Dorie Clark: How To Become A Thought Leader In Any Industry


81G9EwNCnSLI recently spoke to my good friend Dorie Clark as she released her new book, Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It. Clark is a marketing and strategy consultant and frequent contributor to the Harvard Business Review, Entrepreneur, and Forbes. She consults and speaks to a diverse range of clients, including Google, the World Bank, Microsoft, and Morgan Stanley. She is also an adjunct professor of business administration at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Her first book was Reinventing You. In the following interview, she talks about what it means to be a through leader, how to find your big idea, and what it takes to build a following in today’s competitive world. 

Dan Schawbel: What does it mean to be a “thought leader” and how does it help you stand out in order to build a business or get ahead in your career?

Dorie Clark: We all know it’s getting harder for your message to get through these days. There’s a huge amount of noise, and people clamoring for your attention. That’s why it’s so essential to develop a reputation as a recognized expert, because it gives people a clear reason to choose you over the competition – the topic I discuss in my new book, Stand Out. The term “thought leader” sometimes gets overused, but I think it’s a useful framework, because it implies two essential things. First, that you’re recognized for your thoughts and the quality of your ideas: you have intellectual heft as a professional. And second, that you’re not just an expert, but also that you’re a leader – meaning that others recognize and are responding to your ideas. You’re making a real impact.

Schawbel: How does someone find their own unique and compelling idea? Does it happen naturally?

Clark: It’s important to start by immersing yourself in your field. Have you read the most important, foundational books? Are you familiar with what the current experts are saying? Then, you need to look beyond that framework and ask: what aren’t they talking about? What are they missing? It’s when you open up your perspective that you can start to see gaps, and places where you can begin to make a contribution. Robert Cialdini, the legendary author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, realized that even though academics like himself had been propounding certain theories about influence for years, it was all based on work in a laboratory setting. He was the first who said, What could we discover if we tested this in the real world? And as a result, he made breakthrough discoveries that changed his field.

Schawbel: What are some ways to start building a platform for someone who isn’t famous or well-known in their niche?

Clark: Online activities like blogging or creating a podcast certainly help in building a platform. (In fact, I had tried unsuccessfully to land a book deal for several years, and it was only once I started blogging that I was able to generate interest from publishers, leading to my first book, Reinventing You.) One platform-building activity that I think hasn’t been explored enough is self-publishing books. In Stand Out, I profile a young woman named Miranda Aisling Hynes who actually landed a job at an arts organization on the strength of a self-published book about creativity she’d written. The book enabled Miranda to showcase her philosophy and stand out from the other candidates.

Schawbel: How do you go about building a following of people especially when there is so much competition and clutter out there?

Clark: One of the most important steps in building a following – something that’s often overlooked – is testing and refining your ideas first with a group of trusted friends and colleagues. Too many people come up with ideas, throw them out into the public sphere with a blog post or some other perfunctory gesture, and then if it doesn’t go viral, they assume the idea was a failure. In actuality, it may have been a good idea, but just hadn’t been refined quite enough. This initial step of getting feedback (and connections and support) from colleagues before going public is essential.

Schawbel: How can being a subject matter expert at work help you? What do you say to people who think they should be “generalists”?

Clark: Becoming known in a niche is an important way to stand out. The competition is truly fierce if you want to get known in a broad and well-established field like “politics” or “sports” or “business.” There’s no clear reason for anyone to listen to you, who is just starting out and almost certainly has a lot fewer resources than, say, NBC or ESPN. But if you pick a subspecialty, you really can outwork even the big guys and become recognized for that. Brian Stelter was an unknown college student when he started a blog about the TV news industry, and he covered it so well and so thoroughly, he became the go-to expert on the subject. The New York Times was so impressed, they hired him, and today he’s at CNN – all because of a niche he cultivated wisely, and when he got his toehold, he was able to expand his expertise and reputation into adjacent areas of the media.

Personal Branding Blog – Stand Out In Your Career


Stand Out and Get Your Ideas Heard: Author Dorie Clark on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]


Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and speaker, a professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and a contributor to Forbes and the Harvard Business Journal. She wrote the acclaimed book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future.

I invited Dorie to Marketing Smarts to discuss her forthcoming book, Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It.

Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:

Communicating ideas is like chess: It’s more fun when everyone knows how to play (03:37): “Many people kind of get their back up at the idea of [personal branding]…. They think it’s this exercise in phoniness or in bragging; but, the truth is unless everybody has these baseline skills and understanding of how to break through and get noticed, it does mean that the loudest voice wins, and that’s not the society that I think any of us want to live in. If people understand the structure of how power dynamics work in messages spreading, that can be immeasurably helpful, because it means that the best ideas really will be the ones that triumph.”

“Thought leader” might be overused, but when used properly, it’s a powerful tool ( (04:43): “There’s a lot of baggage that has come up around [the terms ‘personal branding’ and ‘thought leadership], and I actually like to stake myself out as a defender of both, because I think that we should just lean into the terms and say ‘you know what, the people who are doing it in egregious ways are the bad actors. Those are the bad examples. There’s a lot of people who are doing it in good ways, particularly for thought leadership,’ which is a concept that I explore in Stand Out.

“The reason that I actually like the term ‘thought leader,’ even though sometime sit gets misused and unqualified people try to attach it to their Twitter handles or whatever, is that there are two important parts to it. The first is ‘thought,’ which distinguishes the fact that people who are thought leaders have to be famous for their ideas. They can’t just be Kim Kardashian, they can’t just be a random celebrity. They have to have substance behind their ideas.

And the second part is ‘leader,’ which means the idea has to be known by other people. You have to have followers. And so you can’t just be an expert hiding in the ivory tower and thinking that’s sufficient: You have to be willing to spread it, or else it won’t have an impact. If you actually have both those pieces—someone of intellectual substance and…willing to get out there  on the stump and share their ideas and build a community around it—that’s actually the kind of person that I admire, and that I think we need more of.”

Use charity work to build your personal brand and your skill set (06:23): “Charitable work is overlooked by a lot of people, because they think it’s this addition to their schedule, this kind of nice to do thing…and it keeps getting pushed off. But being involved in charitable causes actually has numerous benefits. One of them…is the fact that you are freer to experiment, to take risks, because, in your day job, you’re not paid for perfection but you’re actually paid for something kind of close to that. People don’t want to give you money if you’re going to be taking massive risks and being incompetent. They’re paying you because they think ‘this person kind of knows how to do this.’ As a result, it limits your ability to really experiment freely, whereas if you’re volunteering…and you say ‘I have this idea I want to try this thing,’ there’s a lot more latitude to do that. Then you can take those skills…and bring it back to your day job and make it that much better, make a bigger contribution.”

To learn more, visit or follow Dorie on Twitter: @dorieclark.

Dorie and I talked about much more, including how starting small and finding a niche can help your big idea to break through, as well as how doing primary research can cause your idea’s reach to explode, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

This episode brought to you by CallidusCloud.

Special thanks to production sponsor Candidio, an efficient, affordable video production platform allowing marketers and communicators to collaborate and curate video content, with help from a team of professional, on-demand video editors for the finishing touches. Check them out!

Show opener music credit: Noam Weinstein.

This marketing podcast was created and published by MarketingProfs.

Kerry O’Shea Gorgone is instructional design manager, enterprise training, at MarketingProfs. She’s also a speaker, writer, attorney, and educator. She hosts and produces the weekly Marketing Smarts podcast. To contact Kerry about being a guest on Marketing Smarts, send her an email, or you can find her on Twitter (@KerryGorgone), Google+, and her personal blog.

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