How do I become a star employee? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Auren Hoffman, USafeGraph CEO, on Quora:

A lot has been written about the power of the elusive 10Xer that comes into an organization and makes it much better.

I've worked with a few 10Xers over my 20 year career. They are amazing. If you want to be a 10Xer, here is a map of what one looks like (so you can become one).

Threats versus Opportunities

Understanding threats to a business is really important. Really smart people are great at pointing out threats. 10Xers also point out threats... but 10Xers are much more likely to point out big opportunities.

Some threats are so severe that they need the smartest people focused on them. Sometimes it can be all-hands-on-deck. But many threats are not as severe as they initially seem. And if a business spends all its focus on threats, it will no longer innovate and no longer grow.

The younger the business, the less time it should spend on threats. Established multi-billion dollar businesses need to focus on protecting their asset. Tiny businesses should spend the vast majority of their brain power focused on the opportunities.

This is hard because the threats are real. They are important. They could really hurt the company.

And the big threats should definitely be tackled head-on. But not EVERY threat needs to be addressed. And even those that do need to be addressed don't need to be addressed fully. It is really hard to discern which threats are super important to mitigate and which threats one can ignore. (Some of this comes with a lot of start-up experience ... and people with large company experience often have trouble getting out of the threat-mode).

Smart employees at start-ups often spend over 80% of their time on threats and less than 10% on opportunities. But the best people spend over 40% on opportunities.

Planning versus Action

Really smart people are great at pointing out threats. And some are great at finding opportunities.

But this is just Stage 0 of being a 10Xer. There are many stages of being a 10Xer:

  • Stage -1: Ignorant of opportunity/threat
  • Stage 0: Pointing out opportunity/threat
  • Stage 1: Proposing a viable solution for opportunity/threat
  • Stage 2: Having a plan of action for opportunity/threat
  • Stage 3: Having a plan of action for opportunity/threat that YOU can do
  • Stage 4: Solving the opportunity/threat (by doing/building/etc.)

Your goal should be to be a Stage 4 person. The more you focus on action, the more you are a 10Xer.

The 10Xers I have worked with are just great and making sure important things get done. And not just little things. They take on big projects and drive them to completion and spend less time writing powerpoints.

Many smart people spend more time debating the solution than implementing the solution. It is important to think critically about threats and opportunities -- but many smart people spend too much time planning and not enough time doing. Start-ups need to be biased for action. Side note: many super smart people also spend more time planning their vacations than actually being on vacation.

And 10Xers understand that a concentrated action might fail ... but failure is ok if you learn lessons from it and then try another alternative solution.

When in doubt, be action-oriented.

Negativity versus Positivity

Having a negative outlook is often extremely valuable to an organization. People who are negative can have incredible accomplishments and many A-Players I have worked with have a negative personality. Having zero smart people in an organization that are negative can be really dangerous.

But you can only have a few negative people in an organization because negativity and positivity are both incredibly contagious.

True 10Xers are almost always glass-half-full people. It doesn't mean they gloss over threats. But because they are so solution and action oriented, they are good at finding solutions to these threats and they are confident in themselves (and their colleagues) that they will be able to handle threats in the future.

So 10Xers are not just wearing rose colored glasses ... they are confident in themselves to find solutions because they have a track record of finding and implementing solutions.

Individual verses Team

This might be the most obvious trait, but thought it is worth pointing out.

10Xers make those around them much better. They increase the talent of those around them to a great degree. (This is partly why positivity is so important because that can infuse excitement in those around them).

Many super smart people are great contributors and they do make the team around them better. But 10Xers are a true force multiplier on the team.

Why are there so few 10Xers?

A large number of very smart and quality people could be 10Xers but aren't. I think this is because there is not a clear map of what it means to be a 10Xer. I wrote this post because step one is knowing what a 10Xer is and what one should aspire to be.

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