We live in a time of breakthroughs. Almost every day there is some new announcement about a technology that will forever change the way we communicate, process information, cure disease and live our lives. With all these technological breakthroughs going on around us, the idea of breakthrough has become a bit blasÃĩ. Yet when we think about our own lives, our careers and our own performance, many of us are looking for breakthroughs. We are looking for that edge that will let us achieve our goals and still be able to live a normal balanced life.

A breakthrough is more than an improvement, more than an evolutionary change. A breakthrough is a leap, a step-function gain in performance. In my own experience, breakthroughs are not random, but rather come out of a combination of high levels of committed action, focus and flexibility of thinking. The breakthroughs that I have been around came as a result of dedicated people relentlessly pursuing a goal and behaving as though nothing could get in the way of achieving it. When an obstacle did arise, they treated it like the next thing to handle, rather than as a problem.

People who are committed to breakthroughs expect breakdowns and even view them as milestones charting their path to success.

It’s been said that any breakthrough can be viewed as a series of well met breakdowns. People who are committed to breakthroughs expect breakdowns and even view them as milestones charting their path to success. Leaders who view breakthroughs in this way, see breakdowns as a signal of the need for rapid learning to occur. They know that creating a solution will require the best, most innovative thinking available inside or outside their team. People who are committed to the breakthrough will be willing to suspend their attachment to their own ideas and open their minds to new possibilities. The role of a leader in this process is to remind people that a breakdown can only happen against the background of the powerful commitment that they share to the breakthrough.

When people get stuck with their worries about what’s not working, they lose their ability to be creative and to play with new ideas. The leader’s job is to stand confidently for the breakthrough for as long as it takes the team to generate a solution. By maintaining a focus on the commitment, asking questions to promote real discovery, exploring avenues that would not ordinarily be considered, and remaining detached and yet fully engaged, the leader helps the team accelerate learning to resolve any breakdown.