Why we fear standing out – and why we need to stop
I work and speak with accomplished professionals who fear standing out with their own ideas and who fear their own influence.
In these times especially, we need intelligent, dedicated, creative people – business artists of all stripes – to name and claim their influential ideas and contribute lasting value through their businesses and the conversations they lead.
Business artists matter. They need to stand up and stand out.
If you’ve worked for organizations, companies, or groups for many years, you might have met with great accomplishment. You also likely have a degree or two or three. A training certification or two or three. Now you want to test out your own ideas. What holds you back?
I suspect you’ve learned the value of going along and of doing a good job by others’ standards. You’ve learned the rules, followed them, exceeded expectations. You’re knowledgable, personable, hard-working, even-tempered. You’re respected. You’ve blended in.
With your experience and expertise, it’s even possible that you’ve ventured out as an independent consultant or professional. Again, you’ve learned the rules, exceeded expectations, gained accomplishments. Even on your own, though, maybe you’re playing it safe. And you’re keeping your ideas to yourself.
And there’s an ache in your throat and in your brain. There’s a pain in your heart and in your gut. I have ideas, you say. I have this core project that hardly anyone knows about. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I’ve sketched some notes. Made some maps.
Great, I say. So, what’s the ache?
I need to get it out, you say. It feels lodged inside. I’ve just not figured out how to bring my ideas together in a useful way.
What does ‘useful’ mean? I ask.
That these ideas make a difference. That I can bring them together in a way that feels cohesive and complete and, well, a part of me that I’m giving. That maybe the pursuit of these ideas could bring me business of my own making.
What’s holding you back? I ask.
At this point you might say you don’t know how to start, but maybe there’s something else. Call it fear. That’s natural. Let’s look at three sources of this fear and four steps to take :
1) fear of what peers will say
Stand out too much within a profession, and you’ll threaten leaders or others with powerful positions.
If you start to develop your own ideas into projects and programs with your signature brand, your grandness might threaten the peers you leave behind. They could begrudge your success or await your failure.
And they will. I’ve received notes and sideways glances. But they’re not the ones I’m serving.
Or maybe your peers won’t do those things. Some of them might applaud you and follow you. A leader might become a mentor and partner.
You’ll be surprised that you will be a good influence.
2) fear of failing in public
If you put your idea or core project “out there,” and if you muster the copy and brand story to claim its value, then some people could pan your idea or business. Your Kickstarter might fail. What if no one calls? What if your website sits there like a store front, pretty but empty?
Everyone will know. And it will feel personal.
But here’s the thing: When you play it safe in business, you hide. You hide your quirky personality that actually could be your advantage. You hide your values and virtues that could be captivating. If your business proposes an “anything for anyone” Sam’s Club approach, you can hide the distinct value that you claim as yours. So, if part of your business fails, no one will know because, well, you didn’t proclaim the core part of your own making as important anyway.
I see “hiding” even in professional websites. Safe, functional, hiding.
Hiding is a powerful defense mechanism, isn’t it? And it’s pretty deeply wired.
But here’s the greater risk: You can hide what could be your most potent ideas – your message’s medicine that could actually salve your community of customers, readers, clients, and fans.
Don’t hide and hoard your medicine. Dare to stand out with your ideas. (If this resonates, Click to Tweet. Thanks!)
You’ll be surprised by how generous people are and how much they want your success as much as you.
3) fear of incompetency
If you put “your” ideas out there, you’re on the edge of your comfort zone and your competency zone. You could fail a client.
Or maybe not. Maybe the new challenge will ignite the best in your skills and strengths and character yet again.
Every one of these fears I have contended with and continue to do so because I constantly push myself and Tracking Wonder to the edge.
By the way, you can work within an organization, and still be influential with your own ideas. You can be an employee and be a thought leader.
And if you’re one, two, three, or more years in your business or thought leadership and are wondering why you’re not getting any traction, take heart. Be in it for the long game.
Regardless of your form of business artistry, here’s what helps me and countless other high-performing, influential professionals I’ve worked with and studied:
- Applaud your heritage.
That you’ve “ gotten along” all these years does not mean you’re not creative. Some degree of conformity among team members is necessary to get creative ideas executed. Convergent thinking – creative thinking in line with a group – is valuable to get things done effectively, according to study results by psychologist Seth Kaplan (George Mason University) et al.
In other words, don’t damn what you’ve learned, what you’ve accomplished, whom you’ve become. You get to draw from all of that as you advance your core project and shape your own brand.
- Acknowledge what a creative idea is and is not.
A creative idea is not “pure” originality. Popular misconception. Not supported by any scholar or psychologist of creativity I know of.
Creativity as studied in psychology is the generation and execution of novel and useful ideas. Your novel ideas are a magic synthesis of existing ideas. Synthesis stems from your ability to draw from different ideas and sources and combine them into your own. Many successful thought leader nonfiction books these days are the authors’ documented syntheses of other ideas and research mixed with their signature voice, take, and story angle.
With your years of expertise and experience, you can contribute your verse, your signature frameworks, your singular elegant idea. Your forming and acting on novel + useful ideas helps you feel alive and be of distinct value.
- Get perspective.
Research how 2 other influential idea-entrepreneurs in your field are building ideas, creating, and engaging their communities. I’ve read “soft” advice that suggests you should just follow your own ideas and not study others’ work because you’ll get wrapped up in the research and feel defeated.
That’s dangerous advice that does not trust your resilience or self-awareness if you want your idea, project, or brand to be part of a conversation and field, and not a vanity project.
Then enlist 1-2 other business artist peers who know your field and who would run with you on offering knowledgeable input. (Note: Not all mastermind groups are equal – so be cautious.)
- Assess and test.
Business artists learn like scientists. They sketch, try out educated hypotheses, gather data, and test again. They shoot bullets before firing canons (thanks, Jim Collins, for that metaphor), meaning the companies, creatives, and entrepreneurs who succeed keep testing out smaller versions of their ideas before relying on a big one.
Blogs, ebooks, published articles – these are tests. A beta program, a beta workshop, a beta website – tests. Marketing calls – pre-tests.
Some experiments fall short of the projected goals and expectations. “Failure” is gathering data.
One astonishing thing about this one life: You get to contribute your ideas to this world. You get to shape, share, and unfold a Story. You get to live that Story through your business, brand, and signature frameworks. Yes, you. You don’t just have permission. People are waiting for you to stand up, stand out, and own your influence.
Thanks for running with me,