I was stuck in the office. Preparing a showcase for a customer I had never even met.
I got frustrated. Where was the fun?
And then… it happened.
Our boss called a meeting. A customer needed help.
They wanted us to help them master our tools.
I was the youngest and least experienced in the team. It looked scary. Could I deliver?
And it paid off.
In the following three years, I got promoted three times. And it all started with this first engagement.
Of course, what ensued was not the result of a single decision. But it set the tone for what was coming.
What do you think made all the difference?
- My expertise?
- Internal politics?
- My passion?
Now, several years later, I realize what got me promoted.
I got promoted because I stood out. I literally put my neck out.
And it wasn’t a smooth ride. I could have failed miserably. In fact, I did have my share of failures along the way. Thankfully, nothing catastrophic.
Today, I want to share what I learned at the time, but also more recently. I hope it can inspire you to stand out more and get noticed.
So, do you want to learn 10 ways to stand out?
Right. Here’s the list:
- Jump In
- Give’Em What They Want
- Overcome Suspicions
- Against The Grain
- Your Story
Now, let’s jump in, shall we?
1. Jump In
If I could name only one way through which I’ve stood out, this would be it:
- My impulse to take initiative and risks
When others might hesitate, ponder whether it’s a good idea to go ahead, I catch myself saying: “Ok, I’ll try it!” Then, my fate is sealed…
And before you ask: yes, jumping in is scary! I’m scared too.
Your emotional brain sends you red lights. Your heart starts beating faster. The evolutionary fight or flight response activates.
And it’s a useful emotion as it prevents you from repeating mistakes. Here’s how it works.
In your brain, a region called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is responsible for triggering an emotional response when you face a bad outcome. In short, you learn from bad experiences, so that you don’t repeat them. And research shows that patients with ventromedial prefrontal cortex lesions repeat wrong decisions in a card game, as their emotional system is defective.
So, this evolutionary system serves you well.
Only sometimes, it can be detrimental to your success. It keeps you in your cozy corner (your comfort zone), so you don’t grow. And if you don’t, you can’t achieve much of real value.
We tend to overreact. When you’re not risking your whole career or financial ruin, you don’t need to ponder your options for hours. If the upside is good, why not jump in?
The reality is: most people won’t do it.
So when you do, you instantly stand out. And sometimes, people will think you’re a fool. But, so what? Let them think what they want.
At least you’re brave enough to stick your neck out.
My attitude to risk got me results. What are you ready to risk to get yours?
2. Give’Em What They Want
I’m an introvert and like doing things on my own. But I learned that playing the lone wolf is not the best strategy if you want to get noticed.
If no one knows you exist, how can they notice you?
So, how do you get people to know and remember you?
You give them what they want.
The truth is, people spend a lot of time thinking about themselves. Maybe you don’t. I do. It’s human nature. It might be a manifestation of our survival instinct…
So if you can help others, they will like you and remember you. And this extends to their company, their family and friends.
Finding out what people want, then giving it to them is a brilliant and quick way to build relationships and get noticed.
I’ve followed this process when working with customers:
- Understand what they want
- Figuring out a way to give them just that
- Giving it to them
It works a treat! If this process is obvious to you, perfect!
If not, start investigating, asking questions. Find out what people want.
One last thing: you can’t always deliver the goods. When you can’t, be honest about it and find someone else who can deliver. People will still appreciate your help. Then, go and find out something else you can deliver.
3. Overcome suspicions
This leads to the next point.
These days, we’re bombarded by advertising and spam. People contact us all the time, often with a hidden agenda. So, we’ve become overly suspicious about people’s intentions.
I’ve experienced that suspicion first hand. I’m running a blog after all. Want examples?
I received unfriendly comments on a forum because… I dared to put a link to a blog post I wrote…
Another one. Someone joined my newsletter some time ago and asked for my advice in an email. I provided that advice. Then, later on, she unsubscribed, saying she had never joined the newsletter…
Bottom line, in this ocean of suspicion, people are looking for honesty. And they are grateful when they see they can trust you.
Honesty and authenticity get you noticed. But you have to work at them.
Here’s how I do it.
I provide advice and produce work based on my experience and honest analysis of the situation. I’m also trying to be as upfront as I can with my agenda so people know what to expect. And I’m still working on it…
Being authentic also means owning your mistakes and accepting to be vulnerable.
In the corporate world, it’s hard and it doesn’t always go down well. There’s a sort of underlining that you should always be strong and that mistakes are bad. The result?
You avoid mistakes, you play it safe. You can’t stand out by playing it safe. But I digress…
Be honest, own your mistakes and show that you’re human and you will become more likable. And that will get you noticed.
4. Against the grain
When you stand out, you’re like a mole in a whack-a-mole game. When you stick out, people want to hammer you down, back in the ranks.
Consequence? You need to be dedicated to keep going. You have to be consistent in your attitude, despite resistance.
When I pushed against the flow, I heard indirect criticism around me. I was passively encouraged not to do too much, just stay in line. I kept going anyway.
The thing is, I was having fun doing it. I’ve had my fair share of going against the grain as a child, so ignoring comments wasn’t too hard.
But it’s usually not easy and, under pressure, we often fall back in line .
So, if you want to stand out, be ready for resistance. Embrace the tension and keep going.
And this should be your goal: you want people around you to rely on you to do what others won’t.
Keep going until you gain acceptance of your difference.
This is nothing new: to make an impact, you need to deliver results.
Results prove your value.
Standing out just for the sake of standing out, like when you dress in a certain way to get noticed, are not valuable to anyone. It might be fun once in a while, but if you keep doing it, no one will take you seriously.
That’s why it’s important to focus on delivering results. I’ve been focused on results for the last 10 years at least.
But when you’re passionate about something, it’s easy to get lost and just enjoy the journey. I’ve been there and, like most people, I still tend to get lost on the way.
Your growth is your own reward and it gives you intrinsic motivation. It’s addictive and that’s why it’s easy to get lost.
But at the end of the day, people expect results. They will accept that you indulge in your work a bit, as long as they get results at the end.
So, stay focused on your end goal, on the results you want to achieve. And most importantly, on the results that people want you to achieve. Don’t loose your focus, make an impact and you will be remembered.
This was going to be a post about what I learned 10 years ago. But then, why not share what I’ve learned in the last year, while I’ve been blogging?
When you’re writing an article, you’ve only got a few seconds to catch the reader’s attention. And if you’re reading this, it means I somehow managed to catch you attention so far (either that or you just skimmed through the post and read this sentence at random…).
And my way to catch attention has been to be opinionated and surprising, by sharing counter-intuitive advice, when it makes sense. Also, I’m not scared to write long and detailed articles. It’s my way of “going the extra mile”.
In short, if you want to stand out, being opinionated, surprising and doing more than what is expected of you will go a long way.
When you bring in new perspectives and ideas that can create new opportunities and solve common problems, your value increases. You become someone people will go to when they’re stuck or looking for new ideas to broaden their horizon.
Creativity can be trained. I’ve trained mine for the past year in three ways:
- Generate 10 ideas a day on different topics
- Practice brainstorming every week
- Read books in different areas
Here’s how you can also do it.
Every day, write down 10 ideas on a topic of your choosing. For example, 10 ideas on “How to stand out”. Or 10 of your favorite books and why you love them. Also, check James Altucher’s post The Ultimate Guide for Becoming an Idea Machine to get going.
Brainstorm solutions to problems you’re having. I recommend following methods in Michel Michalko’s great book Thinkertoys. Each time, you can try a different method so you improve your skills and knowledge of brainstorming techniques. I’ve had great insights when using brainstorming. In fact, I now use brainstorming before I write any new post.
Read books on different topics. Start with topics that you’re keen to learn about. Then, expand to other topics that you’re less familiar with. It will expand your horizon and give you more topics to explore to dig out ideas.
In the last year, I started reading books in psychology, neuroscience, entrepreneurship, personal development, investing and artificial intelligence. Then I extended to networking, marketing and sales, biographies, strategy, business and fiction books. And I’m planning to read more about design and art.
The more exposed you are to different ideas, the more likely you’ll get new insights. It will also help you think for yourself so you can bring you unique perspective to the table.
8. Your Story
What makes us unique is our story (memories), skills, knowledge and habits. They determine how we usually tackle problems and how we behave in social interactions and situations.
So, when you leverage your unique story, by definition you stand out as… unique.
But leveraging your story is a bit of an art. An art I’m still working on. In fact, I’m doing it here right here, in this post, by sharing my experience.
And here’s what I’ve learned so far.
Your story does two things that help you stand out:
- Your past failures and how you’ve overcome them show you as human, but also resourceful. It makes you more likable and gives some insight into your unique personality.
- It shows that you’ve got a unique experience that makes you the right person for specific jobs. So people know what you’re best at and how you can help them.
Where it’s a bit of an art is in finding how much of your failures and experience you should share. If you share too many failures, people might start seeing you as incompetent.
And if you talk too much about your experience, people might think you’re full of yourself. Read some book reviews on Amazon and you will often find people complaining that the author shares too much of his/her story. It’s a tricky balance to find…
In our society, we tend to hide our failures as we think it will show us in a bad light. And sometime it does. But generally, it will make you more trustworthy and relatable.
So the step you need to take is start sharing your failures, show that you’re only human. But be careful not to overdo it.
Take small steps and you’ll find your balance. And practice your storytelling skills so you can share how you’ve overcome past obstacles.
Are you an expert in one field or do you have more of a broad knowledge of many topics?
I’m more of the latter. And keeping a big picture view at all times is important to stay on the right track and get results.
But, having expert skills in one niche domain makes you highly valuable and… makes you stand out. So if you want to be a unique asset to society, mastering one or two domains will make a real difference.
If you haven’t read The One Thing, I highly recommend that you do. It’s packed with useful advice on how to stay laser focused and get results.
And if you really don’t want to read it, the essence can be captured in one question: “What is the one thing you can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?”.
Let’s rephrase it. What’s the one thing you should focus on right know that will make you stand out so much that all the other 10 ways I’ve listed here will be easier or unnecessary?
Find your one thing and master it.
Mine is Strategic Thinking.
One last way to get noticed is to be fully present when you interact with anyone.
And I will admit this is something I’m bad at. I get constantly distracted. My mind wanders all the time.
That’s how our brain works. When we listen to someone, our brain keeps firing ideas, either as a reaction to what we hear or just randomly. These ideas then link to another thought.
We remember that we have to call someone today, which then makes us think about what that person is up to… And before you know it, we’re lost in thought and didn’t hear what the other person just said.
Now, when you managed to stay focused, the other person will notice that you’re fully engaged in the conversation. They’ll see you care about what they’re saying. And since being able to listen intently is a rare skill, you’ll stand out as more likable and trustworthy.
I’ve experienced it many times. But more often, I’ve faced the consequence of not really listening to the person speaking to me. The person then becomes more distant. And in some cases, I’ve had rows because of it.
To improve, I’ve tried to really stay focused on the other person. I also practice meditation to help my focus. It’s hard work, but worth it.
Summary: be more unique and practice being fully present when you’re with someone. You won’t regret it.
I hope I’ve shown you that if you want to stand out and get noticed, you’ve got to work at it. Whether you’ve naturally adopted the mindset and habits that make you stand out or not, it’s an on-going process. It requires constant effort.
So get to work!
Now, I’ve got a question for you. Which one of these 10 ways to stand out are you going to implement first? Share your plan below.