Three things are needed, if you want to make an intellectual contribution in any field. That may sound daunting, and like an aspiration for the few, but it's really not.
In anything we do, new ideas can be useful. In fact, the right new idea can create a breakthrough. If your job involves working with your mind as well as with your feet or hands, or any other body part, making a real intellectual contribution to the enterprise you're engaged in will help any others who work with you, and, as a side effect, will help you to shine.
In my first life as a philosopher, in a university setting, my areas of expertise were the philosophy of religion and philosophical theology. In all my work, three things mattered greatly to me. I like to think of them together as The Golden Triad for Intellectual Contribution in any field. They are:
It's hard to make a real contribution in any domain of life or work unless you understand well what's already going on. You've got to know your stuff, and not just vaguely, or generally, but with precision. Sloppy thinking abounds, and it's up to you and me to do something about it. Precision is every bit as important as it is rare, and there's no better place to start in solving any problem, or assessing any opportunity, than grasping it precisely.
The Crowd tends to learn what's done, so they can go and do likewise. The Few master what's done so they can go and do better. But that means innovation.
I think that creativity is tied up at the core of the meaning of life. I have a whole chapter on that idea ("Business and the Meaning of Life") in my 1997 book, If Aristotle Ran General Motors: The New Soul of Business. We're not here to be just replicators and copyists in every way. We exist to be creators. When you understand your field, or a problem you face, with precision, that positions you to be innovative as well. And you should never settle for anything less. Innovation is what sets people and businesses apart.
But a lot of people who understand the need for precision and innovation go on to complicate things needlessly. That's a common problem for, especially, anyone who is new to a field. It's even found among old hands who have never risen to the level of top mastery in what they do. They think that to be precise, they have to be complicated. And when they're innovative, their creative solutions can sometimes be convoluted and complex beyond belief.
Simplicity is not only a sign of mastery, it's a powerful tool, and, as science has come to understand, a mark of deep truth.
Some people purchase simplicity at the sacrifice of precision, or innovation. That's extremely common in the area of practical philosophy I work in now, seeking for new insight on life and work, and on such issues as success. There are a lot of writers and speakers completely sacrificing any real precision of thought in order to be catchy, clever and memorable. Other people pursue innovation or precision at the cost of simplicity. Even in my most complex contributions to academic philosophy, I always sought for a beauty of simplicity in the ideas and their expression.
With these three qualities, or ideals, you can make an intellectual contribution to anything you're doing that will be helpful and memorable. Indeed, why settle for less?