A Q&A with Dorie Clark
April 22, 2015
I sent some questions to Dorie Clark about her new book, Stand Out.
"When it comes to the brainstorming and ideation phase, anything should be questioned. You can't develop new ideas if you're accepting artificial ideological limits (even seemingly foundational ones, such as "you have to have a specific hypothesis that you test with an experimental situation and a control situation" in biology)."
We started our Thinker in Residence yesterday with Dorie Clark with her article titled "How to Stand Out in Your Field." Today we continue the series by asking her four questions about her new book.
You write in the book's introduction, "When you're a true thought leader, it's not about advancing you—it's about advancing your ideas." I wonder what it takes for a person to be able to separate one's idea from one's self. Is it humility? Being able to step outside oneself? And whatever it is, do you find yourself having to teach people this ability in your courses at Duke's Fuqua School of Business? This ability seems pretty fundamental to acting on the rest of the book's lessons.
I don't think it's necessary to separate yourself from your idea. Helping others while helping yourself is the best way to align interests. Where people run into trouble is through pushing ideas that have no interest or relevance to anyone else (your pet project), or that are actually at the expense of other people (such as a CEO pursuing a needlessly risky strategy to maximize his bonus). Most people are able to find good win-win strategies; it's only a small percentage of narcissists who can't.
Stand Out is littered with examples of people who found success by going against convention, defying the status quo, and in general trying to find new ways of seeing things. My personal favorite is the Eric Schadt example of how a mathematician changed biology forever. I wonder, though, if our current economic systems have enough checks and balances for rule-breakers to not abuse their ability to make quick change. Take Uber for example. By finding the holes in an industry, and by bucking tradition, Uber has found great initial success, has tremendous financial backing, and riders love the service. At the same time, they're constantly being sued for breaking city ordinances, and perhaps even more troubling, might be purposefully circumventing labor laws. What would you tell a prospective entrepreneur about identifying which boundaries should or should not be crossed?
When it comes to the brainstorming and ideation phase, anything should be questioned. You can't develop new ideas if you're accepting artificial ideological limits (even seemingly foundational ones, such as "you have to have a specific hypothesis that you test with an experimental situation and a control situation" in biology). But implementation comes with a different set of questions. "Can we do it?" must yield to, "Should we do it?" Some boundaries—particularly administrative ones, like "all taxi drivers must have city-approved medallions that go for $250K apiece"—are worth testing. Others, if they're moral boundaries rather than legal or technical ones, may not be. That's why it's so important to have a close, trusted group of advisors who can serve as a sounding board for you as you develop your ideas.
Stand Out hits very close to home for us at 800-CEO-READ because every business author we work with is in one way or another trying to become established as a thought leader. It's how ideas spread and books sell. Chapter 6 especially reflects conversations we have everyday with potential authors, first-time authors, and even veteran authors. Without question, when we're asked about marketing a book, the first answer we usually have is, "Build your network, establish a platform." Your Kare Anderson meeting group is my personal favorite network example. Can you talk a bit more about how a person's network and platform influences his or her level of success?
Your network needs to be deep, as well as broad. Breadth gets the most attention in our society—people are fixated on the number of Facebook likes or Twitter followers that you have. But those are loose connections with limited significance; most of your followers won't even see your tweets, and of those that do, few will take action. Your "deep network" is what matters more—the 5-50 people you speak with regularly, trust implicitly, and that would do anything for you. They're the people who will write an Amazon review for you on launch day, or show up to your book event even when it's across town during rush hour. Investing in deep ties—especially with like-minded people who are committed to helping you personally, as well as professionally—is one of the most powerful investments you can make.
When I got to part 3 titled "Making it Happen," which is the end of the book and culmination of every piece of advice that came before, I laughed to myself when I read, "In part 3, we'll discuss how to make the time, and carve out the mental space, necessary to find your ideas and start sharing them with others." I laughed because I thought, "Wait, now I have to find more brain space... in addition to the brain space required to act on the rest of the book?" Can you talk a bit about the exceptional drive it takes to really make great change? We all know it's not easy, but how do we get past the point of intimidation?
Tom Peters gave more than two talks a week for years; career coach Angela Lussier, whom I profile in Stand Out, jump-started her practice by giving 500 workshops during her first year in business. Getting recognized as a thought leader is indeed hard work. But oftentimes, you develop the passion and motivation to work that hard because you're excited about your big idea—and that doesn't have to be painstakingly cultivated over years. As David Allen, author of Getting Things Done, told me, you don't need time to have a great idea—you need space. Creating even small spaces in your day when you're not scheduled and can let your mind wander—turning off your cell phone at dinner, or leaving one meeting block open just in case serendipity strikes—can be critical to your ability to develop breakthrough ideas.
"You don't need time to have a great idea—you need space. Creating even small spaces in your day when you're not scheduled and can let your mind wander—turning off your cell phone at dinner, or leaving one meeting block open just in case serendipity strikes—can be critical to your ability to develop breakthrough ideas."