John Butman runs the firm Idea Platforms, based in Cambridge Massachusetts. He is the author of the new book, Breaking Out: How to Build Influence in a World of Competing Ideas.
John Butman: The book is called Breaking Out, How to Build Influence in a World of Competing Ideas, and it is about a phenomenon that I call the idea entrepreneur. And this is a new cultural player on the scene different from a standard entrepreneur. This is a person, individual, usually a content expert, sometimes kind of a maverick or a heterodox thinker, who has a deeply felt idea that they want to take out into the world. And the goal is not to gain some positional power or to gain great wealth, but they want to influence how people think and they want to affect how people behave and they want to make some kind of change or improvement in the world. It can be quite small in their organization, it can be in a community, it could be in the society at large, it can be within a discipline.
So they act usually in the beginning on their own. And their tools are themselves and their personal narratives, their gifts of expression and their ability to bring people into the idea with them. Sometimes if they’re very successful and they’re very persistent, they can go on for many years and build enterprises around themselves. The enterprises are not meant to be sold or to, again, gather great wealth, but to continue the idea often even beyond their lifespan.
I have studied various kinds of idea entrepreneurs all around the world in different professions and different disciplines. The important thing is that the really successful ones connect their ideas to other ideas. So no idea is totally original, most of us have ideas that add to existing ideas that bring a bit of originality that have our own take on things. And the really good ones link into great ideas that have come before. So rather than trying to own the idea or claim that it’s original to them, they say, yeah, I am following in the great tradition of this idea, but I’m adding this original piece.
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It’s not about materialism; it’s about doing good for others. But it’s also about fully realizing yourself.