Seeking and Seeing Breakthrough Moments
Hate surprises? Plan on staying the same.
Surprises propel into the future or drive into the past.
Problem is, surprise signals uncertainty. Organizations hate uncertainty. Extraordinary leaders realize surprise is a catalyst not an enemy. Reject surprises to your own peril.
Surprise energizes innovation.
I asked the “expert on surprise,” Soren Kaplan, “If you could start over, knowing what you know today, what would you do.”
- Embrace uncertainty rather than fight it.
- Use the natural paradoxes of life as a source of creativity.
- Seek out surprises to challenge assumptions.
- Never settle for incrementalism but rather always go for the breakthrough.”
Soren’s response helps me understand why organizations like Cisco, Colgate, Disney, Medtronic, and Visa consult with him.
Incrementalism or breakthrough:
I think breakthroughs are often the result of a series of incremental advances. But Soren said, “Never settle for incrementalism.” I called him to explore.
Soren doesn’t reject the power of incremental advances. He imagines, however, a life of maximum impact. He dreams of making a big difference, of breaking through.
Seek breakthroughs. Don’t wait for them to find you.
You may see breakthroughs coming. It’s more likely they’ll surprise you. One morning you’ll shield your eyes from their awkward glare.
Whether you see breakthroughs coming or they surprise you, seek them.
- Embrace uncertainty.
- Use paradoxes.
- Seek surprises.
- Never settle for incrementalism.
Sadly, breakthrough moments are missed because you don’t seek them or you don’t see them when they arrive.
Breakthroughs happen when:
- Frustration outweighs satisfaction.
- Someone believes in you more than you believe in yourself.
- Fresh eyes observe stale attitudes.
- Someone courageously names the elephant in the room.
- New faces cross your path.
Listen in: Soren talking with me about surprise.
Soren’s book: Leapfrogging. (A favorite of mine)
Soren on Leadership Freak:
How can leaders see breakthrough moments?
How can leaders seek breakthrough moments?
I think you see it the same way you seek it – you ask for it.
Ask for it! 🙂 Thanks Todd
I agree with Todd’s answer, basically. We see and seek breakthroughs in the same way. We open our minds and hearts to embrace uncertainties and let something besides our own voices and egos fill some of that space.
Thanks Martina. I think the challenge is letting something besides our own voice fill the space… I think the way I think because it’s the right way to think.. 🙂
If things are entirely clear all the time, it’s time to get your eyes checked!
Not sure I see incremental progress in contrast with breakthroughs as an either/or proposition. I see them as synergistic. There is high ROI on establishing a continuous learning culture where the norm is to keep improving, even if it is one small thing every day or even every interaction. Often, it seems, breakthroughs occur because of that gradual build up (aka tipping points). There are a number of arenas where crawl then walk then run are the models for improvement, both in nature and in organizations.
Definitely agree with the components for breakthroughs, especially the fresh eyes…how to maintain that perspective is a worthy challenge.
Thank you Doc. Love the opening sentence. I’m heading to the optometrist. Just to be sure I’m not missing something.
We’re on the same page when it comes to incremental. It’s just when I read Soren’s response that said, reject incrementalism… it took me by surprise. Soren’s book clearly advances the idea and power of small forward steps. But, even while taking small steps, keep seeking something “big,” a break through.
Ok, I’m off to clean my glasses and take a new look.
It seems, with perfect 20/20 hindsight, that while we are in the midst of the progressive incrementals, that we may not be aware that we are taking great strides, perhaps even leaps that, with historical perspective, are those breakthroughs. I see the incrementals as the foundations for breakthroughs.
I think that “stepping back from the wagon” to take a look-see is an important skill that helps one to not stay in the rut. And I think that incrementalism is a good tool for rewarding a culture of “continuous continuous improvement.”
If people do not have some base of success at implementing change, then new ideas are often totally rejected for all kinds of reasons, basically around the perceived risk of trying to do something new or messing with the way things work now, which are more than often okay with most people.
Having that Great Big Brand New Idea ain’t all that great when you find yourself swimming upstream with bears at every waterfall and hurdle. But if people are less uncomfortable with new ideas, that is beneficial.
“Embrace uncertainty” and “seek out surprises” are great concepts but only if the person receiving them is not already a pile of mush because they have been pounded on for years.
See my little animation on “Godzilla Meets Bambi” for some perspective on innovation and improvement as organizational realities. http://www.performancemanagementcompany.com/Godzilla_Meets_Bambi_s/66.htm
Thanks for bringing your passion to this conversation. In the “real” world breakthroughs are rare because people got beat down for trying… at least that’s what I hear you saying. Sad but true.
BTW, love the animation.