Most experts in science or business give great explanations for how breakthroughs are created. However, like Monday morning quarterbacks, they give explanations after the fact. The biggest problem with an explanation is that it gives people no access to producing breakthroughs. It’s a description of the dish, but not a recipe.
Breakthroughs come from nothing and they change the future and our behavior forever. Before the typewriter there was nothing. Before the computer there was nothing. In hindsight, it is easy to explain the transition from nothing to typewriter to computer. However, no one saw it ahead of time. We had to go through the progression. And not everyone thought of it. Why not?
The business of possibility is messy. Inventing from nothing requires you think through a tremendous amount of uncertainty. At the same time, if you can get your mind to think nothing, everything is possible. While that may sound Pollyanna, I don’t mean it that way.
Every manager needs to do this exercise periodically. Take a step back and consider that coming from nothingness is a more efficient path to a breakthrough than attempting to build on top of what already exists. The goal of the exercise is to be with nothing. For most people, this is nearly impossible. Why? Because you will be stuck with a borage of thoughts like, why do I have to do this? This is boring. What am I getting out of this? What now? What do I want to eat? Etc. You may even have visual pictures in your head.
And maybe the toughest question: Why is this exercise important? Because, when you can be with nothing, you let go of presuppositions. What presuppositions did Sony have about MP3 players? Most people miss the opportunity to invent breakthroughs because they have already predetermined what is possible or impossible. Most importantly, people already know their own limitations without ever experiencing the situation. How many times have you heard someone say: I was not meant to be a manager. Once you make this declaration, you spend the rest of your time looking for evidence to support what you already know. Why? No one wants to be wrong. Everyone believes they are smart, especially when it comes to understanding themselves.
When you can get to nothing, you let go of predetermined beliefs. You let go of the beliefs that you were given to be true. From there, you can start to ask yourself important questions like, what do I stand for? Or, if I were identified as my commitment, who would I be seen as?
In this exercise, you would have to develop a new philosophy: nothing is more valuable than something. Changing that mindset alone can lead you to a new paradigm and the possibility of a breakthrough.