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14 Ways to Become a Thought Leader and Make Your Idea “Stand Out”

Michelle Glover

Michelle Glover

14 Ways to Become a Thought Leader and Make Your Idea Stand Out
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Have you ever thought, “I just can’t seem to make my ideas “Stand Out” in this noisy world?  Or how do I come up with my breakthrough idea?  

This is the question my friend, TEDx speaker and thought leader, Dorie Clark, discusses in her new book, Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It, to be released this week.

Stand Out

I had the opportunity to ask Dorie several questions including how to formulate your “breakthrough” idea, how to position that idea to “stand out” in a crowd, and how to become a thought leader in your field.  

Here is Dorie’s great advice:

What is a Breakthrough Idea?

I consider a “breakthrough idea” to be an idea that you’re known for and associated with, and which hopefully advances the discourse around what’s possible in your field.

What do you tell people who are having difficulty finding a “Breakthrough Idea?”

Most people don’t start out knowing what their breakthrough idea is – that’s totally normal. By steeping yourself in your field, and reading and learning everything you can at first, you can begin to see where the holes are. And by bringing in your own unique experiences and insights, then you can begin to create ideas to fill them. 

How do you go about building an “expert niche?

Broadly speaking, you can establish yourself as the master of an expert niche by reading and writing widely on a narrowly-defined topic (self-driving cars, rather than all cars or all technology; or the New Hampshire primary, rather than all politics). Because your coverage is deeper than other sources, people soon turn to you as an expert – and if you’re savvy, you can expand into adjacent areas. (If you’re knowledgeable about the New Hampshire primary, perhaps you can also comment on the Iowa caucuses.)

In a noisy world where it seems everything’s been said – shouted from the rooftops- how can you make your ideas stand out? 

Through my research, I discovered there’s a three-step process for ideas to spread. First, you need to go one-to-one, sharing and refining your ideas with a trusted group of advisors. Second, you go one-to-many, creating content (blogs, speeches, books, and more) to share your ideas with a wide audience. And third and finally, the best ideas go many-to-many, where other people come to believe in them so strongly, they become your ambassadors and spread them far beyond what you could ever do on your own.

You interviewed fifty thought leaders for this book; did anyone stand out?  Why? 

One of my favorite interviewees for Stand Out was the legendary business author Seth Godin, because – almost unique among top business thinkers – he runs an internship program, training the next generation of thinkers. It’s a way to give back and build a community, and that’s the ultimate method of spreading your ideas.

How do you inspire others to embrace a vision?

To inspire others to embrace a vision, you have to show them why it’s relevant and important for them. If Sheryl Sandberg’s vision for Lean In was “buy my book,” that wouldn’t have gone very far, because it wasn’t important for anyone but Sheryl Sandberg. But a vision that’s about women’s empowerment, and having the courage to raise your hand at work and ask for more – whether it’s promotions, raises, or responsibility? That resonated, and people created Lean In circles to spread the message even further.

What is your gift to the world?

My goal is to help others ensure that their full potential is recognized and valued, so they can make a bigger difference.

What are a few of the biggest mistakes women make in trying to build an expert niche?

One of the biggest mistakes many people, including women, make in building an expert niche is that once they’ve gotten recognized in that narrow sphere, they stay there. You can’t rest on your laurels; you have to expand. It’s nice to be an expert on El Nino, but to truly become a thought leader, you need to bridge the gap and leverage the connections you’ve made to ensure they’re calling you to comment on all storms and weather patterns, too.

What is your personal brand and how are you developing a following?

I’m aiming to be perceived as a thoughtful and accessible expert on personal branding, marketing, and general leadership topics. I’m a huge fan of content creation and blog regularly for outlets such as Forbes, the Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, TIME, and more, in addition to writing my books.


Thought leader and author of Stand Out, Dorie Clark.

How does your book, Reinventing You, relate to your new book, Stand Out?

Reinventing You is intended for people who’d like to make a change in some aspect of their job or career – either changing fields or functional areas, or perhaps just changing how they’re perceived by others so their talents are fully appreciated. Stand Out is a continuation of that theme: once you’ve discovered where you’d like to be professionally, how do you max that out and become a recognized expert in that field? Getting there is the ultimate career insurance.

How do you want to be remembered.

I’d like to be remembered as someone who helped people become their best selves, and who especially helped animals. Cats are my homies.

What is your biggest fear and what are you most proud of?

In terms of fears, there are a lot of physically risky things I don’t like to do, and as I’ve gotten older, I realize I don’t need to worry about it because I stretch myself in other ways! So I’m very happy to avoid swimming and thrill rides, to name just two.

I’m probably proudest of my two books, Reinventing You and Stand Out, as I had always wanted to write a book, so they’re the culmination of a longtime dream.

What caused you to want to write “Stand Out?”

Both of my books were “solving my own problems.” In Reinventing You, I wanted to grapple with the fact that it was hard to find a career when I was in my 20s – I kept getting foiled by things like getting laid off as a reporter, and working for losing political campaigns. I needed to reinvent myself, and wrote a book about what that process was like. For Stand Out, I wanted to solve the problem of how one becomes known in one’s field – because I wanted to make a mark as a business author and consultant, and wanted to understand the recipe for success. I wrote a book that I wanted to read, and I hope others will, as well.

I gather you cite one of our BWE co-founders in your book, Kare Anderson. What insight did she offer and how does it tie to your core theme?

I profile Kare Anderson in Stand Out because for more than 20 years, she’s been a member of two “mastermind groups” – the first made up of journalists, though many (including Kare) have now left the profession, and the second consisting of professional speakers, which is what Kare is doing now.  Every single month for two decades, these groups have met to share ideas and referrals, offer advice, and support each other. Kare told me that working with them has been the most singular professional experience of her life. They’ve built up such a rapport and sense of trust, they know they can be straightforward with each other because they have each other’s best interests at heart. We all need that honest feedback – it’s the essential ingredient in the 1-1 idea transmission that helps spread ideas – but far too few of us ever get it.