The notion of becoming the best in your field might seem intimidating — even absurd.
Just think about all the similarly qualified, motivated people trying to make an impact with their ideas and insights. How could you ever stand out among them?
While this might seem like a downright defeatist attitude, these thoughts could mark the first step to extraordinary professional success, since practically speaking, it’s virtually impossible to get noticed in a sea of equally skilled individuals.
The next logical step is to swim in a different sea.
That’s the theory behind Dorie Clark’s new book, “Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It.” Clark, a marketing and strategy consultant and an adjunct professor of business administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, advises readers to think about how they can leverage their knowledge and talents in a brand-new context.
Here’s one of her favourite examples: If you’re a corporate lawyer, it might be difficult to get noticed at your firm, where everyone’s doing the same kind of work. But instead of getting frustrated, try imagining a place where your skills might be more valuable. What else are you passionate about?
Let’s say the answer is comic books. Consider starting a talent-management wing where you represent the legal interests of comic book artists. Suddenly you’re not just one of a hundred legal minds — you’re the only attorney, and no one else can serve those comic book artists as well as you can.
“Putting yourself into new contexts can be powerful for recognising your strengths,” Clark tells Business Insider. “Expand the boundaries of what you’re doing.”
In many cases, looking beyond your obvious career options can lead to tremendous professional success.
In the book, Clark discusses Rachael Ray’s career trajectory. Part of what helped Ray land a spot on the Food Network was that she was the opposite of the highly trained chefs typically featured on the television channel. True, she wasn’t so different from anyone’s wife or mum who loved to cook, but in the context of celebrity chefs, she stood out because she was so much more relatable.
The lesson here is that being genuinely different from others gives you an immediate competitive advantage.
“Becoming recognised in your niche is a pitched battle when you’re up against others who have the exact same credentials you do,” Clark writes. “If you change the context and compete in a space where you’re unique, as Rachael Ray did, you may find yourself a hot commodity.”
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