“Thought leader” is a strange term. It seems incredibly pretentious, particularly if it’s used in self-reference. Nevertheless, being considered a thought leader is something that quite a few people aspire to. And, according to author Dorie Clark, nearly everyone should be thinking about how to be recognized as an expert.
Clark’s reasoning is straightforward. Even if you are small cog in a corporate machine and don’t expect to ever write a New York Times bestseller, you can advance your career and protect your employability by building your reputation as an expert. And, you don’t have to be the top person on the planet – being the most knowledgeable on a topic in your company or industry niche will still deliver big benefits.
In order to create her new book, Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It, Clark interviewed thought leaders like Seth Godin and Robert Cialdini. She then reverse-engineered how these individuals had achieved their status to provide readers with a concise series of steps to develop and promote their own ideas.
There are two major phases to being recognized as an expert, according to Clark. The first is to develop your “breakthrough idea.” The second is to build a following around it.
This might sound overly ambitious or even a bit Messianic to some, but Clark’s advice is eminently practical. She begins by telling readers to find their niche. A niche is important, since becoming a sought-after expert in a broad field like marketing or technology would be exceptionally difficult, at least in a reasonable period of time. The niche could be something the person is passionate about, or has a fresh perspective on. One way to find, or create, a niche is to explore the intersection of two larger spaces. (Marketing and neuroscience, anyone?)
A brand new (but still small) topic is another kind of opportunity to be a very visible player. There’s no cadre of established experts in the space, and the niche is still too small to attract more than cursory attention from the big names.
Once you have your topic, whether it’s a new take on an existing space or a niche that’s not already crowded, it’s time to establish yourself. In today’s digital age, this means content creation. Blogs, podcasts, and other digital media give your ideas instant exposure to the world.
One key point that Clark makes is that once you establish expertise in a niche, you’ll be able to move outside that specific topic into related and broader topics. If you are the world’s top expert in marketing goldfish, you’ll carry over credibility as you talk to people about pet store management or the challenges of finding pet-sitters.
Of course, that fact that your insights are publicly available doesn’t mean anyone will read them. One path Clark suggests providing new research. This research need not be a multi-year project involving thousands of subjects. Sometimes, you may be able to combine data collected by others in a novel way. Or, you may be able to survey readers or customers. That group might not be statistically large, but could still provide interesting and shareable insights.
The data and ideas you generate from this research greatly increase the chance that bloggers and reporters will seek you out. And, if nothing else, having some actual data makes your ideas more persuasive than mere opinions.
Creating a framework from your ideas is a final step in the “idea” phase of your evolution as an expert. Rather than blasting your thoughts into the marketplace like shotgun pellets, turn them into a framework. This will help others grasp what you are doing more quickly, and will guide your own ideation and content creation process.
Building a following
Even the most amazing idea isn’t worth much if nobody knows about it. Today’s marketplace for ideas is crowded and noisy, and nearly every business, whether it’s an entrepreneurial startup or a giant brand, is churning out content at a breakneck pace. The second major section of Stand Out provides a blueprint for the would-be expert to cut through the clutter and build a following.
Clark divides the process into building a network, an audience, and a community. When I spoke with Clark recently, she described the network phase:
The first step of building your network is about getting a group of people, a small group, around you. You could call them a Mastermind group, a personal board of directors, or something like that. It’s about getting a group of allies whose opinions you trust, and whom you know have your best interests at heart. They’re folks that you can bounce ideas off of, and really use them for an initial look at your ideas and whether they’re any good.
The truth is some ideas are actually not that good. You need people that you trust to be able to say, “This one is brilliant. This one, maybe you shouldn’t be pursuing.” Sometimes, even just a 5 or 10% tweak of an idea can be what is necessary to take it from something that won’t work to something that will work brilliantly.
Clark clearly practices what she preaches. Within days of launching at Amazon.com, Stand Out had garnered more than fifty five-star reviews. That’s both a testament to Clark’s success in building her own following and to the quality of the book itself.
Whether you are building your own business or are part of a larger organization, Stand Out gives you the tools to develop and spread your ideas.
Roger Dooley is the author of Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing (Wiley, 2011). Find Roger on Twitter as @rogerdooley and at his website, Neuromarketing.
This article was written by Roger Dooley from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.