Season 1: Episode 10

Onlyness, Openness, and Originality: a Conversation with Nilofer Merchant

This week I had the opportunity to chat with prolific walker, thinker, writer, TED talker, and provocateur Nilofer Merchant, the “Jane Bond of innovation.” Nilofer spoke with me from Paris, where she has taken herself out of circulation in order to sink deeply into the idea of onlyness.


Whether you know her from TED talks, her books, or her columns in Forbes and BusinessWeek, you know that Nilofer isn’t just an author and a speaker – she’s a visionary. Named the “#1 person most likely to influence the future of management,” she is neither shy nor pretentious, especially not when it comes to discussing her radically inclusive philosophy. Simply put, she believes that every single person counts, and has the capacity and inclination to create value: not everyone with a degree, not everyone in her field, but everyone, full stop. This belief shapes the core articulation of onlyness.

What makes you so special? What are you bringing to the party? Nilofer coined the term of onlyness as a way to describe how value creation happens today. By her own definition, it is the polar opposite of being a cog in the machine. Sometimes, we as individuals can be blind to our onlyness: Nilofer compares it to a red light over your head, shining outwards. While you see the red light of your onlyness everywhere you go, others only see the red when you enter the room. Your onlyness might not always be well received – the people in that room may be colorblind, or they may hate the color red – but their reaction cannot devalue your contribution. Diversity and disorder are very good friends when it comes to building innovation and strategy.

Join me as I discover how Nilofer has cultivated her ability to see around corners. Be on the lookout for Nilofer’s next book, tentatively set to release in spring of 2017.

Image credits: Main post and featured image – Cooper Bates. B&W avatar – Christophe Buskiewicz

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