, and it’s not going to appeal to certain personality types (myself included). If you’re more of a Renaissance person with varied interests, you can actually succeed by leveraging your unique point of view.
Mixing disciplines and genres can lead to creative breakthroughs. For instance, Eric Schadt is a scientist I profile in Stand Out who made a major impact by applying his early training in mathematics and computer science to bring the power of Big Data to biology.
Q: How can you track your progress as an individual or a brand to see if you are standing out as a thought leader?
A: You can certainly track your progress through typical metrics, such as the number of Twitter followers or shares of your blog post or the number of times you’re quoted in the press. Even better, you can use more business-focused measures, such as the number of invitations to speak at conferences, or the number of unsolicited client inquiries. But fundamentally, the goal is to increase your impact and your ability to influence the discussion in your company or your industry. If your ability to do that increases, you’re on the right track.
Q: Once your idea has made an impact, what steps should you take to continue your role as a leader?
A: Once you’ve built an audience around your idea – people are reading your blogs and listening to your speeches and the like – then it’s time to turn that into a community. When you build a community around your idea, audience members start talking to each other and making the idea their own. Finding ways to help facilitate this is quite powerful, and ensures your idea will spread further than you could ever do on your own.
One example I discuss in Stand Out is Eric Ries, author of the popular book “The Lean Startup.” He’s created a conference around the concept, and there are now Lean Startup meetups in more than 80 countries – to which he’ll sometimes phone or Skype in for free, to support their efforts. When you have tens or hundreds of thousands of people behind your idea, the impact grows exponentially.