Successful entrepreneurs come from an extremely wide range of personality types. But a study from Saras Sarasvathy, at Darden School of Business, found that the single common thread among successful entrepreneurs is their ability to compensate for weaknesses by finding the right people to fill in the gaps.

This means a few things. First, you need to really know yourself, because that’s the only way to understand where your gaps lie. Second, you need to have access to a wide network of people. You can’t find someone to fill your gaps if you don’t have a big group to choose from.

But the third thing you need is the ability to attract the people who would fill your gaps. Those people have to want to work with you. The best way to attract these people is to differentiate yourself. You want to attract someone who has a special quality that you need, which means you have to show him the special quality that you bring to the table.

It’s harder than you think. You have to typecast yourself.

You can learn a lot about this style of personal management from Hollywood, where actors who typecast themselves are more successful than those who will play any role. This rule also applies to business. You cannot be a star performer at everything. If you don’t specialize, then you can’t be a star performer at anything. You have to specialize to be a star at work.

In order to specialize, you have to know what you are not going to do. And then you have to have the self-discipline to say no to business that requires you to work outside of those boundaries.

Now, when you think about what you want to be known for, make sure it’s something that will serve you well over time. “Social media expert,” for example, will sound as lame in five years as “web site expert” sounds today. It’s so broad that it’s absurd.


Actress Scarlett Johansson is doing a great job of defining her image in this way. After TMZ reported that a sex shop near the US/Mexican border used Johansson’s image on their business card, the shop owner said that he didn’t know it was Johanasson. He claimed he just told the business card company he wanted a girl on the cards, and he got Johansson. Questionable.

But the interesting part is Johansson’s response. She said, “I actually have not played that many sexy characters! Of course you could say the characters I played maybe in Match Point. But the characters I play aren't really traditionally sexy, I don't think. I think it's probably a reaction to the fact that I'm curvy and confident about it, maybe."

Got that? She’s reinforcing what makes her different. First, the expected response would be for her to have no comment. A-listers get their images stolen all the time, and who cares? Second, this is an essential aspect of Johansson’s differentiator. She can’t be “sexy vixen” because it’s a cliché and also because she will be unemployable as she ages. But non-traditionally sexy, that’s a good one. That gives her some leeway. And “curvy and confident” makes her almost sound like a plus-sized model rather than a gorgeous Hollywood icon.

You need to be like that too. Every time someone asks you “What do you do?” you need to reinforce your genre and your differentiator.

Often, we don’t notice what we’re great at. I’m sure there was a time when Johansson wished she were super-skinny, and fit the mold of the Hollywood starlet. But then she saw that where she doesn’t fit is where she can make money.

This is true for all of us. Where we are least like everyone else is where we are most likely to attract people.

Finding your special, stupid thing

The other problem with identifying our special thing is that often, our special thing is so special that it looks stupid. The infamous Honey Badger video is an example of how something that is totally stupid is also an innovation. This guy has extreme talent for narrating over someone else’s video.  He is not showing talent for everything – just something weird and understandable that he can take an extreme.

This analogy competition is hilarious because it’s so stupid. But it’s also interesting because hilarity unearths the profound intelligence that lurks behind a great sense of humor. And that’s a special talent. You will have to emphasize your equivalent to stupid analogies in order to surround yourself with the super-talented.

Looking stupid is the first step toward leading people to something new. Consider this video about leadership, which I love. There are tons of links in this post, but if you click on just one, this is the one that will change how you see things. The focus of the video is about how stupid the first person looks, and how genius the second person is for following the innovator who everyone else thinks is stupid.

When you think about differentiating yourself, you might think about if you are following a crowd (I’m a social media expert) or if you are out on a limb (writing such goofy stuff that people can’t even categorize it).

How do you know if you are doing a good job differentiating yourself, and preparing to become a star? Here’s a quiz.

1.     Do you refuse to do a lot of stuff that people say you’re great at?

2.     Do you tell people you specialize even though it’s not a reality quite yet?

3.     Do you look like you might be destroying your career?

If you answered “yes” to all three of these questions, you’re probably on the road to huge success.