In the Words of Yoda: The Counter Intuitive Path Take, If You Wish, From Breakdown to Breakthrough Go You Will
The way is the problem you want. The problem is the way. To avoid the problem is to avoid the way. In other words, problems are not the problem. Believing problems are problems is the beginning of your problems. It is not chaos or problems that are problems. It is how you think about them. And it is how you think about yourself when faced with the problem that creates the biggest problem. Thus, going through the problem is the way to solve it.
Yet, for most, you don’t experience the problem. You experience what the problem means to you. If you believe the ability to not be able to solve a particular problem makes you look bad, you may avoid the problem to continue to look good. At that point, you are no longer focused on the problem you are focused on looking good or avoiding looking bad. Even if the solution were in front of you, you wouldn’t see it because your focus has been distracted by the desire to look good. To ensure you look good, you may only take on problems that you are certain you can solve. Either way it’s a self-perpetuating trap.
Since escaping the trap could be seen as a problem, you avoid the escape. That leads to a mindset of hopelessness. To hide the hopelessness, a strategy is created. 1. Invalidate ideas from others if it appears to be a problem filled with uncertainty. 2. Become a subject matter expert. That way you can constantly make incremental improvements in areas you are certain about. In your mind, you are a hero.
As you can see, the strategy to disguise the hopelessness is another step down the rabbit hole. The deeper you go the less likely you escape. And deep in the rabbit hole it is devoid of innovation and breakthroughs.
The path to breakthroughs is filled with uncertainty. On that path, the risk of looking bad is high. In fact, you may have to risk intense disagreement from others. Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, summarized the essence of the leadership and innovation challenge when he said, “Any time you do something big, that’s disruptive, there will be critics… We are willing to be misunderstood for long periods of time.” The fear of being misunderstood is an example of why people focus on certainty. Being misunderstood could make you look bad.
To be a disruptive leader and innovator, it is critical to have tolerance for so-called failure, uncertainty, making decisions with insufficient information and criticism. In some cases, those are the elements for breakdowns. Yet, it is the breakdown that tells you more about yourself than success.
During or after the breakdown is realized, many will pull the escape hatch and abort the initiative. The risk of criticism and looking bad can be unbearable, especially if you have come to depend on your reputation for being a smart problem solver. At the same time, breakdowns create a huge opportunity to uncover what’s missing, instead of what’s wrong. As you bridge the “what’s missing” gap, you become one step closer to a breakthrough. In addition, since the pursuit of a breakthrough is most likely uncharted territory, each time you discover one thing that’s missing it may come with great learning opportunities. In some cases, the journey can be more valuable than the destination.
Too often it is believed that you can do more, better or different of the same thing to reach a breakthrough. However, this is more likely the path to incremental growth. Because most businesses are great at incremental changes and do not produce breakthroughs, more, better and different has produced lots of improvement, not breakthroughs. For many, the path to breakthroughs is found in the dark, murky waters of uncertainty. In that place, breakdowns are common. In fact, the idea of intentionally pursuing uncertainty is a breakdown itself. It requires the pioneering spirit where expertise may be irrelevant because you may find your expertise is obsolete when bridging the gap in a breakdown. Nevertheless, it may be the opportunity to not only develop new expertise, you create knowledge for others to learn. “I have not failed. I found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison. Edison found and went through the problem and that was the way.