SharpAlice Business Book Summary & Review:

Through our research amongst professional women, one need and desire that has come through loud and clear is women’s aspiration to be influential. Many of you who have responded to our surveys, explicitly voiced your aspiration to be respected for your expertise, skills and abilities and lead others in your function and field.

However, many of us also still assume that we will get there by working hard and keeping our heads down. However, that is no longer true. To become a leader in today’s ideas economy it is about becoming known as a person who knows what’s next, a person who has the foresight to successfully lead their department or company through the fast-changing world we now live in.

In light of this, we are today sharing with you the summary of Dorie Clark’s book “Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It“. This must-read book provides as clear a roadmap as you could wish for on how to ensure that your ideas stand out and get heard.

One upfront warning: This is not a book that promises you overnight success if you just start doing a, b and c. On the contrary, Dorie Clark makes it very clear that it takes hard work. As she puts it “ The vast majority of people will never be willing to make the sacrifices to get to the top [of their field]. They want it handed to them”. Instead she says it’s about “outworking everyone else”.

As you read Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It, you will see that everything Dorie Clark suggests is feasible. These are not suggestions that require thousands of dollars of investment in courses or conferences. However, what it does require is your time and commitment, alongside your job and personal life, to consistently lay the stones to build your path to becoming THE respected expert in your field

So, as you read through the book, be ready for Dorie Clark to constantly pepper you with questions and to do’s. This is something we, the SharpAlice team, love as we are all about bridging the gap between knowledge and action (remember, that is actually one of our central tenets!). We therefore, recommend reading this book with a highlighter in your hands and a notebook next to you, so you can really work through it.


In addition, Dorie Clark has also just released a free downloadable workbook compendium, which is drawn from the questions she asks at the end of each section of the book. We just downloaded it here.

[textbox icon=”fa-star” heading=”Part 1: Finding Your Breakthrough Idea” icon_background_color=”#7f32ff”]This first section consists of 5 chapters that deal with how you identify what your area of thought leadership is – or as Dorie Clark puts it, what your big idea is. Please do not be deterred by this notion of “big idea”. Yes, it could be that you have a truly innovative idea in a certain field. However, for most of us it likely means that we just have to identify what special skill, expertise or insight we have to do something different in a given context and do it well (for more on this concept, I also suggest reading Whitney Johnson’s book “Disrupt Yourself” ).

To help us identify our big idea, Dorie Clark leads us through a series of approaches. In particular, she points out how so many of our peers are stuck in the here and now and fail to spend time understanding what’s coming next. That is where our opportunity is according to Clark – develop your expertise about what is next in your field. How would that change things for your department or company? What should your department or company start doing to anticipate that change?

Another approach Dorie Clark suggests is to look at your unique personal experience and how that equips you to tackle an issue in a new way. For example, as I read this section I realized that my training as a classical ballerina at the Royal Conservatory has given me a unique perspective on what it takes to master a new skill. This deep and unique understanding is something I realized I should leverage in the development of the courses we are creating for SharpAlice.

Dorie Clark also underscores the need to support your big idea with accurate research. This might involve crunching numbers of data your company already collects, or analyzing all the research that has been published on this topic or running small surveys or focus groups yourself to help develop your area of thought leadership. Becoming a thought leader is not just about having an opinion – it all needs to be underpinned by thorough research in whatever shape or form.

Last but not least, Dorie Clark explains that it is important to try and codify your “big idea. Basically, to enable others to understand our big idea we need to try and structure it, break it down or frame it in a way that helps others understand it. Without that, it just remains your big idea, as you won’t be able to communicate it easily and clearly so others won’t be able to grasp it and support it.

[textbox icon=”fa-star” heading=”Part 2: Building a following Around Your Ideas” icon_background_color=”#7f32ff”]It is true that many other business authors have written articles, blog posts and books on how to amplify your voice. However, once again, I feel that Dorie Clark has a particularly clear and methodical approach. I personally took a lot of ideas from this section, which consists of 3 chapters.

Dorie Clark distinguishes three different phases of building your following. The first phase involves building your personal social network. This involves people with whom you have a direct personal connect – your family, colleagues, friends and acquaintances. This group provides you with a critical first step. Don’t overlook them. Leverage these two-way personal relationships to get feedback on your idea, get introductions to relevant people or simply to get support and encouragement.

For example, when we just started SharpAlice we used our LinkedIn contacts to get a first mailing list together of female professionals. Moreover, initially we had an old colleague of ours review our posts as we just weren’t sure yet about our voice. And another contact helped us develop our visual identity and many of our personal contacts also started to tweet and share our posts with their friends and colleagues, thereby helping us spread the word.

Or if you are trying to develop support for your big idea in your company, then the way to go about it is to create a stakeholder chart of the people in your company who would be impacted by your big idea – either positively or negatively. Once you have done that, you can identify which stakeholders you already have relationships with; what their interest or objections might be to your big idea; how your existing relationships can help you get introduced to the other stakeholders; etc.

The next phase Dorie Clark walks us through is audience building. This is when you want to take your idea to a wider audience. For example, you may feel that based on the success you have had implementing your idea at your company, you now have a reason to try and get a speaking opportunity at an industry conference. Or you may use the results or insights you have garnered to write a guest blog post for a popular industry blog. Or you launch your own blog and start using your area of thought leadership to provide useful content for your industry peers.

The last and third phase is community building. Dorie Clark explains that this is about your big idea truly becoming a platform to bring people together to act as per the big idea. She provides some great examples. For example, you could start hosting meet-ups for your industry peers in your home city. Or you could proactively arrange a dinner ahead of an industry conference where many of your peers are attending and ask one of them to speak on the topic.

[textbox icon=”fa-star” heading=”Part 3: Making It Happen” icon_background_color=”#7f32ff”]As I mentioned up-front, Dorie Clark is very clear from the outset that it take hard work and sacrifice to stand out. In this chapter she introduces us to some great case studies of people who have walked this path and succeeded. Through her interviews with them she highlights some great examples of the kind of hard work it takes. It is a very inspiring end to a great book, because though these examples show extreme efforts, nothing they did was superhuman: it was just focused hard work that anyone, if they’re willing to make the sacrifice, can emulate.[/textbox]
[textbox icon=”fa-star” heading=”Link to the Book” icon_background_color=”#7f32ff”]Link to the book: Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It