Finding your niche

Finding a niche is a common advice for young professionals and new start-up companies alike.  How do you become the world expert in something?  Easy – Just make sure that “something” is so specific that few people in the world knows anything about it.

But maybe the phrase “finding your niche” is a misnomer – maybe the ideal niche career doesn’t sit in the heart of a trigger-laden cave waiting for the clever paleontologist with a famously clingy hat to discover it.

Innovation guru and Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen applies his life’s work on how innovative startups defeat business giants by finding a niche market (described in Innovator’s Dilemma).  Most successful companies switched “jobs” over its career.  Mini-mills in the steel industry were not revolutionarily powerful innovations; the initial concept was to make it cheaper to make scrap metal – the throw-away market in steel operation.  But through hard work and willingness to adapt, mini-mills finally began to enter the lucrative sheet steel market.

Netflix began with the bottom of the market, holding customers only in areas that had no Blockbuster stores; today Netflix’s popularity is not so much in the initial niche concept of mail order DVDs as much as in its ability to move to the internet with the rest of the world.  Apple is best known today by its mobile devices, but as recent as 10 years ago it made money mostly on personal computers.

People are similar to businesses in one respect – our careers will take frequent turns before they settle.

For people and businesses alike, there are few truly brilliant niches in which to grab and ride into the sunset.  Instead, success is a good idea that take on additional features and become its own niche overtime.

A career is not found; it is built.  So may be it doesn’t matter too much where we start.  The key is keeping an eye on the road and be willing to make a few corners – even if a few of them are U-turns.

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Howard Chen
Vice Chair for Artificial Intelligence at Cleveland Clinic Diagnostics Institute
Howard is passionate about making diagnostic tests more accurate, expedient, and affordable through disciplined implementation of advanced technology. He previously served as Chief Informatics Officer for Imaging, where he led teams deploying and unifying radiology applications and AI in a multi-state, multi-hospital environment. Blog opinions are his own and in no way reflect those of the employer.

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