The Origin of Breakthroughs PT. 2

Read the first part here – The Origin of Breakthroughs pt.1

Psychological Origins

In a similar vein, looking to psychology and other self-development fields can help challenge the way that businesses look for and expect breakthroughs to happen in their company.

On an individual level, therapists, teachers, and motivational coaches say that breakthroughs come as revelatory moments after a client overcomes a block or challenge that has been holding them back for quite some time. Typically one experiences a struggle or degree of resistance before fully releasing an old belief system or pattern of behavior. They internally try to figure out where they are, analyze what they know, and examine patterns that have kept them doing the same things over and over. Moments right before a break through might sounds like “Why can’t I get over my ex?” “Why am I always in debt?” “What am I doing with my career and why do I feel stuck?”

As humans, we naturally hold on to the situations, people or identities we are used to. However, a coach once told me, “what you resist the most is also the source of your greatest power potential.” Whatever it is that you resist looking at or seems to have the greatest barriers with — be it your finances, your health, or a relationship — is also the place where a breakthrough could be waiting.

Despite the terror experienced while on the brink of a breakthrough, it always leads to tremendous growth. Many spiritual teachings, such as the yogic and Buddhist traditions, say that dark can only surface and transform by shining the light on it. We cannot transform the old or the worn-out by ignoring it or suppressing it; rather, we need to be curious about what’s currently happening or has happened in the past, and ask how might things be different. Most personal breakthroughs occur after exploring, questioning, and finding opportunity within the dark unknown. Once it happens and that light bulb goes on, there is no going back. It changes the course of everything that follows. 

What It Takes

We bear witness to so many different types of breakthrough in our lifetime: the personal, professional and societal. Many times we come to new realizations about ourselves, just as we hear of new advances in technology, medicine, or science. Important to note is that while these breakthroughs seem to happen quite suddenly in a magic moment of discovery, the eureka is actually the result of much time and effort spent working through the obstacles and barriers. Just as the original military context suggests, it takes a degree of pressure to finally make a line snap.

What does this mean for business in an age of innovation obsession?

First, it takes time to get to a breakthrough. The expectations of a new hire to regularly achieve breakthroughs might lead to disappointment. To get to that revelatory point can take hours of effort and trial and error. Similarly, it takes a team. We cannot expect any single person to do it on their own. People working together over time and building on each other’s work will eventually create the pressure that paves the way for something new.

Second, it takes curiosity, openness to risk, and a willingness to keep trying. Dedication and commitment to constantly asking “where are we now, and how might it be different?” is key. In business, too often we take the safe route. We get into habits based on old ways of doing things because they are comfortable. But to really make a difference and to tip over that breaking point, we need to be okay with going into some pretty hairy, messy stuff. We need to routinely explore in the unknown and in uncomfortable areas to come to those moments of discovery — because ultimately, what lies on the other side is well worth the journey.

This article is part of The Breakthrough Issue collection…

the author

Courtney Lawrence

Courtney Lawrence is insight manager, Whitespace, at lululemon athletica.