The first thing John Butman, an idea developer, does in his new book Breaking Out is introduce us to the concept of the “idea entrepreneur.” These innovators are not so different from the Edisons of the world; they just happen to tinker with ideas instead of inventions, and have a deep conviction that those ideas deserve and must gain attention. The first step in doing so is to create fascination. “To break out … the idea entrepreneur must find the fascination, connect it with a fundamental human issue, find ways to express it, and be willing to reveal it,” insists Butman. The value of an intriguing personal narrative cannot be over-estimated.
The best way to ensure long-lasting influence is to spread your message—“An idea is not really an idea until it is expressed,” asserts Butman—through multiple mediums. The drive to bring an idea public is three-fold, Butman says: a healthy ego, the fantasy of instant and wide-reaching instant success, and a desire to do good and help others. But, only one of those drivers is a sustainable influence:
The idea entrepreneurs who remain on the stage the longest usually keep their ego in check, get over the fantasy (or never fall pretty to it), and come to the realization that the desire to do good for others will bring them the greatest influence in the long run.
Butman’s examples of these entrenched folks include Zig Ziglar and Cesar Millan.
My favorite section of the book is titled “Respiration.” It dispels that myth that the idea that spreads does so because of the popularity of the static idea. Instead, a valuable idea doesn’t stop evolving after the creator gives it life, but grows as it goes.
By respiration, I mean that the idea starts to breathe and take on a life of its own. A simple way to think about respiration: it’s when other people start creating their own expressions about your expressions. They talk about the idea. They write about it. They incorporate it or make reference to it in their own books, speeches, blogs, articles, and videos.
Respiration is the sum total of expressions about the idea.
Reaching a wide audience and establishing a solid platform to support future iterations is the idea entrepreneur’s responsibility, and Butman sees it as a worthy goal.
Today, the impulse to start movements, make a difference, and create change in the world may have become a far stronger and relevant interpretation of the American dream than the one that has held sway for so long.
Thus, he spends the last third of the book discussing what he calls “The Thinking Journey,” which reflects on the value of passing and planting ideas.
Breaking Out is populated by a surprising crowd of creatives—from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Eckhart Tolle, Ben Franklin to Blake Mycoskie (TOMS shoes), Mohandas Gandhi to Barack Obama–that reflects Butman’s belief that idea entrepreneurs “seek to influence the thinking of others, not repress it or dismiss it. They want change, not power.” There is no doubt that you will learn from Butman, and these inimitable “idea entrepreneurs,” no matter what your message and medium.