How to Stand Out in a Crowded World

Author: Dorie Clark Source: Harvard Business Review

For years, I’ve been grappling with the question of how professionals in an increasingly noisy and frenetic world can ensure their expertise is recognized.

In the course of researching my book Stand Out, I interviewed more than 50 top thought leaders across a variety of different fields to elicit best practices and commonalities. I found plenty of useful techniques, from cultivating a trusted wingman to help promote you to others, to identifying commonalities with the people you’re seeking to influence so they’ll be more receptive to your message.

As I came to realize, though, there are three foundational elements to getting your ideas understood and appreciated, elements that underlie everything else. These are social proof, which gives people a reason to listen to you; content creation, which allows them to evaluate the quality of your ideas; and your network, which allows your ideas to spread.

Without at least two of these, though ideally you have all three, it’s structurally almost impossible for your message to break through. Understanding that dynamic can help talented professionals, who may be prone to focusing their energy on the techniques that come most easily to them, know where to apply their efforts in order to ensure their true value is recognized.

Social Proof

Humans, especially busy ones, have a bias toward conserving mental energy. It’s cognitively taxing for them to independently evaluate every person they come into contact with to determine, “Is this person credible?” Indeed, performing that calculation is almost impossible if the person is outside their field of expertise, because they simply may not have enough information to know. That’s why social proof is so critical. Social proof is a heuristic that allows people to judge something — in this case, you — based on your affiliations with brands they already trust. If you went to Harvard, the thinking goes, you must be intelligent; if your book was a New York Times bestseller, it must be good.

Obviously, there are exceptions (sometimes glaring), but in general, social proof provides shortcuts that are helpful for people most of the time. You can leverage the power of social proof to ensure your ideas are taken more seriously — immediately — by making an effort to align yourself with people and institutions that are known and respected within your industry.

For instance, if you make it a priority to start blogging for a publication that everyone in your field reads, that can be a quick shortcut to credibility. If you’ve worked at an industry-leading company, make sure that it’s prominently featured in your bio and that you periodically share anecdotes highlighting your time there. If you take on a leadership role in a professional association, that sends the signal that your peers respect you enough to select you as their leader. Social proof enables others to “relax” about you; they don’t need to be so vigilant in evaluating your credentials because you’ve already been vetted by others. That primes them to listen to your ideas more carefully and with an open mind.

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