When you talk to most young people, their optimism about what they intend to accomplish with their lives can impress and inspire you. A few intend to star in movies. Others aspire to become champion athletes. Some want to be great leaders. A few are called to write. Many plan to teach. Future doctors and nurses abound. Many future firefighters and police officers are preparing for duty. Some are drawn to the military. A number just hope to make a huge difference in others’ lives.
However, if you were to visit most of these youngsters after they reached middle age, you would find that very few had accomplished any of their youthful aspirations … unless their intentions were very modest or quite general, such as by generally improving lives.
What happened? Well, most young people never learn how to accomplish their dreams. Of the ones who do learn, most of those only half-heartedly engage in what is required.
Experts tell us that world-class careers require over 10,000 hours of highly concentrated, serious practice and experience in the relevant disciplines at as young an age as possible. Whoa! Who knew?
Surely, there’s a better way.
Fortunately, there is.
While many glamorous endeavors (such as acting, singing opera, playing professional sports, and leading a country) require at least some highly specialized skills that don’t always transfer from one field to another, there are some life skills that are virtually universal in their applicability. Communication skills are a good example. For instance, some actors have gone on to have fine political careers, such as President Ronald Reagan.
Rather than inventory all such transferable skills, let me focus on a single skill that has helped large numbers of people while creating substantial benefits for those who employ it: making breakthroughs.
What counts as a breakthrough? Any way to accomplish at least twenty times more with the same or less time, money, and effort that you employ or your organization already uses does. (Sometimes such a breakthrough is called a 2,000 percent solution.)
A breakthrough in one part of a person’s life can usually be accomplished by applying the same process as for improving another part. Methods for making personal breakthroughs are also quite similar to those for making organizational ones of virtually any kind.
When you make a breakthrough in one aspect of what an individual or an organization does, the resulting benefits provide vastly more resources that can be applied to a different area. Sequentially improve one part of your life or organization after another, and at some point you will have made breakthroughs on almost all fronts and have plenty of resources left to spare.
Now that’s exciting, isn’t it? You don’t have to be a youngster to feel motivated by such an opportunity.
Wouldn’t it be great if all youngsters could learn such skills in time for more of them to live their dreams?
Wouldn’t it be even better if middle-aged and older people could also learn these skills and greatly enhance what they can accomplish, as well?
To give you a better sense of the opportunity for adults, let me introduce one of my former students at Rushmore University, Dr. Alain Pierre Mignon, who earned his Ph.D. in Business Strategy and Management. While many people engage in such business programs, his studies were unusual: Every course included making a breakthrough in some aspect of his life or for an organization.
A native of France, Dr. Mignon was a successful entrepreneur at the time he began learning how to make breakthroughs. His firm, PT Fratekindo Java Gemilang, is the exclusive agent in Indonesia for Letra, the world leader in integrated technology solutions (including software, CAD/CAM hardware, and associated services) specifically designed for industries that use textiles, leather, industrial fabrics, or composites to manufacture their products.
His busy schedule made it challenging to study, especially since the coursework was in English, which is not his native tongue.
He was also an important leader in the Indonesian business community, serving as chairman of the Indonesian-French Chamber of Commerce. His responsibilities soon greatly increased in response to the terrible tsunami that devastated the Aceh region on December 26, 2004. In addition to aiding relief efforts, this chamber of commerce built three new schools to replace destroyed ones.
Dr. Mignon wasn’t satisfied with these important accomplishments. He wanted to do even more: to take on additional roles in civic life, improve his own company, help other French firms in Indonesia gain prosperity, and make Indonesia better for everyone.
To accomplish these things, he first learned to identify and eliminate bad thinking habits that “stall” making improvements. Here is how he described the experience for doing this at his company:
“I learned to identify all the stalls within my organization. Because of the stalls, I had been unable to make breakthroughs. By understanding how to eliminate the stalls, I improved all departments and built a much better spirit in my staff.
“My study was like a wake-up call. I had been comfortable in complacency, blind to what efficiency was really all about. For months and months I worked on measuring processes, protocols and results, finding many ways to improve.”
Having had that success, Dr. Mignon soon turned to helping others make similar improvements:
“After three years of being able to identify stalls and implementing breakthrough principles, I began helping friends facing the same structural problems in their organizations. As Chairman of the French-Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, I often advised new investors in avoiding stalls, aiming for the greatest efficiency, and gaining maximum benefits.”
When Indonesians reached out to him, Alain Pierre also responded by applying breakthrough methods to their opportunities. In one case, he helped the citizens of an island populated by millions of people to shift their development activities and provide more employment and prosperity for everyone living there.
Dr. Mignon is also passionately devoted to France and contributed by being politically active, serving as a member of the Assembly of French Citizens Abroad beginning July 2006, and to later taking on other public roles for French people. He found applications for breakthrough thinking in these areas of his life, as well:
“The application and implementation of what I learned about breakthroughs has been beneficial not only in business but also in organizing a new model for my political activities that has been especially good for gaining people’s acceptance of new rules and regulations, as well as for promoting candidates in both the national and local elections.”
With all that he had going on, you might think that his horizons would have reached their limits. That is far from the case. As Dr. Mignon recently noted, his business plans include important new initiatives:
“A few months ago I created a company for providing new products, with a surprising confidence and a vision of excellence; and I will confidently open another new company by the end of the year.”
What’s more, Dr. Mignon is also prepared to take on even bigger challenges elsewhere:
“My studies allowed me to become confident in identifying breakthrough solutions for almost all situations. If I had some doubts, I just had to open my study materials to find inspiration and tips for making the best solution.”
I wonder what great breakthroughs are ahead in his life … and in the lives of those he touches.
What are the lessons for becoming such a breakthrough creator?
First, learn to identify the bad thinking habits (or “stalls”) that keep individuals and organizations from performing at their best. The most common stalls are based in tradition, disbelief, misconceptions, avoiding the unattractive, miscommunications, bureaucracy, and procrastination.
Second, apply methods (or “stallbusters”) to overcome those stalls.
Third, begin to use an iterative process for accomplishing 20 times more:
(a) Understand the importance of measuring performance.
(b) Decide what’s important to measure for improving performance.
(c) Identify the future best practice (the best anyone else will do in the next five years) and measure it.
(d) Combine existing, highly effective practices for the first time to achieve results that exceed the future best practice.
(e) Identify the ideal best practice (the best anyone could possibly do with the technology available in the next five years) and measure it.
(f) Come close to performing at the ideal best-practice level.
(g) Select the right people and provide the right encouragement to implement the breakthrough solution.
(h) Repeat steps (a) through (g) to make another twenty-times improvement in the same kind of performance.
When will you begin? Why not now? After all, you’re not going to get any younger!
By the way, teach some youngsters as you go. It will make a big difference for them and for future breakthroughs that benefit everyone.
Donald W. Mitchell is a professor at Rushmore University who often teaches people who want to improve their business effectiveness in order to accomplish career breakthroughs through earning advanced degrees. For more information about ways to engage in fruitful lifelong learning at Rushmore University to increase your effectiveness, I invite you to visit