THE BLOG

How to Stand Out in the Crowd

04/20/2015 04:15 pm ET | Updated Jun 20, 2015

Almost everyone knows that these days it's harder than ever to get your ideas heard. There are so many channels for people to communicate on, and it feels like almost everyone has a blog, a podcast, or is self-publishing a book. So, in this crowded environment, how do certain ideas break through?

That's what author Dorie Clark answers in her new book Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It. She interviewed over 50 thought leaders in a cross section of fields to learn best practices and distill them down so regular professionals can get more attention for their best ideas.

"We've heard the phrase, average is over," says Clark.

If you want create genuine job security and genuine career security for yourself, you have to give people a reason to want to work with you more than other people and make sure your best ideas get noticed.

Clark says that one of the big problems today is that people still believe their good ideas should stand on their own and don't need to be promoted -- that the cream will rise to the top. But today, because of how much competition is out there, that's becoming less and less true.

People need to understand that it's important to spread the word about their ideas. They need to feel confident about how to do that in a way that is not sleazy. Instead, it needs to be authentic and in service of good ideas, not just sheer self-promotion.

So how can individuals get noticed when they are just starting out? Clark explained that since many people don't know exactly what they want to do or where to begin looking for their breakthrough idea, the first half of the book is dedicated to five major processes that will help you discover your big idea. The second half is about how to build a following around the idea once you have it.

To come up with an idea that really makes a difference in your field, the first thing is to focus on a niche and then expand it out. The second is addressing yourself to a big challenge that really matters to the world. Third, combine ideas so one field can bring ideas to another. The fourth major process is conducting original research. "In a world with so much opinion it's actually rarer and rarer to find firsthand fact, and that can set you apart," Clark says.

The last major process is create a framework, which is how psychologist, Robert Cialdini, stood out. "We might assume that for many fields the framework is set, that everything that could be said has been said," Clark explains, "but interestingly enough, until Robert Cialdini, 20 or 30 years ago, said hey, there are only 5 or 6 strategies that people use in influence and persuasion, nobody really thought about it that way."

Then what do you do once you have the breakthrough idea? Clark offered three tips on how to stand out and make your idea spread:

Become a Connector
One great way to offer value to people is connecting them with others that they might benefit from. "This builds your reputation as a giver," Clark explains, "and creates a powerful community that surrounds you and is grateful to you but isn't about you." Take, for example, Peter Shankman, a PR executive who often had journalists call him and ask for sources. It felt good to help out and it built up his favor with reporters, whom he needed to cover his own clients. Eventually, the requests became overwhelming though and he built an email list called Help a Reporter Out (HARO) that sent out the journalist requests to his community that might be able to help. By 2010, the list had grown to 300,000 people, and was earning ad revenue. With his name attached to this valuable service, it gave Shankman invaluable exposure in his own right and he was able to launch his own business as an author, speaker and consultant.

Build a Platform
Peter Shankman connected two groups in a direct, effective way that nobody had done before, but you can also expand that idea to create an active community where you help others build relationships in a broader way to solve a problem. Scott Belsky had just that vision and went to business school to build a platform to "help organize the creative world" and better connect artists so they could learn from one another. Belsky launched Behance where creatives could upload their portfolios, allowing them to get feedback and gain exposure. Behance became the first widely popular portfolio site and by 2012 had grown to more than a million members.

Make it Fun
"As you think about making an impact with your work," Clark says, "its also essential to ask yourself: how can we create something that people can't wait to participate in? This is the insight that propelled Boston non-profit fundraiser Robbie Samuels to his professional success."

Samuels started a meetup group in Boston called Socializing for Justice where "twice a month, nonprofit advocates and their friends would gather for a purely social event -- Bowling for Justice, Cocktails for Justice, Knitting for Justice and the like. Over the past eight years SoJust has grown to more than 2,400 members because of the welcoming, fun style of bringing people together. "In the much-heralded 'attention economy,'" explains Clark, "it's more important than ever to ensure that people opt in - that you're creating something so valuable, they choose to seek it out." Besides connecting countless professionals, the success of the group helped Samuels launch a side business, providing training for universities and nonprofits on his style of networking. As Samuels told Clark, "I love teaching and doing trainings and I don't think I would have known where to start if I hadn't had the groundwork [of SoJust]."

In today's world, it's not the best ideas that get noticed, it's the people who make themselves known. Understanding how you stand out is key to your career success whether you're an entrepreneur or an employee in a big company.

Erica Dhawan is an author, keynote speaker and the CEO of Cotential, a global training and consulting firm. Her new book Get Big Things Done: The Power of Connectional Intelligence, co-authored by Saj-nicole Joni, is out now. Follow her on Twitter and receive her free Connectional Intelligence Report here.