February 23, 2020

How to ‘stand out’ and what I learned from Dorie Clark

Dorie Clark is a marketing and strategy consultant and has written a number of best-sellers including Reinventing You, Stand Out and Entrepreneurial You. I had the great fortune of discovering her one day, I think through an e-mail list somewhere and then started to dive deep into her books. Here’s a summary of Stand Out and what I learned from it:

Standing out is absolutely necessary

As I read this book, I realized there were a lot of similarities to what Seth Godin says about marketing in his book Purple Cow. In order to be noticed in this world, you now have to be what’s called a ‘purple cow’ that is, so remarkable that people cannot help but notice and speak about you to your friends. When you are driving through the country, you may see a lot of black, brown or white cows, and not stopped to take a second glance but if there was suddenly a purple cow, you would stop, take a picture and maybe even tell your friends. There are no safe jobs out there – the only safe job is being outstanding and building a reputation for something.. whether that’s nanotechnology, cleaning sewers, etc.

Finding a big idea

Many individuals have made a name for themselves by finding that one big idea to dedicate their life’s work to. Think about Einstein and his theory of relativity. How do we go about finding our big idea though? Dorie shares a few ways: what is something in your industry or field that may be assumptions or overlooked? What if instead of the conventional way of doing things, you did things in the opposite manner? Is there anything in your field that is impossible or is it just difficult? How could you turn that on its head? Can you look towards the future? What will change in your field and how can you help prepare people for the change? How does your own experience in that field change your perspective? Would you do things differently if you started up in your field again and how would you?

Developing your niche

Dorie’s advice in this is quite simple (maybe even too simplistic) but it is to follow your passion. What would you do even if you didn’t get paid for it? What do you do on the weekends when you have free time? Are there specific topics that you are a ‘local’ expert in?

Once you have your niche, you then have to start distinguishing yourself. Sure, you may be the very best cook but there are several world class chefs around the world – how do you differentiate yourself from them? In this, I love Dorie’s story of Rachael Ray who started out doing thirty minute meal cooking demonstrations at the store to show off ingredients. The store didn’t choose her because of her talents, they chose her because no other chef in the area would accept the low rates. She started working on a cooking show, produced a recipe book and then she auditioned for the Today show. Everything seems like a fairy tale but the Food Network actually told her “we don’t want you to be a chef”. It turns out that Rachael is an expert in making food easy and accessible to regular people – if Rachael can cook, why couldn’t you?

A lot of developing your niche is what James Altucher calls “idea sex” – it’s combining different ideas and skills together in different ways to find a new ‘intersection’ of ideas. If you are fluent in English and French and you are a very good accountant, you may have a niche in providing accounting services to those that may be bilingual (or English or French).

Another idea that I learned is that you don’t necessarily have to follow a traditional curriculum in developing your niche. You can also develop your own ‘MBA’ similar to Josh Kaufman or design a real world MBA similar to Tim Ferriss. What are the skills or experiences that you would need for your niche? How could you learn these skills or experiences through a mish mash of online courses, internships or mentors? (It may also be a good idea to document what you have done and what you have learned).

Provide new research

I found this chapter to be particularly interesting – for example, I recently heard a podcast about Christopher Ryan and his book “Sex at Dawn” where he had seen studies from sex researchers and PhDs focused on chimpanzees but then he had also noticed that there was a lack of research regarding bonobos who were just as close, if not even more similar to humans in terms of DNA than chimpanzees. Looking at how bonobos treated or used sex, he discovered that it was completely different from how chimpanzees treated sex which revealed different insights into how humans could treat sex (for example, bonobos use sex to avoid violence).

Maybe you’ve been collecting data that you couldn’t find online – perhaps it’s about when Amazon has the best sales or on housing prices in your local area / market – first, is there a way to share that data to others? (Sharing the data makes you look like an expert). Second, how do you make the data or research more shareable (Hire graphic designers to develop infographics or videos for you).

Create a framework

This topic gave me chills as a consultant. Any time a new project crops up or there’s a proposal to be developed, as consultants, we think about what frameworks or methodologies we can leverage to create a structured approach. Developing a framework can be a great way of distilling your research or idea into something that others can use. Think about Sally Hogshead and her 49 brand types. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Gary Chapman’s 5 love languages. Robert Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion. Codifying the system can make it clear to others how to better view the world.

Another way of codifying specific ideas or research can be to create an operating manual. While I can’t find the name of the entrepreneur, there is a story I remember about an individual who documented the different ways that you could use Evernote to enhance your productivity. He then started sharing it and when demand picked up, he sold a short e-book on the Evernote hacks, adding more and more content as time went on. One day, he was contacted by Evernote and he thought that they would tell him to stop due to some conflict but they actually wanted to offer him a job and told him that he could continue selling the Evernote e-book. Are there ways that you can develop an operating manual for your idea?

Build a network or audience around your idea

Once you have your idea, you need to spread your idea to others. One of the ways could be to develop a mastermind group – this is not just about your idea but it could be to spread your idea with a few respected peers first while helping others spread their ideas. Another way of building a network is to do podcasts – many individuals have developed respect and expertise in their niche through conducting interviews – think of John Lee Dumas or Daniel Pink – by interviewing entrepreneurs or respected thought leaders, they themselves slowly start to be seen as an entrepreneur or thought leader (although Daniel Pink is arguably already quite infamous and respected before he started his 1-3-20 podcast).

If you enjoy blogging, you can also think about guest blogging or just putting content out there for others to find and share. Seth Godin has a great philosophy around this – he posts almost every single day and provides pithy, concise and insightful thoughts. This is free to everyone. He doesn’t put up ads on his blog. If you want him to speak at your event or company though, he charges a lot of money. By blogging every day, he develops trust and authority. As Seth says, the blog is something he gets to write, but he doesn’t have to write.

Interestingly enough, I think that Dorie has followed her own advice in Stand Out and developed a following and community – she is an expert in understanding how to develop your idea.

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