The title I originally formulated for this review was this: "How and why `the entrepreneur who speaks for us, rather than at us, is the one who achieves perpetual, wide exposure, longevity, and influence.'" Too many words. So I selected John Butman's explanation of his purpose, in the first chapter, and then a brief explanation of what he examines in his book: "The essential elements that go into forming an idea. What is needed to take an idea public. How ideas and idea entrepreneurs fare in the ideaplex [a term he coined]. How and why ideas break out from others. How they influence thinking and affect behavior. How ideas and their creators fit into larger societal thinking streams." That's a lot of ground to cover, isn't it? Frankly, I was astonished to find that Butman covers all of it and a great deal more. Also, remarkably, this book is as entertaining as it is informative and frequently thought-provoking as well. I regretted reaching its conclusion even as I began to shift my attention to this review and then to the next break out in my own life. Meanwhile, first things first.
As Butman carefully explains, he set out to determine by what process have the most successful "cultural players" or "idea entrepreneurs" achieved their goals, whatever they may have been? More specifically, how did they make effective use of various strategies and tactics to leverage their influence, persuasion, and personal example? He studied dozens of them. "Their tools? Themselves. The stuff of their lives. Their expressions and actions.. They would write, speak, engage in conversations and - very important - [begin italics] show how their ideas could be put to practical use. [end italics] They were prepared to devote their energoiies to these methods, center their lifework around their idea, and even create an enterprise to carry on the work after their active period had come to an end."
I was especially interested in what Butman has to say about these "idea entrepeneurs," listed in alpha order: Benjamin Franklin, Mireille Guiliano, Cesar Millan, Blake Mycoskie, Roger Nierenberg, Hannah Salwer, Martha Stewart, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Henry David Thoreau, Eckart Tolle, and Edward Tufte. If many (if not most) of these names are unfamiliar, read this book because Butman will introduce them to you and explain why each is, in unique and substantial ways, a "cultural player" of major significance. Here's a value-added benefit for many readers: Getting to know them and others featured in the book will enable them to learn something about themselves that they did not know before.
These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to indicate the scope of Butman's coverage.
o Genesis of an Idea (Pages 5-10)
o Henry David Thoreau: Model for Idea Generation (10-15)
o The Thinking Journey (18-20)
o Necessary Ingredients for Audience Engagement (48-52)
o Starting at the Top (65-69)
o Effective Talking (84-92)
o Convergence - in Time and in Content -- with Zeitgeist (115-120)
o Effective Listening (124-131)
o Structures for Enterprise Building (138-143)
o Truth Firmness (181-184)
o Mythologizing (189-198)
o Ideas about Ideas (199203)
o Feedback: The Test of Effect (206-212)
o About the Collaboration That Produced This Book (219-220)
When concluding his brilliant book, Butman observes: "Who knows where this idea, or any idea for that matter, might lead - what feelings it might hand on to others, what minds it might plant itself into, what infecting it might do, how it might influence thinking and behavior, what change it could bring, what difference it might make, what good it could do for the world?"
There is much to learned from the information, insights, and suggestions provided in this book about the process by which an idea proceeds from birth ("genesis") to eventual entry into what John Butman characterizes as an immensely competitive "ideaplex." After that, who knows? But there is another point to be made, offered by Howard Aiken in response to concern about idea theft: "Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats."
on May 12, 2013
Wait, there's a process by which one can purposefully spread transformative ideas? Turns out there is, and John Butman & Co. have unearthed it in a lucid and fluent book that somehow connects vivid stories of dogs, toilets, baguettes, and cabins in the woods. John's field is idea entrepreneurship, making this an IE book about IEs by an IE. And his prose is as light and strong as a spider's filament. Enjoy.
on May 21, 2013
Breaking Out is absolutely, without question, a must-read for those who hope to leave a deep and lasting impact on this world. The biggest challenge any idea entrepreneur faces is figuring out how to be heard above the din. Breaking Out offers a simple, clean, compelling framework for understanding how that very mysterious, seemingly impossible process unfolds. The framework is clear, the narrative is fun, and I've found myself carrying this book around with me everywhere.
on August 10, 2013
Butman's book is essentially another how-to book. The difference is, and it IS a huge difference, Butman strives to teach others to deliver the optimal how-to's. As much as this sounds like a critique, it actually is a sincere compliment. So many of us actually do have a message, bottled deep inside us. A message that, if somehow can be crystallized, properly defined, passionately lived out, and then unleashed (or broken out), can really make a difference, or dare I reiterate, Change The World. In this sense, Breaking Out is timely. No more the bottleneck of the production and processing of ideas into meaningful human-race-benefiting product lies in limitations in ideas dissemination, cross-pollination, or delivery. The contemporary bottleneck now is the effectiveness of the ideator (what Butman calls the idea entrepreneur). In attempting to relieve this bottleneck, Breaking Out has done its share of changing the world.
Brief recap of the content:
- start by discovering the one life-defining idea that truly fascinates you, clear definition after struggling and soul-searching is key here
- continue accumulating articles, ideas, frameworks, lists around this fascination. This process can, and typically does, take years, most commonly decades
- live the idea, even if it means acting the act of Leaving (career, comfortable life pattern. geography, social structure, etc.), in the process weaving a strong personal narrative interwoven into your idea/fascination, giving it legitimacy and weight
- attempt to give life to it, i.e. make it respirate (I think animate is the more descriptive term here), through various means involving an audience (direct, indirect, hidden, secret). This among other things is achieved through two penultimate activities: writing (both short and long), and speaking
- a practical discussion on how to enact all the above
on July 28, 2013
I knew this was a special book, and John Butman a gifted writer, when I found myself enjoying his "Notes on Methodology" section as much as I enjoy reading most books. John has that wonderful ability to contextualize and explain ideas that first appear just beyond the reach of common understanding. It takes tremendous talent for an author to bring a reader along for a journey and to leave him or her with a new way of thinking at the end of the line. John succeeded in achieving this feat while allowing his keen sense of observation and sly humor reveal itself throughout the strong arguments for his ideas. Well written, well conceived and well produced. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to push the boundaries of how they think and create - even just a little bit - as a useful guide and accelerant to help them along.
on July 25, 2013
This book was recommended to me by a consultant helping me out with some work on this book's subject. Breaking Out may be read on a couple of different levels. You may find it a bit light on practical tools and 'how to's.' I expected it to be more full of tools and tips. It is full of interesting examples and some insights that if thought about deeply may elicit an inner journey to fully understand what you are about. I consider this book instrumental in helping move past a road block I had in identifying and crafting my message. When I took a deep dive into the information and books I have collected and curated over the years there were some strong themes. This book has some great little case studies of some thought leaders and those alone make this a very useful book for a person seeking to build influence around an idea. If you read it, don't miss the 'cross checks' and 'watch outs' that were part of the case studies.
on September 17, 2013
I read this book when it first came out and have been thinking about it ever since. With all the garbage out there supposing to teach you how to "Become a thought leader!" or "Influence people!" I found this text utterly refreshing.
Butman takes the reader on a pragmatic but interesting journey through history, exploring the strengths and weaknesses of some of the world's greatest communicators and "Idea Entrepreneurs," as he wonderfully characterizes them. In a departure from the inauthentic, icky feeling a book about gaining influence and "going public" with a big idea might have given me, I loved that Butman emphasizes the most important, overarching goal the world's greatest thought leaders have had in common: a yearning to truly help people and to change the world.
The book is brimming with interesting anecdotes that keep it moving, and the ideas espoused are incredibly original, genuine and well considered. This is a book I would certainly recommend to anyone, have given as a gift already, and will absolutely re-read again as my career progresses and my best ideas become more concrete.
In the near term, it's provided me with a useful lens through which to view the idea of making my own mark on the world, as well as an excellent litmus test for vetting the flood of ideas rushing at me through the social web every day. Now, when someone DMs me on Twitter or emails me a "great idea" from TED or some other website, I immediately know what to look for to determine the idea's quality and its ability to stand the test of time. For that alone, and much more, I'm grateful to the author. If you want to understand how great ideas are created and shared, or if you simply want to be better at recognizing them when they fall in your lap, buy this book.
on July 5, 2013
As a published author I wasn't sure if I would get new insights from this book. But I'm very glad I read it, because I learned much more from it than I ever would have expected. John has a very personal writing style and you feel almost as if he is talking directly to you, like a personal coach. I have just enough experience with the publishing and promotion process to recognize real genius and insight when I see it. So if you want to skip the school of hard knocks and get down to the real practical business of not just writing a book but creating a true platform for spreading your ideas far and wide, this is the first book I would recommend.
on October 22, 2013
With all of the ideas competing for our attention and commitment, why do some gain huge followings while other fade away? John Butman makes some brilliant suggestions. His answers may push idea entrepreneurs in uncomfortable directions. Telling stories may not be our first impulse. We may not have thought of Cesar Millan as a role model. But his book is full of excellent examples and careful arguments. He has thought it through. Excellent work.
on June 23, 2013
I wasn't totally sure what to expect from Breaking Out. It is not intuitively obvious to me that the fickle nature of what current culture appreciates (what is in or out of favor/popular/celebrity) can be reduced to a regimented, replicable formula, which is what I thought the title suggested. What I found was that is NOT what this work is about. Breaking Out was a delightful surprise-- not so much a formula for "how to do it", but a series of thoughtful and insightful chapters (essays, or meditations even) on creative thought leaders: "those who do it", "why they do it", and "what to expect if YOU do it"!
As an author, I found this work speaking directly to me, offering wise counsel on creative methodology, and the obverse: what I might emotionally anticipate as feedback and how to think about it. I love John Butman's descriptive vocabulary which richly describes some of my personal motivation-- "trying to hand on to others certain feelings that I have lived through--not that I have observed, but that I have scar tissue from". His observations on writing a book as a "sacred expression", and how ideas "create respiration" are elevating, creative, and thought provoking.
To me, this is a highly original and important work which every thought leader would get great value from reading.