The break-through paradox

The break-through paradox

I’ve spent a lot of time listening to great managers analyzing their mistakes. One of the patterns that emerged is what I like to call “breakthrough paradox”. I have heard many stories of failed efforts to solve this significant success factor; and I heard some success stories, too.

A simple definition of a breakthrough paradox is when goals are achieved DESPITE the fact that crucial things are not in place to accomplish them. It always brings MASSIVE change.

Reaching critical mass quickly without (and very often even with) outside financing is a breakthrough paradox for startups.

Building top performing management teams in emerging markets is a breakthrough paradox for investors.

In a lot of industries succession planning without using expats would still be a break-through paradox for multinationals – after more than 20 years of setting foot in new markets.

Creating the right new concept for an organization facing a “strategic inflection point” and then aligning the organization to it, is a breakthrough-paradox; think about the print publishers’ dilemma, or about Yahoo!, RIM and Nokia in technology.

Successful post M&A integration is a breakthrough paradox (there is no formula).

Obviously a breakthrough paradox is rarely solved and when it isn’t….there’s no breakthrough. Things continue the way they were and they eventually die off or sink (further) into mediocrity.

More and more managers are in a situation where a breakthrough paradox is expected of them! To achieve breakthrough paradox is a systemic challenge, so tons of things are necessary for success and the whole thing must be treated… as a whole!

Three basic factors must be given attention to:

1. Awareness. Sounds trivial, but it’s crucial. Everybody knows that “we have a problem”; this is not awareness. Awareness means that not only do we know that we must treat this situation OUTSIDE of the domain of normality (box, whatever), but we (or at the very least the top guys) actually step out of our reality; literally. Thinking, perceiving, interacting, etc. outside. Not only outside the normality of the organization of course, but outside of the “strategic environment” as well.

2. Orientation; towards transcendence. This is crucial. Outside the box could be under the box, next to the box or above the box. If the guys in the management team think below the box, chances are they have absolutely no awareness even of their own situation . If the team steps out and stays next to the box, they won’t be able to bring in any necessary (vertical) perspective. This is what happens in most cases, when they bring in best practices from other industries. Transcendence means leaving the box below.

Note: opposite to common belief being oriented towards “transcendence” does not automatically mean losing sight of reality! The overwhelming majority of the so called creative types who are responsible for this perception are merely running circles around the box. The crazier ones venture somewhat farther, but still: they’re on the same level, lacking VERTICAL perspective and thus they are lacking the right view and resulting thinking!

3. Thinking.

In the box and below the box the dominant thinking pattern is “opposites”: either or; we and them. Zero sum games. Thinking is highly mechanical and fear sets in as soon as the boundaries are reached. This thinking is incapable of transcendence and when it succumbs to fear, it starts focusing on smaller and smaller pieces and practically disintegrates the organization.

Outside the box on the same level (on the same horizontal plane) the thinking pattern is “analogies”: The way it works there, works here too. This thinking is much more flexible than and superior to the “opposites” thinking pattern and may achieve great results; however this thinking is still based on available facts and as such it rarely transcends the domain of analysis.

Thinking that is capable of rising above currently perceived reality (normality) maybe called “unifying”. The unifying thinking pattern is the foundation for synthesis, which is of course the foundation of any kind of integration in any setting. This thinking is not mechanical, it’s more than flexible; it’s powerful: it doesn’t confuse “combination” with creativity, but actually creates.

What happens when the 3 basics are in place: you’re aware of what you’re facing, you have the perspective and the appropriate thinking, maybe you even have the concept which will be the foundation of your strategy.

At this point you are crystal clear that you are alone and you must go against the current; you have an unwavering certainty that this MUST be done.

At this stage it’s advisable to look at your situation and make a decision:

– if you are in a position that allows you to do such massive change, go ahead and do it: you can’t not do it.

– if you are not in a position that allows you to do such massive change: put yourself in such a position; if it’s not possible in your current company find or buy another one and solve the breakthrough paradox!

What else are you gonna do?

Laszlo Kovari is a writer and the founder of Prakhsis, an organizational development company that has been a pioneer in the concept of organic organizations. As a "consigliere" he has worked with founders, managers, CEOs and board members at startups, mid-sized companies and some of the Fortune 500 across North America and Europe. Laszlo is based in Prague, Czech Republic, supporting clients across Europe.

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