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Former executive vice-president of Telus, educator, adviser and author of Be Different or Be Dead

There are more people out there today competing for scarcer jobs. The competition is more intense, and with severe economic pressures facing just about everyone, the pressure to be successful is huge.

Winning in this type of environment requires that you be the best at what you choose to do, that you be the topic of conversation and that you – and only you – deliver unique results that matter.

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These eight proven and practical actions will enable you to stand out in a crowd of people hungry for success in their career.

Be seen

If you’re not noticed, how can you be judged among your peers? Recognition can only come when decision makers are aware of what you’re doing and the value you’re creating.

Manage your activity with this in mind. Don’t force it – like “Hey! Look at me!” – but ensure that people know you and are able to compare you with your colleagues.

This will also get you to the top of the list of high-potential people who should be given greater opportunities to prove their worth.

Look for niche opportunities

Try to be a player in a strategic area where the need is greatest as opposed to trying to be a generalist who aspires to be all things to all people.

For example, if your organization is suffering from a lack of marketing skills to differentiate itself from competitors – and you are a competent marketer – focus your brand-building efforts there.

The best are recognized as individuals who provide the unique leadership required to achieve strategic success. They focus their energy and use their competencies in the specific areas that will deliver superlative performance for their organization.

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Be different than everyone else

It always amazes me that everyone wants to copy what works for others. When confronted with a problem to solve, it seems a natural tendency to consult best practices and employ the tactics that others have successfully implemented.

Whereas benchmarking what others do may result in improvements, it will never give you a strategic advantage over your competitors.

The best don’t copy; they set the standard that others aspire to achieve. And they do it by being different in a meaningful way that resonates with their audience.

Keep your promises

A simple thing, really, but one so often overlooked. Keeping to promises shouldn’t make someone stand out, but it does. Many are great with words and rhetoric but fall short on action and results.

Someone known for doing what they say will surpass those who rely on words alone to set them apart.

Successful people don’t just aspire, they do.

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Keep your education a secret

The truth is, being the best doesn’t mean being the best educated; there are too many people that are likely to have degrees and marks better than yours. Furthermore, academic credentials are not a reliable predictor of success.

In the real world, success comes from achieving results faster than others, from being more nimble than the crowd.

Being the best means getting stuff done better than anyone else, not outthinking them. You do need a good knowledge foundation to even play the career game, but it’s the actions you take that make a difference.

Do more than what is asked for

Most of my competitors did the minimum to meet a given objective. My view was always to meet the minimum expectation and look for an opportunity to go beyond it; to create work that was more original and insightful than what others did. Sure, it took extra time, but it was worth it in the long run.

Look for opportunities to:

  • Make your work broader and richer than expected by engaging more experts and opinion leaders in your analysis.
  • Provide a greater level of detail in your reports. Don’t just skim the surface; do a deep dive into your material and provide the granularity your readers don’t expect.
  • Package your work differently than others; make your work compelling for your audience to study.

The required minimum satisfies expectations; going beyond attracts attention and feeds best opinions.

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Surprise ‘em

Most people approach a problem they have been asked to solve in the same way. They do a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats), set a goal and then develop a list of objectives to achieve – the pedantic method that your competitors use.

Being the best requires breaking away from the way everyone else approaches a challenge and doing it in a way that surprises people.

Some simple ways of coming at this:

  • Ask someone who is affected by the problem how they would solve it. People closest to the problem often don’t get invited to help solve it; those looking in are surprised when they are.
  • Abbreviate the formal analysis. Get to a solution fast, implement it and tweak it on the run. Spending most of your time figuring out how to implement a solution is almost never done. When you do, you just might attract a “Wow!”
  • Go in the opposite direction implied by the traditional problem-solving approach. Doing a 180 on how a problem is typically addressed is often a great inertia breaker and will attract attention.

Change the terms of engagement

It’s all about context – the bigger picture – but most people don’t think this way. Push the narrative to a higher level than the issue on the table. For example, rather than give an opinion on civic-leadership ethics, raise the level of the conversation to discuss civic-leadership accountability – a broader topic that includes ethics.

I am constantly asked my opinion, for example, on specific advertising campaigns, and I refuse to comment until I clearly understand the strategy the ad intends to fulfill. Unless you have strategic context, your views are merely personal biases and add little value.

The best avoid getting drawn into debates on narrow topics; they create a more holistic frame of reference and go there to present their views.

The best don’t conform; they don’t comply; they don’t rely on their schooling, and they don’t copy what others do.

They look for niche opportunities and rely on doing to achieve results that others are incapable of delivering.

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