Eric Button

How To Have a Breakthrough

he grandfather of commercial spaceflight is retired in a lakeside cabin in Northern Idaho. He's friends with Richard Branson and an inspiration to Elon Musk, and his name is Burt Rutan. Forty-nine times in his life he's sketched out a new airplane design, built it, and flown it, before starting on the next one.

He's also the guy that led a team of experimenters to win the Ansari X Prize in 2004 for the first commercial spacecraft. Essentially Burt and his team showed NASA a giant middle finger from their outpost in Mohave, California.

Like all great designers, Burt is an artist-philosopher. Talk to him and he'll speak about risk, fulfillment, leading a team with a vision.

But what keeps me coming back to Burt Rutan is his philosophy surrounding breakthroughs. It's a word he can't stop using, and it's because breakthroughs are at the core of his philosophy.

"Those who put themselves in a position to take enormous risks are those that have breakthroughs."

Burt taught me that if you're operating on a purely logical basis, where outcomes are guaranteed--you're not taking big enough risks.

After all, reward and risk come in the same package. And we as humans choose each day how much risk we'll take on.

Maybe that's why I've found that one of the quickest ways to get un-stuck is to take a bigger risk. If nothing else, I feel more alive.

For me that means talking to that person I'm crushing on, running another mile before hitting the cool-down button, taking out a loan for the business, pulling off that marketing stunt...

The downside is there, but it comes with a guaranteed upside: things won't stay the same.

One heuristic I use: If I can accurately predict the outcome of something that's ten or more years into the future, that's a concern. Accountants can map their W-2 until the day they turn 65. So can many doctors, lawyers, teachers and postmasters.

To some that is security. To me that is terror.

I choose to take bigger risks, work for bigger rewards, and set myself up for the breakthrough.