Where Do Breakthroughs Come From?

Have you ever created a cutting-edge, breakthrough, no-one-ever-thought-of-this-before idea and brought it to fruition? No? Well neither have I. But I keep trying. I read a lot of books and articles to 1. Stay Informed, and 2. Get fresh ideas. These concepts help me, help others by broadening my experience and knowledge. You never know what will inspire someone or trigger their breakthrough.

In my line of work I get to see the occasional “aha” moment when someone connects the dots and creates an idea they can run with. I find there are two effective approaches to generating these moments. The first is the traditional “take a vacation and then start anew.” Clear your brain, relax, then inject some outside the box thinking – and voila! Ok, this doesn’t work for that many folks, but it does generate the occasional initiative.

The second and I think more effective method is to alternate fresh ideas and thinking time in medium-sized doses. At business conferences with an agenda of speakers I can absorb a bunch of concepts, maybe connect a few, then talk with others and see what they got out of it. I read a business book and take notes. When I go back to my thinking mode (during a boring speaker or chapter) is when I start to see the lightbulbs go off. Now, when I do get some real downtime I have my inspiration. Often the idea will lose its freshness – which is what you want to happen if it’s not that great of one. Other times, the idea still makes sense and my downtime will evolve and refine it further. These ideas are the keepers.

How you come by fresh ideas is a matter of taste. I know what I experience and observe. When I teach a seminar, it’s generally not the targeted attendee that gets the most out of the session. It’s usually the executive in the back of the room who’s only there because he or she wants to set an example. They are not so much paying attention as letting the words pull their thoughts into new areas. These thoughts become the epiphanies that evolve into great ideas.

So, get some fresh input and start processing.

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