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.”

Book review: How Leaders Speak: Essential Rules for Engaging and Inspiring Others

How Leaders Speak: Essential Rules for Engaging and Inspiring Others

By Jim Gray

Dundurn Press


In this age of rapidly shrinking attention spans and constant distractions, how do you get an audience to sit through your speech and pay attention from start to finish?

Do you treat them like children and tell them to put away their Blackberries and iPhones?

Do you treat them like idiots and remind them to set their phones to vibrate and mute their Lady Gaga and Hockey Night in Canada ringtones?

Do you single out and publicly humiliate the first person you catch texting while you’re talking?

Good luck with that.

At best, your audience will ignore you.

At worst, they’ll turn against you. And there’s nothing like staring out at a sea of angry faces who would love nothing more than for you to stumble and screw up your speech and make a fool of yourself at the lectern.

So here’s a better idea for getting an audience to pay attention.

Don’t be boring.

Work hard to earn and hold your audience’s undivided attention. Have something to say and know how to say it. Make it all about them.

To prove the point, go to It’s website that archives lectures and presentations from the annual Technology, Entertainment, Design conferences. These conferences are the World Cup, Stanley Cup, World Series and Superbowl of public speaking.

Do a keyword search on creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson. Watch both of Robinson’s talks on the need to revolutionize education. Each speech runs about 16 minutes.

Odds are, you’ll temporarily lose your Crackberry addiction. You won’t steal a look at your email and won’t feel compelled to fire off a quick message while Robinson’s videos are playing. Instead, you’ll give Robinson your full and undivided attention. The stories he tells will connect at an emotional level.  You might even choke up. Maybe you’ll watch the videos again and you’ll definitely tell friends, family and coworkers to check them out. And Robinson’s key messages will stay with you.

Consider this your crash course in how to stand and deliver. Make these videos your benchmark and your gold standard for public speaking. Be like Sir Ken and your audience will love you for it. You’ll have us at hello.

“The ability to speak convincingly to others – to compel them – has to rank as one of the most important skills in business and life,” says Toronto-based author and communication skills coach Jim Gray.

“It’s the mark of a true leader. For many who aspire to leadership, it’s the one proficiency they lack. For many who occupy positions of leadership, it’s the one missing element that prevents them from fully realizing all that they can be.”

The good news is that you too can find that element. According to Gray, there are five keys to speaking like a leader.

Preparation. “Skilled presenters spend a great deal of time thinking about who their listeners are, what those listeners know and what they need to know in order to respond positively to the message being delivered.” Find that key insight or nugget of information that makes you a speaker with the answers.

Certainty. Realize that you have about 90 seconds to forge a connection and bond with your audience. “Maximize the odds that they’ll like and respect you. Start by speaking slowly.” It’s a surefire way to ease what Gray calls the ambient tension in the room, as the audience worries that you’ll tank and they’ll be subjected to seemingly endless minutes of awkward and painful discourse.

Passion. All great speakers have it. They speak it and the audience feels it. “You can have the best presentation ever crafted, but if you don’t have passion, you have nothing,” says Gray.

Engagement. Connect with your audience. Make your speech all about them. In any speech, “you” is the magic word. And if you want to really engage your audience, master the art of eye contact. 

And commitment. Start communicating with excellence in every situation, whether you’re in front of an audience of one or 100.  And become an expert at communicating across generations so you can connect with Boomers, Gen Xers and Millennials who all see the world in slightly different ways.

Above all, avoid the cardinal sin of overspeaking. When you run over your allotted time, Gray says you’re telling the audience that you’re more important than them, so they should just sit back and listen to the genius that is you.  And it’s usually lousy speakers who overstay their welcome, clueless and insensitive to their disconnected audience.

“Overspeaking drains time, reputations and an audience’s patience,”says Gray. Avoid it at all costs.

And if you don’t think you can get your big idea across in under 16 minutes, watch Sir Ken Robinson again and give Gray’s book a thorough read.  You’ll speak and we’ll follow.

Jay Robb works and lives in Hamilton and blogs at