Respiration: Bringing Your Idea to Life
When an idea entrepreneur goes public with an idea — through a book or blog, speaking engagements, a curriculum, video, advising, or other or all of those expressions — what you want to achieve is respiration: the idea starts to breathe and take on a life of its own. The opposite of respiration is, well, nothingness. And, as King Lear put it, "Nothing will come of nothing."
What does respiration look like and how can you, as an idea entrepreneur, help create it?
- People want to talk with other people about your idea . They want to chew it over, try it out, bounce it off others, articulate it for themselves. The best way to encourage people to do this is to create an exceptionally engaging expression of your idea. It is not enough to "put the idea out there" with a PowerPoint deck, a casual presentation at a meeting, or a hurried blog. You have to put mind, heart, and soul into the making of your chosen form so that it is the richest, most complete, and compelling articulation of your idea, the one that you want to people to associate with you for some time to come. An idea is only as fascinating as its expression, and people do not talk about expressions that do not hold their interest.
- People want to talk to you about your idea. I am sure that you have attended public talks and observed what happens after: people rush up to talk to the speaker or they rush out the back door. When people find an idea of value, and are interested by its expression, they want to know more about it from its originator. What did you mean when you said XX... Is it really true that YY... I don't agree with that thing you said about ZZ... Idea entrepreneurs who want to create respiration make opportunities for people to engage in conversation with them. If they make a speech, they stick around afterward rather than dashing for the airport. If they write a blog, they respond to comments. If they conduct a seminar, they build in time for questions and dialogue.
People create expressions about your expressions. When people begin to make reference to you and your idea in their own writing and speaking, in their curricula or business strategy, it is a sign that the idea is taking on a life of its own. As Butman says in his recent book, Breaking Out...One way to encourage this aspect of respiration is to offer a good deal of different kinds of material that can be effectively applied to many situations. In particular, you need to offer:
- Succinct and memorable phrases and terms that are distinct to your idea. For example: Freakonomics or the hedgehog principle or lean in.
- Focusing facts and illuminating data. For example: Mastery requires 10,000 hours of practice...
- Stories, anecdotes, and examples. For example: How Cesar Millan became inspired to work with dogs by watching Rin Tin Tin as a kid.
- Analysis and synthesis. What this all means is...
- People find current relevance in your idea. An idea respires when people begin to see its relevance to things that are happening around them every day. Suddenly, the idea seems to be everywhere and to connect with their lives in many ways. The idea entrepreneur helps people see the relevance by maintaining a current presence — incorporating new examples and material in their expressions, customizing their ideas for specific events and initiatives and programs, and showing how their idea applies to specific disciplines or situations.
- People want to put your idea to use. This is perhaps the most important aspect of respiration and the hardest one to accomplish. How many fascinating ideas have you heard that caused a change in how you do things? Answer: few. But to make an improvement in a system — to change the world in some way — requires a change in how people act and behave. The successful idea entrepreneur offers practices for people to follow. These can be rather general, such as Cesar Millan's approach to dog relationships (calm assertiveness) or they can be very specific, such as Amy Chua's advice for proper parenting, expressed in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, such as not allowing play dates for your kids and banning TV. Every idea entrepreneur offers practices as a "way in" to their idea.
- People want to link to a larger thinking journey. Acknowledge where you are original and where you are not. Do not try to own the idea. Link your new ideas to existing ones that people already know, understand, and accept. All idea entrepreneurs build on the work of others and their audiences will appreciate understanding how they arrived at their particular take on the subject.
Every idea entrepreneur, and every expression of an idea, gains respiration to a greater or lesser degree. Sometimes it's enough to influence a specific audience over a specific period of time about a specific issue — such as introducing your idea within your organization. Some idea entrepreneurs, like information designer Edward Tufte, have a powerful effect on a particular discipline. A very few idea entrepreneurs — from Gandhi to Jim Collins — have an effect on the way an entire society thinks and behaves.