Sometimes, an idea can change a community or the world. But when it comes to optimally transmitting that idea from one’s mind to a larger audience, a person can get stymied, and simply let the idea go.
At 3 p.m. Saturday in the Hall of Philosophy, John Butman will discuss that idea trajectory from concept to fruition. Author of Breaking Out: How to Build Influence in a World of Competing Ideas, the transmission vehicle he prefers is the non-fiction book.
“People think that the book-writing process is over,” Butman said.
“A real book offers something that you don’t get anywhere else,” he said. “The book is still seen as the medium of greatest authority. The length and rigor of a book forces you, the author, to think more deeply about a topic than do other mediums. Movies and television are more narrative driven and suited to telling stories. You don’t get the depth of a book.”
Butman is founder of and principal at Idea Platforms, an idea and content development firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He and his team assist “idea entrepreneurs” through each stage of the journey from idea development to the marketing and promotion of a book.
According to Butman, idea entrepreneurs are individuals who, driven by a deeply felt idea, seek to use it to influence what other people think and how other people behave in order to propel change or improvement in the entrepreneur’s field or sphere of expertise.
Many idea-driven content experts have engaged with Butman in a thought partnership.
“They’re around people and colleagues who understand their ideas,” he said. “When they go public they encounter people who have a different understanding.”
For authors, Butman’s hands-on approach is steadying.
“I have noticed a lot of fear,” he said. “It is a daunting thing to write a book, go public, and have everyone shooting at it or talking about it. The core idea is expressed very differently in a book versus a talk versus a video.”
According to Butman, there is a common misperception that, if the process of going public with an idea is correctly engineered, the entrepreneur will be successful. As long as the tweets are right and individual appears on “The Colbert Report,” change will occur.
Yet “everyone knows how difficult it is to change people’s thinking and that it’s even harder to change people’s behavior and actions,” Butman said. “People think it’s easier now than it used to be, but it’s just as hard as it was and maybe even harder to take an idea and make change.”
Butman’s test, he said, is to take an idea and see if he changes because of it.
“So I am always affected by the people I work with,” he said.
Within the United States, Butman said, there is a huge idea industry that is not found in any other country. This “ideaplex” in part comprises TED, Twitter, NPR, YouTube, online learning and idea festivals and forums.
“My argument is that it’s a wonderful thing, but it also affects how we think about ideas,” he said.
Butman added that people often overestimate how original their ideas are.
“Most times they aren’t new ideas but new expressions, details or areas,” he said.
While Butman typically deals with people working on the world stage, he said his methods apply to idea entrepreneurs at all levels, and he hopes that they can also be helpful to people on a personal level.
Breaking Out is Butman’s vehicle for guiding idea entrepreneurs who are unable to work directly with him.
“People can have more success taking ideas out there and more effect evaluating ideas and thinking about them,” he said. “Where an idea sits and what it’s adding to the world is important.”
Butman urged people who are considering taking an idea public to “think of how your own personal narrative intertwines with the idea. People don’t respond much to abstract ideas. Tie in important moments of your life or important moments of revelation, when an idea was revealed to you. Everyone can do this. It doesn’t take much. ‘Here’s why I care about this and how I came up with the idea.’ ”
Butman also recommended that idea entrepreneurs find applications for their idea.
“Say, ‘Here’s what this means for you’ [the audience], or model the idea,” he said.
One’s personal narrative is not sufficient.
“You’ve got to have data that links to your idea,” he said. “People don’t accumulate enough material. There needs to be a preponderance of evidence, a lot of references and stories. Data and metrics bring in different thinking styles.”
Not just any data will do, cautioned Butman.
“You really want to look into it,” he said. “Metrics get recycled and repurposed.”
Butman said he would like people to think about how they engage with ideas.
“We’ve become really focused on data to the point of metric madness,” he said. “Data can be confusing. How is it measured? Just because a study shows something doesn’t mean it shows much. While there are a lot of people with great motives, the ideaplex is filled with people who are stealing or recycling ideas. Just because someone has an idea, doesn’t mean it’s true. You really want to look into people’s motives.”
Ultimately, Butman is a proponent of self-reliance.
“When it comes to your own ideas, you can’t take from anyone else and you have to be skeptical,” he said.