: The power of wild ideas and — a Q&A with

Enabling all ideas to count changes how we do business.

In this new Q&A series, we’ll be talking to who’ve led movements, challenged norms with new ideas, and worked to change the world for the better in business, tech, and advertising. We’ll talk to leaders, authors, executives, and marketers about their careers, how they use Twitter to share messages, and the changes that happen as a result of creative thinking, cutting-edge ideas, and diverse perspectives. Tweet us if you’d like to nominate someone.

Nilofer Merchant is the author of "The Power of Onlyness" who loves to turn seemingly “wild” ideas into new realities. She has worked at Apple, Adobe, and Autodesk. As former CEO of Rubicon Consulting, she advised Nokia, HP, and Logitech, among others — with a focus on go-to-market work. She has authored two other books: “The New How,” and “11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era.” Merchant has served as a corporate board member for both public and private companies and does research at Rotman University on the topic of prosperity and writing. She has spoken at TED and continues to inspire audiences around the globe on the stage and on Twitter () with her messages and ideas. Download chapter one of her latest book “The Power of Onlyness” here.

What is ‎‎‎?

: Onlyness is a term I coined to point to how value creation is fundamentally shifting away from organizations to people, and specifically from that spot in the world only you stand in. Because ideas can now scale in decentralized systems through connectedness, I saw that original ideas born of onlyness were going to be the way that value gets created in the “Social Era.”

What can brands learn from and why is it key to their success?

: Now that good ideas can come from anyone, anywhere, brands need to figure out how to open their platforms to seek and harness them. Research published by MIT shows that companies that do this outperform other companies by 2-3 times.

Brands can do this by talking purpose, not product. Take, for example, Dove. Instead of talking at people about a product that they "need" and how it will "fix them" (the vast majority of beauty products use this model), Dove changed the conversation. Most people don't know that Dove started a new conversation back in 2004 based on the insight that only 2% of women see themselves as beautiful. Year after year, they built on that idea. In 2013, Dove ran its Dove Real Beauty Sketches campaign where women were asked to describe themselves to a forensic sketch artist (who couldn’t see his subjects). Then, the same women were described by strangers whom they had met the previous day. When the two images were compared, the stranger’s characterization was both more flattering and more accurate. This campaign resonated powerfully with consumers, showing how each of us wants to be talked to, based on our interests, not our demographic. In Dove's case, it became a message of appreciating our own beauty in all its different shapes and sizes.

How does Twitter help you share your message and connect?

: Twitter has been instrumental in helping me make connections. Sometimes it will inspire an entire idea of something I should write about because it connects to a real person’s question.

One major story I researched for “The Power of Onlyness” was the story of . That was a story I first started tracking through Deray Mckesson’s () feedback when he had something like 1,000 followers. He was live-streaming the real-life experience of protests in Ferguson and it helped me relate to how the protestors were being treated for trying to peacefully assemble and ask for fairer police practices (across races). When I met Deray in real life recently, it was as if we had known each other for a long time, because we were always hearing (through Twitter) the running commentary of each other's work.

Twitter has been instrumental in helping me make connections.”

Nilofer Merchant, author and speaker

Thought leadership is something marketers talk often about, but often don't deliver. As someone who has written three books and spoke on the TED stage, what advice can you give?

: I don’t think of myself as a thought leader. What matters are the ideas; in the case of onlyness, it’s about enabling all ideas to count. This will not only change each person’s dignity, but open up $1 trillion in value. Making that idea a new reality drives all my actions; writing and speaking are simply ways to do that.

This is the mistake I see people make: I see some say they want to be “an entrepreneur” rather than have a specific idea they want to see made into reality. If the idea (rather than self or ego) becomes the organizing factor, it changes our actions. This shift would also change how we get behind things; maybe realizing it’s better to join a community rather than chase an idea all by oneself.

What are the biggest opportunities and challenges facing women at work and how have you been personally affected?

: I tell a story in “The Power of Onlyness” of being debilitated by what someone said to me. I went to a management guru to ask for his help in naming my second book. In response to my question about what the title should be, he answered, “As a brown woman, your chances of being seen in the world are next to nothing. Because, for your ideas to be seen, they would need to be edgier, but if you’re edgier, you’ll not be seen.”

It took me months to realize that not only was he not answering the question, he was viewing me through his lens and looking at me as “the other.” He wasn’t noticing what I distinctly brought to the world — my history and experience, visions, and hopes. Instead, he was otherizing me. To otherize is to see someone through the lens of gender, age, race, or any other way you can see someone as a category rather than the distinct person they are.

Women surely face this at work, often feeling they have to fit in rather than be themselves. We all have an ability to add value. The fact that we don’t see that yet in society is our biggest problem, but also the opportunity. The opposite of otherness is onlyness — the way in which we each create value through the powerfully distinct ideas we each have.

The opposite of otherness is onlyness — the way in which we each create value through the powerfully distinct ideas we each have.”

Nilofer Merchant, author and speaker