Duke - The Fuqua School of Business

News Release

Putting Your Idea on a Bigger Stage

Adjunct Professor Dorie Clark explains how to identify and promote ideas

Adjunct Professor Dorie Clark
April 22, 2015

Adjunct Professor Dorie Clark teaches marketing and communications and has served as a marketing strategy consultant and speaker for clients including Google, the World Bank, Microsoft and Morgan Stanley. She works in the area of personal and professional branding. In her new book, Stand Out, Clark explains what she calls the "mysterious and opaque" process of becoming a noted expert in a chosen field, and how an individual can identify and promote their own ideas.

Clark elaborates on putting that process into action in this Fuqua Q&A.

Q: What's the starting point for identifying an idea?

Many people feel overwhelmed by the prospect of developing their 'big idea.' One starting place I identify in Stand Out is leveraging your own experiences. What elements of your background are unique, or under-represented in your current field? It could be your hobbies, your previous careers, your cultural background, your academic training, etc. I profile Eric Schadt, one of the nation's pre-eminent scientists, who made a name for himself through becoming one of the first to apply big data to biology. Many biologists were initially skeptical, but Schadt's past training in mathematics and computer science made him open to quantitative exploration.

Q: With an idea in place, how do you suggest beginning to build the networks needed to communicate it?

When it comes to spreading an idea, you need a group of trusted colleagues in your corner who can give you honest feedback, help you improve the idea, and give it initial support to help it spread. You can start to cultivate those networks now by being more deliberate about keeping connections alive. It's too easy to say yes to coffee to a random person who emails you, and ignore one of your closest allies because you got busy. Next, you want to steadily expand your network by reaching out to key players through warm introductions from colleagues, and hopefully offering some value or reason that they'd want to meet you—such as inviting them to a desirable gathering or recommending them for a media interview.

Q: Success and productivity in the modern economy is often equated with being plugged in all the time, but you call that a mistake. Why? What's a better approach?

You certainly need to work hard to succeed, but that's different than being online all the time and checking your email constantly. Research by Teresa Amabile, author of The Progress Principle, shows that while many people feel more creative when they're under the gun, that feeling is actually an illusion. Instead, consistent time pressure actually diminishes creativity and should be avoided. Creativity requires room for your mind to roam, and it's very hard to do that when you're staring down a deadline. You may end up more productive if you're less plugged in.

Q: The key to making a career out of expertise is monetizing your work, and you acknowledge the challenges. How can that journey begin?

The trick to monetization is that people will generally only pay to work with recognized experts for things like consulting, speaking, or coaching services—and that recognition can take years to build. I started blogging regularly in 2010, and it took nearly three years to start getting regular offers of paid speaking engagements from it. In my first book, Reinventing You, I profiled a woman named Patricia Fripp who began her career as a hairdresser in San Francisco. Today, she's a successful professional speaker, but she didn't just jump into the business. She was speaking on the side for years while running her hair salon, and reinvested her profits back into her speaking business, paying for training, video production, media kits, and more. By the time she was ready to make the leap to full-time speaking, she was at the top of her game and had built a formidable marketing pipeline.

Q: Obviously success takes hard work. What does that look like when it comes to promoting ideas?

The experts profiled in Stand Out work extraordinarily hard. Legendary business guru Tom Peters told me that in the years following the publication of his classic business book In Search of Excellence, he estimates he gave 125 speeches per year. When I interviewed social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk, Twitter's new video app Vine had just come out. Despite already being a successful author and consultant, he told me he had stayed up until 3 or 4 a.m. every night that week working to understand and master the new tool. That level of dedication may sound unattainable for most. But to me, it's actually encouraging to understand what sets the best apart. Competition actually gets less intense at the top, as compared to lower levels, because so many people disqualify themselves and don't even try. Because so few are willing to make the sacrifice necessary to put in the hours, your chance of success—if you're willing to roll up your sleeves—is far greater than you might suspect.