Share this post:

Business innovator Nilofer Merchant has worked for major Fortune 500 companies like Apple AAPL -0.79% and Autodesk ADSK-US +% as well as early Web startups such as Golive, later acquired by Adobe. She is a lecturer on innovation-oriented topics at Stanford University and her alma mater, Santa Clara University. An acknowledged expert on collaboration, Merchant was also recognized by Thinkers50 as one of the world’s leading management thinkers.

Nilofer Merchant

Keynoting at the Nordic Business Forum in 2015 (Photo courtesy Nilofer Merchant)

Merchant started small, as most of us do, as an administrative assistant, gradually advancing to become a CEO. She identifies three major pivots in her career, requiring the sorts of reinvention that are ‘more true than not for most of us,’ and explains that with each she initially felt that her most successful years were behind her, a perhaps common fear that need not prove true, and has not for her. Even though it’s never obvious that nascent career paths will work out, Merchant provides the insight that chasing a new dream is the source of its own success, that “it is in the doing, you become.”

She is the author of 2 and a half books: The New How, a must-read on the subject of collaboration; 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era, named a Best Business Book of 2012 by Fast Company; and will publish her next book Onlyness (Penguin Press) in 2017.

You might think that by the third time, writing a book would be easier –  so did Merchant. However, she explains that the effort requires a good deal of patience and perseverance—determination not to give up. The goal isn’t just to write another book, but to do her best work to date. She is exploring her novel, and even groundbreaking, idea of ‘”Onlyness:”  namely, that we all occupy a unique niche that can’t be filled by any other, and that everyone needs to have the opportunity to count . She examines how power is shifting in ways that help individuals in under-seen groups (women, people over 40, people of color, etc.) merge into the mainstream and become valued members of society.

Merchant gives credit for some of her accomplishment to a cadre of valuable mentors; consequently she offers suggestions for qualities that all of us can look for in potential mentors, and develop in ourselves to extend a helping hand to those who are coming up behind us. First, a good mentor is someone who not only challenges your ideas, but can outline a rethinking of those ideas ; second, someone who understands your personal ‘why’ and can remind you of it in those moments when the clarity of your vision is dim; and third, a good questioner, because new questions require new answers. A good mentor is curious enough about your message to genuinely probe it, even for weaknesses.

Work isn’t the only slice of her life that is subject to disruption; Nilofer’s not averse to significant upheaval in her personal life as well, as her recent uprooting of household and family to fulfill a long held dream of living in Paris attests.

It’s a pleasure to have a courtside seat at the unfolding adventure that is Nilofer Merchant’s career.


This post originally published at Forbes

Share this post: