I have read many personal branding books, and none of them resonates as much to me as Dorie Clark’s Reinventing you. I’m so excited to get a chance to speak to Dorie on her new book Stand Out, a “how-to” guide to become a thought leader in your field.
Grace : I love Reinventing You, an instant classics in personal branding. Why did you decide to write Stand Out as a follow-up?
Dorie: The reason is because once you have successfully reinvented yourself and transition to a career that you are excited about, the next logical question is how do you become recognized as being competent, and even excellence, in your new field. Many people may be skeptical, and it is important to show that you have something different and meaningful to offer.
I want to write Stand out because I want to understand what make someone a recognized expert in his or her field: what do their ideas look like, how did they get recognized, and I then reverse-engineered it so that regular professionals can apply the same technique and have their true talent recognized.
Grace: In ‘Stand Out’, you interviewed a numbers of people to understand how they become thought leaders in their field – from business, technology to bicycle advocacy. How do you select these experts?
Dorie: Some of them are experts in their field that I’m eager to learn from and want to connect directly with and learn from, like David Allen, a productivity expert. Others are people that I met in the normal course of life that I thought are doing something very interesting. I found it important to create a diverse network and have acquaintances from a diverse set of fields to learn from.
Grace: Any “ah-ha” moment during the interview process?
Dorie: I was really struck with Seth Godin, a marketing expert. He’s clearly not driven by money. He could make a lot of money consulting, but chose not to because he doesn’t like it. People would pay a lot of money to be him, but he pays interns to spend time with him instead. I was really impressed. It’s less about maximizing revenue, and more about doing something interesting and meaningful. Ultimately that’s the condition that you can create your best work.
Grace: There are critics out there who said that there’s nothing a regular person – let’s say a clerk at Walmart, can learn from this book. What do you think?
Dorie: Stand Out seeks to help people to become global thought leaders. Certainly only a small number of people will be. What is important is that you can, and you should, become a thought leader locally – in your company, in your community. Even for our clerk in Walmart, if he or she can demonstrate that they have ideas worth listening to – new ways to improve customer service – they will be recognized as someone who adds greater value. If there are layoffs, they are going to be protected far more than those who are doing the bare minimal. Your brand as a thoughtful professional is the ultimate form of career insurance.
Grace: Many young people asked me if they should go to graduate school. What’s your advice?
Dorie: No one should go to graduate school because you are out of ideas. It’s far too expensive. It can saddle you with debt and force you to take jobs that you won’t want to pay the debt — hardly a recipe for happiness. There are cheaper ways to educate yourself: internship, MOOC, read a book.
Grace: Should they try to be a thought leader?
Dorie: We don’t want to oversell ourselves and claim to be experts in things that we don’t know. But you can establish yourself as a thought leader throughout the learning process itself. This is an example: George Kauffman didn’t want to spend money on an MBA, and he decided to read all the classics MBA literature. His blog The Personal MBA was so popular that he turned that into a book.
Grace: The other comment that I hear a lot is from people who are close to retirement but not quite there yet. They feel that it’s too late for them to reinvent themselves. What do you think?
Dorie: I got ask this question a lot too. One of my most popular HBR blog is How to reinvent yourself after 50. I just released a short online course with the Economist on How to reinventing yourself mid-career. You can reinvent yourself at all the time and at all stages. It’s easier for people to hold back because of self-image. I know someone who got his Ph.D. at age 66 — he wanted to do it, he did it, and he moved on to a new chapter that is interesting for him.