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The Net and the Butterfly

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The Net and the Butterfly

The Art and Practice of Breakthrough Thinking


15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

Techniques from brain science help you overcome mental obstacles and achieve creative breakthroughs.

Editorial Rating



  • Applicable
  • Concrete Examples
  • Inspiring


New understanding of how the brain works can help you achieve innovative thinking. Learn to switch between your task-oriented “executive network” and your intuitive, associative “default network” to generate unexpected connections. Recommending mindfulness and self-compassion, academicians Olivia Fox Cabane and Judah Pollack provide practical methods you can use to defeat self-criticism and fear of failure so that you can solve problems and ignite your creativity.


Breakthroughs come in four types: “eureka,” “metaphorical,” “intuitive” and “paradigm.”

Breakthroughs change how you consider or understand a situation, and they move you past previous barriers to a new perspective or solution. While the content and context of each breakthrough are unique, breakthroughs manifest in one of four general types.

Eureka breakthroughs arrive suddenly, and fully formed. After his legendary bathtub discovery, the ancient Greek Archimedes yelled “Eureka” (“I’ve got it”), and ran naked down the street.

A metaphorical breakthrough comes from visual and analogical thinking. You must interpret the metaphor so it applies to the problem at hand. A dream’s vivid images may reveal an underlying pattern that offers a solution. 

Intuitive breakthroughs arrive without any obvious reason or experience. You know you’ve got the answer, with no clear idea why it’s right. An intuitive breakthrough is the first step of the process. It brings calm confidence.

Paradigm breakthroughs rewrite the rules of a complex system. They connect and explain multiple phenomena...

About the Authors

Olivia Fox Cabane, the best-selling author of The Charisma Myth, was director of innovative leadership at Stanford’s StartX, where Judah Pollack was also a faculty member. He lectures at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

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