Becoming Bi-Expressionary

I won’t say her name, but she was young, probably seventeen, a high-school student. She had come to the meeting of a school group, of which I am a member, with a proposal for a project. She was looking for a bit of funding from us. She had written up her proposal, no problem, but had somehow been unaware that she would have to make an oral presentation to the group — a dozen full-grown adults of various professions, none of whom she knew, all of whom were of some stature. She burst into a gush of tears. Couldn’t talk. A teacher introduced her, briefly summarized her proposal. There were questions. She got herself together. The tears cleared. She answered well. No stumbling.

I won’t say his name but he was, age-wise, in the middle somewhere, a hybrid entrepreneur-academic. He loved to talk to groups, large and small. Did it all the time, at the drop of a hat. Easy and charming. Then he got a contract to write a book. The blank page-screen-whiteboard stared at him. He could scribble notes in his Moleskine, no problem. He could construct bullets on a PowerPoint slide. But the book page? Made him seize up.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), a former minister, was known as a brilliant speaker. He was not fond of writing. He forced himself to edit his talks and he called them books. Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), Emerson’s contemporary, could not stop writing. Two million words or so in his journals alone. He thought public speaking was not only a waste of time, but a shameful activity. Had to force himself to do it.

Today, to advance an idea through the maze of activities that I call the ideaplex (from TED talks to books to viral videos), the idea entrepreneur gains great influence by being bi-expressionary (usually writing and talking) or even better, multi-expressionary (good with practices, too). Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind and Drive, is one of them, a readable writer and a good talker. So is Eckhart Tolle, the spiritual guru, author of The Power of Now. They have very different styles. Pink is a bit of a showman. Tolle is almost reticent.

The mistake that many of us make in this effort is to try to simply transplant the content of our strongest expression into our less-favorite one. This is rarely successful. Emerson’s books read like orations. You can still love him, but even those who do wrestle with his style. Thoreau thought of speeches as spoken books. He did not gain much influence as a speaker. Cesar Millan, the Dog Whisperer, is magnetic as a live presence, but his writing is obviously the work of a team.

With effort, people can become bi-expressionary. What they discover is that the practice of one expression, especially in the development of ideas, generally informs and improves the other. When I’m writing and get lost in the forest of words and circling thoughts, a good dose of talking can get me unstuck. When I’m speaking and find myself rambling into a paragraph with no end, I have to sit down and write for a while.

The audience needs at least two forms of expression to really begin to understand and apply an idea. They need the structure and control of writing, as well as its freedom and porosity. They also need the experience of listening — to hear the speaker animate the idea.

The idea entrepreneur has to be the actor and the playwright, the painter and the painting, the abstraction and the material.

Comments

Short-form content for becoming bi-expressionary

Maybe one way to get practice is to focus on short form content in the medium that is uncomfortable. Blogs or podcasts provide ubiquitous opportunities for short form content. In either case, the trick is to find a way for the written or oral blog to be dialogical, and thus to be a medium for what you refer to as "respiration" (e.g., feedback that grounds and potentially rises to the level of synergy). Dialogue has proven to be elusive in written blogs as we still seem to be in the 15-minutes-of-fame phase of that medium. Oral blogs such as podcasts also seem to be suffering from the propensity to lecture even ostensibly in the form of interviews(e.g., turn-taking in lecturing). Some "radio" shows really do seem to achieve conversation. Without mentioning any specific programs, there is ample evidence that dialogical radio can be popular. Internet radio (as opposed to terrestrial radio) provides almost as low a barrier to entry as the blogosphere. Perhaps people who are interested in respiration of their ideas should try talking with guests on an internet radio show and enjoy the self development that comes from it.

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About Idea Platforms

Idea Platforms, Inc. collaborates with individuals and organizations to develop and structure idea-driven content, create various forms of expression (including books and visual media), and help build self-reinforcing platforms that extend and enrich content across many channels and venues and over extended periods of time.

Highlighted Works

Overlay Books

The Resilience Dividend: Being Strong In a World Where Things Go Wrong

The Idea Platforms team collaborated with author Dr. Judith Rodin, president of The Rockefeller Foundation, to develop the proposal for this book on social resilience, place it with publisher PublicAffairs, conduct interviews and field research—in Colombia, Kenya, India, and the United States—draft and edit text, and help build and support a platform for Dr. Rodin and her ideas. The book is a "revealing examination of the anatomy of resilience" according to the Kirkus starred review. Endorsers include President Bill Clinton, Arianna Huffington, Michael Bloomberg. (PublicAffairs, 2014. 384 pages.)

Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire and the Internet of Things

IPI worked closely with author David Rose, serial entrepreneur and MIT Media Lab lecturer, to develop this book that presents an alternate vision of the future of technology, one of technology-infused but humanistic objects rather than more screens and apps. The New York Times writes of the book: "Delightful... In the scrum of talking heads wrestling to gain control of the narrative behind the Internet of Things, Mr. Rose is an engaging, plain-spoken guide." (Scribner, 2014. 320 pages.)

Trading Up: The New American Luxury

The IPI team partnered with co-authors Michael J. Silverstein and Neil Fiske of The Boston Consulting Group to create this definitive work on consumerism and support the book in multiple media. It won the Berry-AMA Book Prize for 2003 and was a BusinessWeek bestseller. David Brooks writes: "Trading Up is far more than a dissection of a single consumer trend. It is packed with insights on how shoppers think and behave. I found it incredibly smart and illuminating." (Portfolio/Penguin, 2003. 316 pages.)

John Butman, founder and principal of Idea Platforms, has been involved in the development of ideas and the creation of expressions with a wide range of partners and collaborators, including influential organizations and institutions such as The Boston Consulting Group, NASA, The National Park Service, and The Rockefeller Foundation; influential companies including American Express, IBM, and GE; educational institutions including Brandeis, Harvard, Tufts, and the University of Massachusetts; as well as rising individual stars including entrepreneur and technologist David Rose, psychiatrist John Sharp, and executive Vineet Nayar. John has worked closely with clients in Africa, China, Europe, India, and throughout the United States. He is the author of six books, including Breaking Out: How to Build Influence in a World of Competing Ideas (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013) and is a frequent speaker for clients including American Express, The Chautauqua Institute, Google, and many others. His work has been featured in major publications throughout the world, including The Atlantic, BigThink, The Boston Globe, BusinessWeek, Harvard Business Review, Financial Times, Hindustani Times, Huffington Post, The Independent, The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Time. His titles include bestsellers in The New York Times, BusinessWeek, and The Boston Globe. His media work has been featured or awarded honors at festivals and competitions around the world, including The American Film Festival, The Athens International Film Festival, and the Chicago International Film Festival. According to Jeanie Duck, formerly of The Boston Consulting Group and author of The Change Monster, John is a "dream come true as editor and collaborator."