How might you find your own “Big Idea”?

Author Dorie Clark says finding your breakthrough idea and standing out in a crowded world starts with some deep questioning.


Dorie Clark is a marketing consultant and speaker who specializes in personal branding and thought leadership. Her latest book Stand Out: How to Find Your Breakthrough Idea and Build a Following Around It (Portfolio Penguin) covers a 3-step process for developing yourself as an expert over nine chapters: Identifying your big idea, building a following around it, and then putting it all into practice. Her goal is to help you recognize your own value and expertise, and most importantly, put yourself out there.

How do you find your big idea, you might wonder. In a nice alignment with my personal big idea, Clark says that big ideas “come from regular people who are willing to ask the right questions and stay open to new ways of looking at the world.” To find a Big Idea, she writes, “you have to question the assumptions that are keeping everyone else in check. You don’t succeed by following the rules and thinking exactly like everyone else; you need to ask ‘what if?’ and ‘why not?’” Questioning like this is hard for a lot of us who have gotten out of the habit of it, but as Clark proves it is indeed worth spending time on it.

Then, as Clark explains in depth, once you have your “big idea,” you need to develop your niche by providing new research along with combining and refining pre-existing research and ideas. You may need to experiment a bit, then focus on the idea.

Next you need to build a following around your idea by networking, reaching your audience, and, if you’re smart, building a community around it. It can be hard, in our busy “attention economy,” to grab people’s attention, Clark writes, so she gives examples of how to inject fun into your outreach to keep people’s interest level high.

As Clark explores these steps for identifying your big idea and getting it out there, she collects advice and quotes from big-name thinkers such as Dan Pink, Robert Scoble, Seth Godin, Eric Ries, and Scott Belsky of Behance (whose big idea started with the beautiful question: “How can artists or other creative professionals better accomplish their vision?”)

Also, generously sprinkled throughout Stand Out are many examples of professors, chefs, IT directors, ministers, attorneys, realtors, commercial artists, and all sorts of “regular” people who had a big idea and successfully got it out there. The “getting out there” part of it can be the hardest element for a lot of people, and there is always some luck involved, but it’s the only way to truly have your idea change the world. Just ask Rachael Ray, Tom Peters, and Daniel Goleman, all profiled in Clark’s book.

Clark wraps up each chapter with a series of questions to get you thinking about what you’ve just read and acting on your next steps.

Clark’s advice definitely rings true to me, based on my own experience. After many years of being a journalist, I became intrigued by and focused on a breakthough idea that is rich in both scope and impact, and that others respond to. With my book A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION and this 5-year-old blog of the same name, I’ve checked off the first two big steps Clark suggests for developing your idea and getting the word out.

I’m now in the third and final stage of Clark’s process: “Making it Happen,” about the execution and monetization of your big idea. Naturally people want to learn how to make a living at being a thought leader. Clark’s book advises people to develop a series of courses or get sponsorships or do executive coaching, among other ways to make money (this can be easier said than done).

But I particularly liked her advice to make time in our hard-working lives for reflection and serendipity. I fully expect to spend many more years reflecting on and spreading the word about the power of questioning, while harnessing that power in my own life and business.

Dorie Clark’s handbook about how to find your breakthrough idea and build a following is perfect for those with a little experience under their belt and now ready to grab a big idea and run with it. You won’t be surprised to learn that I agree with Clark on how to begin: it all starts with a few really great questions to get the ball rolling. Start by stepping back and asking yourself some deep questions (here are 8 questions you might want to try) and you’ll soon be on your way.

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About the Author

Journalist and speaker Warren Berger realized that the majority of successful creatives and entrepreneurs he was interviewing over the years were great questioners. His wondering about "How can we all learn to do what they do?” led to this website and the writing of his latest book, A MORE BEAUTIFUL QUESTION. Follow him on Twitter at @GlimmerGuy and subscribe to his blog posts here.

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