Go where your unique value adds the most

Before I joined Liquid Web, I had taken a year off. After twenty years of working crazy hours, it felt luxurious to step back and think critically and strategically about what I wanted to work on next. Over that time, I spoke with a lot of friends – collecting advice not so much about what I should do next but more about how to think about my next thing.

The best advice I got was this simple line: “Go where your unique value adds the most.”

When you think about it, it’s brilliant. Not just from a negotiating perspective, when it comes to your salary or role. It’s brilliant because it makes so much sense but it’s often a way of thinking we ignore.

Unique Value

Honestly, let’s start with “unique value.” Do you know what makes you unique? Do you know what you do that others don’t? Do you know what comes easy to you that takes a lot more work for others? If we can’t figure out our own unique value, we’re going to have a hard time following this advice, right?

Our own insecurities get in the way. That’s not just a me thing. It’s everyone. We don’t think of ourselves as unique – and if we start believing this, it’s hard to figure out how we stand out.

More than insecurities, we often take a lot of what we’re good at for granted. “Everyone can do this. I’m not that special.”

So step one has to be figuring our own unique value. That could take you hours, days, weeks, months or years. However long it takes you, it’s important to figure out.

One of the things I spend a lot of time doing – with friends and members of my team – is helping people see what their unique value is because it’s easier to see it from the outside.

Adds the Most

If you get past the unique value part of this advice, the next bit of work is to figure out the kind of role and kind of organization where your unique value adds the most. In my case, there was a fantastic company that wanted to build some new products in a realm I knew well. I had context. I had deep experience building new products. I had deep experience building teams from scratch to create and launch new products. And I had experience building platforms – online hosted software. On top of that, I tell stories – before, during and after we build and launch new products. For this company, the fit made a lot of sense.

But it also means that if you want to know where you’ll add the most, you don’t just take the first thing that appears. You have to dig into multiple environments to figure out where you can add the most. I spent the summer before making that decision collaborating with three other companies. And in each, I was evaluating the “adds the most.”

It’s amazing how many companies don’t know how to leverage the people they hire to get the most out of them. This isn’t related to the companies I have worked for. It’s related to every company I’ve consulted with, advise, helped, counseled or been on their boards. In general, we put people in a slot and then walk away. And we learn, years later, that they could do so much more than we ever knew.

So the “adds the most” part also means finding a company that knows how to break out of their own initial conceptions and misconceptions. They have to know how to get the most out of people. You can’t teach them that.

But if you find it, you know you’re likely in a good spot.

Go There

The last part is the first part of the advice. Go there. What happens if they don’t come looking for you? You go to them. You make the pitch. Whether it’s a consulting gig, a volunteer gig, or applying for a role. It really doesn’t matter. If you’ve figured out that your unique value can add the most for that organization, part of your work is figuring out how to get involved there.

I will say this, companies prefer to hire non-strangers. So in almost every case, I’ve made the recommendation to the folks I’ve helped find positions: find ways to collaborate and work with them so that  you no longer are a stranger.

So today I leave you with this simple advice: Go where your unique value adds the most. If you’re not there right now, start connecting with others so you can get yourself there. It’s the best thing I’ve ever heard and maybe the best thing I’ve ever shared.