Review: Breaking Out – How to Build Influence in a World of Competing Ideas by John Butman

breaking outThis review first ran in the Sept. 11 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

Breaking Out: How to Build Influence in a World of Competing Ideas

By John Butman

Harvard Business Review Press


So here’s an idea.

Move the children’s museum into the heart of downtown Hamilton and supersize it.

Give kids a place to call their own that rivals the best and biggest in North America.

Make Hamilton home to the Canuck version of the National Museum of Play in Rochester or the children’s museum in Indianapolis.

Build the museum with corporate goodwill and taxpayer dollars. Sustain it with patrons, members and foundations. And run it as a nonprofit with community leaders on the board.

Create a one-of-a-kind space that amazes and inspires children to explore, discover, imagine and create.

Offer up a technology showcase, a celebration of the arts and a learning lab for students, educators and researchers.

Become a destination for hundreds of thousands of families from near and far who stay the weekend and spend money in our hotels, restaurants and shops.

Make it a hotspot for birthday parties, field trips, outreach programs, summer camps and special events for the young and young at heart.

And use the museum as living proof that Hamilton’s truly the best place to raise a child.

For inspiration, check out Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk. Or watch his video clip again if you’re among the folks who’ve already seen it nearly 18 million times. Robinson’s big ideas – that we must stop educating creativity out of our kids and that the arts matter as much as math and science – will strike a chord and plant a seed.

Robinson fits author John Butman’s definition of an idea entrepreneur – someone who’s passionate about a big idea and highly skilled and savvy at spreading the gospel.

Big ideas are everywhere. From tweets to TED Talks, blogs, best sellers and conferences, there’s never been more ways to get the word out to more people.  And therein lies a big problem. The supply of ideas has outpaced demand, says Butman.

What’s more, it’s not enough to have a big idea. It takes real skill to humanize and animate an idea for mass consumption.

“It’s difficult to develop an idea and harder to express it well,” says Butman, who helps build idea platforms for leaders from the private, public and nonprofit sectors.

“It’s tough to get people simply to hear you your idea, and harder still to enable them to understand it in ways that come close to your intended meaning. To cause others to incorporate your idea into their thinking stream? Challenging. To change their behavior, even in small ways? Daunting. To make a difference? Start a movement? Change the world? Hard. Harder. Hardest.”

Butman’s mapped out a process for how idea entrepreneurs go public, break out and achieve influence.

Above all else, you must be fascinated with your idea. You need to believe it to your core. If you’re just in it for the money, you won’t last long in what Butman calls the ideaplex. He says fascination is “the source of your energy, the driver that keeps you going over a long period of time, the wellspring that you dip into over and over again.”

You must express your idea in the fullest, most powerful and compelling way possible, says Butman. That expression can come through books, blogs, op-eds, lecture circuits and myriad other ways to connect with an audience. “Going public is the time when you decide to make a serious, deliberate move to take the idea to a new level. Rather than think about it as an interest or a sideline, the furtherance of the idea will become your primary effort – all other activities will be secondary.” Butman says this focus is why so many idea entrepreneurs are quick to thank and give credit to their patient and forgiving families.

Your idea will only break out with respiration. You need your idea to start breathing and take on a life of its own. You want other people responding, reacting and referencing your idea. “Respiration is the process by which people take an idea on board, consider it, and make it their own. It is the route to influence.”

But be prepared for the critics and cynics. Not everyone will love your idea. Respiration can be positive and negative, cautions Butman. “All too often, the fulminations of the undifferentiated, largely unknowable and certainly uncontrollable crowd, whose members express themselves primarily on the web, can be surprising, off-putting and even disturbing.”

Butman shows how to break out your ideas and build influence by retracing the steps of idea entrepreneurs like French lifestyle guru Mireille Guiliano, TOMS founder Blake Mycoskie, dog psychologist Cesar Millan and teenager Hannah Salwen who dreamed up with the Power of Half project.

“Even when there are far too many ideas swirling around us…there are never enough really good ones, especially really good ones that have the good fortune to be associate with a person who is willing to break out – of her accustomed track, of the conventional way of thinking, of established structures – to bring the idea forward for our considerations, for our discussion, perhaps for our embrace, and even, we can hope, for the benefit of us personally and of the society we share.”

Published by

Jay Robb

I've reviewed more than 500 business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999 and worked in public relations since 1993.

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