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Book Review: Breaking Out
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Book Review: Breaking Out by John Butman

Breaking Out: How to Influence in a World of Competing Ideas

Written by: John Butman
Reviewed by: Beth Dettmer

Breaking Out

How does the idea entrepreneur go public, break out, and achieve influence? How can we, too? Breaking Out opens with an explanation of the model and concepts to "break out" and do "something that seems simple, but is difficult: they humanize and animate their idea" (pg. 10).

Many idea entrepreneurs were interviewed by Butman and his team, including but not restricted to Mireille Guiliano, international speaker and author of French Women Don't Get Fat [2004]; Dr. Andrew Weill, a proponent of self-healing who founded an organization with components of not-for-profit and for-profit; and Blake Mycoskie, founder of TOMS Shoes, a for-profit company created primarily to achieve a public good. The book also draws on research for of other applicable leadership stories. One such idea entrepreneur, Thoreau, is an easily understood example of how the themes of personal fascination and experimentation may span generations, as achieved by Thoreau's book Walden[2013]. Every idea entrepreneur must have a "sacred expression" which could be a book or other format, such as a one-day course in the visual display of complex information. In Thoreau's time, ideas could break out through the educational system and lecture circuits. Now, "the ideaplex" has led to a glut in ideas in part because it encompasses both social and traditional media (pg. 2). The remainder of the book provides more detail on how to differentiate ideas.

The body of this book describes the efforts of the idea entrepreneur - fascination, expression, respiration, and enterprise. Fascination enables the idea entrepreneur to connect with other people. Throughout the book Butman uses interesting stories about people to explain concepts and make them memorabe. Cesar Millan, the "dog whisperer" was "the dirty dog kid" as a child, representing fascination (pg. 13). Millan described his fascination as follows. "Some people call it fate. Some people call it instinct. You can't eat, you're getting nervous, anxious. It's almost like a vision" (pg. 24).

Expression is the process by which an idea is more fully formulated and delivered to others. Butman considers many aspects to going public - why, where to start, getting pulled in, starting from a base of nothing, books, talking, emblems, and timing. A key criterion for going public is when the idea entrepreneur has sufficient knowledge and material, s/he is ready to step out. A second criterion cited by Butman is the lure of the ideaplex. Finally, a third criterion is the desire to "do good and help others" (pg. 60). One of the leadership examples provided is Mireille Guilano, who was motivated by helping others and eventually wrote her ideas into a book. She was formerly the leader of a large company, Veuve Clicquot, and she eventually decided she could not simultaneously lead the company, be an attentive spouse, and be a globe-trotting author.

Next, respiration means that the idea starts to breathe and take on a life of its own. Other people talk about the idea, write about it, and reference it. The idea is refined, detailed, and applied. An example is Kiran Bedi, one of the leading voices in India and the world on an approach to the management of prisons, prisoners, and rehabilitation. When Bedi became the inspector general of one of the largest prisons in the world, she directly modeled her practice of collaborative correction in a singing prayer with the prisoners. She spoke to many audiences with this sacred expression. Of course, the idea entrepreneur must maintain a current presence. Bedi continues to publish a numer of books, lectures, and interviews (such as for those for Breaking Out).

The idea-driven enterprise may simply support and leverage the idea, may be more complex, and may last beyond one's lifetime. The enterprise seems to be what most distinguishes twenty-first-century ideas from others. For instance, Tim Ferriss was named by a reader poll in 2008 ["Tim Ferris Takes's Self Promotion Prize"] as the greatest self-promoter of all time. Ferriss and others may combine books with speaking egagements, reatreats, training, television, merchandise, etc. Some people hire others to expand into more venues, such as Ferriss and Millan. Others do not do much more than their internal beliefs and personal energies allow, such as Guiliano, who uses only some part-time help and says "no" to all merchandising opportunities.

Butman concludes the book wth the thinking journey. It is the development of the idea over time. For example, Cesar Millan directly quoted Gandhi as an inspiration for his meta concerns about how we handle our dog population. Butman contends that to varying degrees, idea entrepreneurs embrace truth in the firmness to speak calmly and powerfully, to help others understand, and to plant an idea to be acted upon. The thinking journey is traced back many years to Thoreau, who looked back to earlier influencers and then forward to influential leaders such as Tolstoy, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. The other key element of the thinking journey is hard work. When these two elements are combined, the narrative of the idea entrepreneur may approach the status of a myth. Thus, people examine the idea entrepreneur to see if the leader is "walking the talk."

Butman includes many examples in this interesting book, such as Thoreau, whose house in the woods was only a mile from town. In the end, Thoreau passes the test for most of us as an idea entrepreneur by being fascinated spending years of time in those woods, for expressing his reflections in a book, and for seeing how the ideas took on a life of their own. The idea entrepreneur cannot know where s/he will fit in the thinking journey, what the lasting sentence will be, or what the effect will be on society as a whole. Many continue to generate ideas based on the responses they receive in their own time. This book is not a step-by-step "how-to," but rather an interesting tome on leadership as the storytelling demonstrates how "breaking out" has occurred in the past.


Guiliano, Mireille (2004). French Women Don't Get Fat. New York: Vintage Books.

Thoreau, Henry David (2013). Walden. London: Imperial Press.

Tweney, Dylan (2008). "Tim Ferris Takes's Self Promotion Prize". Retrieved from

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