Marshall McLuhan: One of the First Idea Consultants


Idea Consultants Letterhead

This posting is influenced by a recent online article and accompanying video about idea entrepreneurs/ consultants, plus the fact that a Google search reveals there are thousands of such idea consultants working today:-

How Idea Entrepreneurs Can Beat the Market

What do Eckhart Tolle, Amy Chua, Cesar Millan and Barack Obama all have in common? According to John Butman, author of Breaking Out: How to Build Influence in a World of Competing Ideas, the spiritual teacher, theTiger Mother author, the “dog whisperer” and POTUS 44 are all idea entrepreneurs. What does that mean?

In today’s “Ideaplex,” or the “profusion of activities, channels, structures, and technologies for the creation, distribution and consumption of ideas,” Butman argues that ideas are flowing like never before. Moreover, the supply of ideas is exceeding demand, writes Butman, “to the point of a glut.”

And so it is harder than ever for bold new ideas to rise to the surface. So how do the best ideas win out? In the video below, Butman explains how idea entrepreneurs, rather than inventing products or starting and selling companies, are possessed with the desire to “influence current thinking and alter behavior with regard to their particular idea.” (See the video at ).


Marshall McLuhan started Idea Consultants in March, 1956 in partnership with several friends, for the development, processing and promotion of ideas. In this account by McLuhan’s biographer, Terrence Gordon, note how many of their ideas were eventually realized as actual products, without credit or benefit going to McLuhan’s company. In this as in other things, McLuhan was ahead of his time:-

“Very soon the little firm with big ideas, originating in house or developed on behalf of clients, was trying them out on financial backers, entrepreneurs, ad agencies, and corporations. There were ideas for products, for services, for promotions, for methods and techniques in a bewildering variety of fields: a colony for hay fever sufferers, illuminated panels for use on public transit flashing up the name of the next stop together with a sponsor’s name, television platters (videocassettes twenty years ahead of their time), a column of children’s sayings for newspaper publication, vocational guidance” (p. 169).

“They identified four types of invention – physical, social, method, and artistic. The first three types, at least, kept flowing from Idea Consultants: overhead garage doors activated by the weight of a vehicle passing over a release bar, aluminum soft drink containers, semi-liquid soap in toothpaste-style containers for travelers, temporary inner walls for sound-proofing, tape recordings for tourists, a transparent training potty to eliminate the lift-and-check problem, a motor-powered pencil-sharpener, a muffler attachment (hose) allowing exhaust fumes to be used for killing rodents in their burrows, lawn-mower headlights, airborne gift packages (promotional samples released by balloon), modular monsters (toys) in cereal and soap boxes, and “3-D fireplaces” – videocassettes of hearths, campfires, etc” (p. 171). – Gordon, W.T. (1997). Marshall McLuhan: Escape into Understanding. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing.

For more on McLuhan the idea consultant see .


Photo by Scott Boms

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