I’ve shared before that my favorite audiobook is Steve Martin’s Born Standing Up. He narrates his own story, which is immensely entertaining as well as instructive about what it takes to stand out in your field.
Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, linked to one of his older posts about Martin’s influence on his career philosophy. Here’s Newport explaining a key element of Martin’s success – innovating, not just polishing:
Paying your dues is overrated. Simply putting in the time is not enough. Martin’s story is one of a constant urge to innovate. He was trying to figure out the essence of “funny.” He then yielded these insights to move beyond the static structure of the punchline that dominated performance comedy at the time. This restless urge to understand then innovate led him to be outstanding. Without it, he would have just become another good comedian. Like hundreds of others.
You need to do the same. Understand what the best exemplars in your field do well. Figure out why. Then ask how you can mix, match, and reconstruct these elements into something new and even better.
It’s not just about working hard. You’ve got to think hard, too, and determine how you can go where no one has gone.
I just downloaded a sample of Peter Thiel’s new book, Zero to One, which is about this concept. Greatness is more than iteration and improvement. It is creating something remarkable where before there was nothing at all. If you want to shine, you’ve got make the leap from merely good at more of the same to remarkably great in a way never done before.