Ep 108: Insights vs. Breakthroughs
It is important for leaders who are developing other leaders to differentiate insights from breakthroughs. As a leader, you help and guide others to gain insight of their own and trigger breakthroughs in their journey. You have the opportunity to walk beside them during the process and get lit through shared breakdown moments. Adam Quiney sheds some light on the differences between insights and breakthroughs, and the essential part of breakdowns in the process of this conversation.
Listen to the Episode Here:
Insights Vs. Breakthroughs
This is the show where I start with some wacky commentary and then we talk about leadership. We don’t just talk about leadership. We have conversations that create leadership. That is the difference between this and most of the other conversations about leadership that is happening. We’re going to talk about insights versus breakthroughs and it’s important that we distinguish insights from breakthroughs. Failing to do so, as leaders developing other leaders, we’ll find ourselves in our own lives and working with those people that we develop addicted to insight. We’ll become junkies for insight, but we’ll rarely move the needle of our and their leadership forward.
We’re going to talk about the difference between insight and breakthroughs. We’re going to talk about breakdowns and why they’re an essential part of your process. Maybe we’ll talk about why you’re going to argue with me about that. We’re going to talk about what you do with this now that you know this fact. We have three terms that I’m going to define here and these are important. I’ll spend some time on this. I’m going to talk about insight. I’m going to talk about a breakdown. I’m going to talk about a breakthrough.
First, let’s talk about insight. Insight is what we create in coaching and sometimes a leadership conversation. It’s the ability to see outside of the box that we were in. If you think of a fish in an ocean, it’s the ability to see the water for the first time, “There’s water. I’m swimming in it.” We get the ability not only to see the water but there’s something available beyond that. We see outside of the box that we’re in and this often gives us the ability to see that all of the efforts we’ve been making to solve this problem are recreating the problem in the first place.
Another example would be if you’ve got a tree that you’ve been cutting down and it’s the fifteenth tree you’re cutting down and you’re like, “I’m trying to walk forward and I keep having to cut trees down.” I’ve got some solutions, one is I got an axe sharpener and I need to do some bicep curls so I get stronger arms and I need to improve my axe swing. You can do all of this, which is great until we lift you and create the insight that you’re walking through a forest. At that point, you might say, “All of the solutions I was creating are going to worsen the problem. I’m going to go deeper into the forest. Maybe there’s a different system I need to take on. Maybe there’s something different entirely.”
Insights feel powerful when they happen. It’s like, “Everything will be different now that I can see the truth.” At this point, insight is merely that. It’s insight. It’s awareness. Seeing things through a new lens does make available a possibility that was not there before, but you still have to go in and practice and the rest of the world around you has not had that same insight. Even worse, the world that you have created around yourself, the world you have surrounded yourself with is going to be a function of your old beliefs and the actions you’ve taken from those old beliefs. You’ve created a world around you. You’re surrounded by an environment that is colluding with your old beliefs and working to hold you there.
Insight alone will not defeat the world around you. This is why people will go get a new insight at a Tony Robbins event or something and be like, “Everything’s going to be different.” You then notice, perhaps with a smirk on your face, that things do not become different. They’re excited and maybe their language changes and it becomes a little more esoteric, weird, or wobbly, but the actual circumstances of their lives tend to stay the same. They’re layering insight on top of things being the same. Insight alone will not defeat the world around you. It’ll support you in shifting things, but what comes next is what creates the breakthrough and that is your action. You have to act on insight for it to make any difference.
If I realize that the entire conversation I’ve been in about being stupid or brilliant, imagine that I’ve got this conversation I’ve been in in my life, “I’m stupid. I don’t want to be stupid. I hope I’m brilliant.” Imagine that I realized that the whole conversation is a waste of time and it’s something I’ve made up. I don’t have to be doing that. That’s amazing. If I then go to a cocktail party and I run into someone smart and I feel dumb. I distinguish, like, “This is all made up. Great, it’s a story.” I keep responding to that person the same way I always have by pretending I’m not smart or going out of my way to make sure that it’s clear that I’m smart or whatever, then nothing’s changed except now I’m thinking more. Maybe my brain is smoking a little bit more. I haven’t created anything different. I’ve created an insight, some awareness. It’s only when we start to act in alignment with our insights that we begin to move towards our breakthrough, which leads us to our second definition, the breakdown.
The breakdown is the thing that you’re afraid of. It’s the thing in the way of your breakthrough. Most people, ourselves included, you and I, tend to try to avoid the breakdown rather than going for the breakthrough. Another way you could put this is that the breakdown is the reason you aren’t creating what you say you want to be creating. If I have an insight that I’ve made up a story about being dumb, the breakdown is what happens when I start practicing and willing to trust that none of that conversation matters and I don’t need to put attention to it.
Maybe I go to that same party and I talk to that person who’s incredibly smart and I start sharing my opinion. That person, because he’s a bit of a dick, tells me, “That’s a dumb opinion.” He might not be that blunt, but let’s work with the bluntness. That’s the breakdown, that moment. It might be more subtle. He might disagree with what I say or curl his face or do something casual and be like, “I don’t agree with that, but that’s cool.” Whatever it is, that is the breakdown. I am being confronted by the thing that the whole contraption that I’ve been operating from up to this point has been designed to avoid.
If I want to live free of worrying about being brilliant or dumb, I’m going to have to be willing to let people tell me I’m dumb at times. As long as you’re trying to prevent people from telling you that, you’re a victim of it. I also have to be willing to let people tell me I’m brilliant at times and all the other things that they’ll say to me. A breakdown feels crappy. We all know that if we want to build a mansion, we have to knock down the walls of our condo. The breakdown is the point where you’ve knocked down the walls of your condo but you haven’t yet built the mansion. You’re cold, you’re uncomfortable, and you’re pretty sure that this mansion idea was an insane idea.
The breakdown is where most people quit and most people turn back towards what is safe and known. This is the point where you’re out there in the cold and it starts to rain and you realize, “This mansion is crazy. I’m going to put those walls back up for that condo because at least then, even though it wasn’t as much space as I wanted, I didn’t suffer hypothermia, I wasn’t cold, I didn’t feel crappy. Adam, you’re stupid for making me think I should do this.” The breakdown is the point where you or your people will quit working with you or on your projects. This is what happens at New Year’s resolutions.
Instead of creating breakthroughs, most people spend their energy trying to fix their breakdowns. If they’re worried about being seen as dumb, they try to create a breakthrough. They call it a breakthrough. It’s like, “I’m seen as brilliant all the time.” That’s the story I’m going to tell myself, which is more of the same conversation. It’s a fix for this fear, this breakdown, “I might be seen as dumb.” Now I can go armored with this fact. If that person says something and their opinion lands on me like I’m a bit dumb, I’ve got a solution. I’ll yell loudly in my head that I’m as brilliant as the rest of them. You’re still managing the same stuff. You haven’t created any freedom. You’ve created a strategy on top of the walls of that condo.
Here’s the bad news, your job as a coach and a leader is to model creating breakthroughs by being willing to step into the breakdowns and then supporting other people to do the same thing. You can avoid these. The breakdown is the milestone along the way and you have to be willing to go through it and not pull away from it, not life hack or strategize around it. It’s because of that, we get to our third definition, which is the breakthrough.
The breakthrough is what we’re all here for. We think we’re here for the results that come on the other side of the breakthrough, but it’s the breakthrough itself that completely shifts the game we’re playing. Consequently, the results tend to follow that shift. The way we define a breakthrough is fundamentally gaining access to a new way of being that was not possible before. Notice that it’s a way of being, not a particular result or action I can now do. It’s the way I show up in the world. From that way of being, a whole host of new actions are going to become available but our intention is on the way of being that you’ve gained access to.
In the example about me being worried about being seen as dumb or brilliant, the breakthrough I might be trying to create is connection. The ability to have connection regardless of how smart, dumb, old, young or whatever person shows up with me. You’ll notice that anytime I’m around someone smart in this story I’m constructing, the connection goes out the window because I got to put all my energy into strategizing how I don’t occur as dumb. Whenever I’m in a conversation with myself about being seen as smart or dumb or whatever, I lose connection with the person I’m talking to.
To be clear, you get to define the breakthrough you’re playing for. Being afraid of looking dumb is only an issue if it’s in the way of something you want. It’s important that we pause here and get clear that your job is not to identify the breakdowns you’re avoiding and then lean into them. Your job is to distinguish the breakthroughs you want to create and then lean into those accepting and being with everything that requires, including the breakdown. At this point, people usually find themselves at a place where they go, “I got to see where I’m avoiding the breakdowns and I’ll go and create those.” It’s like if I told you, “If you want to drive your Lamborghini at top speed across a farmer’s field to get to that place over there, you’re going to need to be willing to drive it through mud puddles.” What the person does is go, “Got it,” and then goes and looks for mud puddles to drive through. You’re creating a breakdown but you’re missing the point because your attention needs to be on the breakthrough. Where are you trying to get to?
In this example, we’re talking about the breakthrough and connection and the thing in the way is I get caught up. I get worried about the breakdown, “What about if they think I’m dumb?” When I practice connecting with someone and letting go of being worried about how I’m perceived intellectually, I might at first get comments like, “What a dumb opinion.” That’s possible inside the game of connection. It’s okay for people to tell me I’m dumb if my focus is on connecting. If I’m willing to keep going for the breakthrough, over time, I stop worrying about that story. Instead, I realized that my intellect stops having any bearing on how connected I am with someone. I can be connected with them regardless of how dumb or brilliant I occur.
From that breakthrough, what tends to happen is that this fear of looking dumb or whatever falls away. It stops me from having to manage something that wasn’t an issue anyhow. This is the irony of our fear. Our fear only matters if it stops us from doing something. It’s effective at that. Fear’s chief purpose is to stop us from doing something. By shifting our attention to the breakthrough rather than the breakdown we’re afraid of happening, we have a new place to aim towards. All there is to do is to be willing to let that fear show up, to be willing to face whatever we have to face to create the breakthrough. That is a breakthrough. For the rest of my life, I will not get over that breakthrough. The connection will now always be available. Whereas before, it was only available provided there was no risk of being smart, or dumb, or whatever that is.
Why is this all a challenge? Why is this even a conversation? Why don’t we naturally do this? As humans, we’re risk-averse. Consequently, we’re trained to avoid breakdowns. We don’t like breakdowns. They feel icky. Imagine there’s a pot of gold on the other side of a brick wall. You know you want the pot of gold. You’re clear on it. Rather than put your focus on the pot of gold, you put all your attention on your fear about slipping as you climb the wall and hurting yourself. Your life becomes about protecting yourself from hurting yourself when you slip off a wall. Eventually, you lose sight of the pot of gold. Your whole life becomes about, “How do I make sure I don’t slip and fall off of a wall while I’m climbing?” Consequently, you end up building a life that not only ensures you prevent slipping and falling from brick walls but also, ironically, requires you to keep finding brick walls to protect yourself from falling off. It all works and it all doesn’t work at all.
When we don’t have these parts distinguished, new insight can become the game of the day, that becomes the thing to aim towards. Insight is sexy and fun because it gives you the sense of having created a shift without having to expose yourself to any of the risks that would be created when you act. It’s also sexy because creating insight, when supported by someone or by yourself, will give you the impression that you’re doing deep work without having to take on the steps to take the scary action and move your life forward. It’s sexy both for you as a person in your life before but it’s also sexy for the coach and leader because the coach and leader get to be like, “I’m creating this insight. My client is blown away I’m doing good work.” The coach doesn’t have to stand for that person to take a scary step. The client that directs the whatever doesn’t have to take the scary step themselves. We’ve got something seductive for both sides of the equation. Anytime we have something that’s going to be sexy for both sides of the equation, we need to be especially on guard. It’s seductive. It’s sticky in leadership and coaching.
Lastly, the whole notion of a breakthrough can be a little tricky. You’ll notice that it’s not about the results or the world around you changing. It’s access to a new way of being. As soon as we say something, the moment I utter the words access to a new way of being, it gives people this tremendous place to hide out. How do you measure a way of being? You can convince yourself that you’ve created a breakthrough because you feel differently. A new way of being makes new actions possible and not only does it make them possible, but they also happen. You act from a new way of being and create new results and take new actions, whereas feelings are feelings.
The real question becomes, what would you be doing that would be different from current circumstances if you were to create this new way of being? Using the above example, I might ask myself, “If I already was in a connection, putting myself in that mindset, I’ve already created the breakthrough, then what would I be doing differently in these situations with these people? If my focus was solely on connecting with them, what would happen differently? How would I be showing up differently aside from my mere feelings at the moment?”
Once you’re clear on that, the path of the breakthrough is usually through the action that you saw yourself taking. If I didn’t have to worry about any of this and if my whole conversation was about connecting and I ended up feeling stupid, I’d share, “I feel a little dumb at this moment.” That would be the most connected thing to say. Take that on. They’re going to know I feel dumb but who cares? The breakthrough is in connection. That’s shifting away from avoiding the breakdown or being afraid of it to creating a breakthrough.
What is there for you to practice coming out of this conversation? The first step to doing anything is simply to have these concepts distinguished. Be in the practice of distinguishing your insight from your breakthroughs. Almost without fail, anytime I take on a new client or start working with a leader, they’re going to confuse insights with breakthroughs. They’re going to tell me, “I’ve had a lot of breakthroughs this week.” Almost certainly they haven’t. It’s not that my people aren’t awesome. It’s not that I don’t do profound work. It’s that we don’t create bunches of breakthroughs. We create a lot of insight and a breakthrough usually takes time. You can create it in an instant but we tend to be resistant. Further, your people have a vested interest in convincing you that they’ve created a leadership breakthrough because it’s going to make you feel good and it’s going to make them feel good.
When you’re working with people or yourself, check in with both yourself and them. Is this mere insight? Has there been a breakdown? Have they stepped through the eye of the needle to create the breakthrough on the other side? What was the breakdown? How come they magically created it and why five? You want to distinguish these concepts for yourself and anyone you’re working with and then use that to check in with them. The second thing you can do is notice yourself and your staff to see where and how and who is especially seduced by insight. Be on the lookout to see what is the breakthrough available for them. What is the path they’re aiming towards? What tangible results would be a function of having created that breakthrough? If you can start to distinguish these things and be a little bit on guard for them, you’re armed with some forewarning, some forbearance, some knowledge.
Keep that in mind. Insights are different from breakthroughs and breakthroughs are preceded by breakdowns aimed towards the breakthrough. If you read this and think, “I’m having all these breakthroughs and it’s all thanks to Adam. Thank you.” You’re probably not. That segues beautifully into the place to go if you want to create breakthroughs, that is The Forge. I don’t know how many spots we’ll have, probably less than three. It’s been filling up quickly. It’s a nine-month program and we cause leadership through the conversations we have and you learn how to cause leadership through the conversations you have.
We guarantee that you will not leave the same person you came in as. We’re not talking about changing you. We’re talking about you becoming ever more deeply the fullest expression of who you are on this planet. It is profound work and you will love it if you are reading these conversations. You can learn more by sending me a message. You can reach out to me at Adam@AdamQuiney.com. You can also go to our webpage, which is EvergrowthCoaching.com/The-Forge. It is good work and you will love it. That’s all that we’ve got. Next episode, we’re going to talk about the seduction of teaching. It sounds sexy.