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What is the Ideaplex?

I've been thinking for some time that the terms “traditional media” and “social media” are obsolete, since all methods of communication and idea distribution overlap and intertwine. Almost everything that originates offline is also online and almost everything that starts online can also be taken offline in some form or other. Even when you clump the social and traditional media together, you're still missing a lot of activities, channels, and content venues that are involved with the creation, distribution, and consumption of ideas.

I think of it all as the ideaplex.  (Plex is short for plexus, which means, according to the OED: “Any intertwined or interwoven mass; an intricate arrangement or collection of things; a network.”) The ideaplex is big business, lower and higher education, 24x7 entertainment, and one of America's most distinctive features. It is very easy, if you're not careful, to think of it as just about everything. The ideaplex comprises at least the following elements:

  • Twitterverse and blogosphere and YouTubeLandia. An unknowable volume of exchange. Impossible to keep up with or fathom. Probably 90% recycled or repurposed material, which is all part of the distribution game.
  • Eduinfotainment fests. TED, South by Southwest, Aspen Ideas Festival, the World Economic Forum (just completed) all contribute heavily to the swirl of forums, conferences, colloquia, talks. There’s an endless supply of these. Everybody wants to showcase themselves; the debate about them is frequently, “What practical purpose do they serve?” Do they have to serve a purpose?
  • Books. Print books, e-books, enhanced e-books, self-published books, unpublished books, Kindle singles. I have heard ranges of anywhere from 400,000-2,000,000 new published titles per year, and that's just in the US. This is why I get anxious whenever I step inside a bookstore. The volume is so crushing it builds the power of lists and bestsellers and book group selections. Sometimes I just wander into a bookstore looking for a book that no one has recommended to me, is not a staff pick, and that I have never heard of. I buy it based on the cover and the first paragraph.
  • Educational system. Colleges, universities, massive online open courses, continuing education, private instruction, seminars, retreats. You can learn about anything, anytime, anywhere from almost anyone. We all love learning. Our brains are overflowing with knowledge. Sometimes it's just a bunch of stuff, however, without much cohesion from idea to idea.
  • Professional idea cooker-uppers. Think tanks, design firms, research houses, consultancies, coaches, and gurus. We are getting heavily weighted toward the front end development of ideas and execution is taking a back seat. This could be a problem someday. Maybe today.
  • More-or-less traditional media such as magazines and newspapers, movies, television. There is still a lot of action in these content venues, even the most local of which contributes to the ideaplex. But a large percentage of talk shows and print and online media pick up on the work of a very small number of original content creators. Take away the New York Times and NPR and you'd hear a lot more silence.
  • Curators, analysts, synthesizers, pundits, commentariat. Arising as a result of the ideaplex, and fervently contributing to it, are the columnists, provocateurs, filters, and recommenders who weigh in on, validate, and discredit the ideas flowing through the ideaplex. Some have large platforms, some do not, but everybody's a commentator.

It all adds up to a wild, rich flow of real ideas; new-sounding ideas that are actually old; old ideas with new twists; ersatz ideas; ideas about ideas. No other country has an ideaplex like the one we have in the United States, with all its madness and blessing.

What else do you think belongs in the ideaplex?


what else belongs in the ideaplex

Going out on a limb here. On going through the comprehensive breakdown of the ideaplex [and your comment that there is 'still missing a lot of activities, channels, and content venues that are involved with the creation, distribution, and consumption of ideas], it struck me that people-to-people conversations were not included. I mean, direct word-of-mouth and the usual grapevine. I was thinking more along the lines of what he said/she said. After all, the most basic unit of social media would be two people exchanging views on some subject or the other. They would then go back home or the marketplace and spread the word, so to speak. Just Saying.

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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."