Home » The Formula for Breakthrough Growth: Andrew Ballard (Transcript)

The Formula for Breakthrough Growth: Andrew Ballard (Transcript)

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Andrew Ballard at TEDxSnoIsleLibraries

Here is the full transcript of growth strategist Andrew Ballard’s talk titled “The Formula for Breakthrough Growth” at TEDxSnoIsleLibraries. In this talk he believes that personal and professional breakthroughs can be achieved through the application of a simple formula.

Andrew Ballard is author of “Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter” and operates a research-based growth strategies company, Marketing Solutions, with his wife and CEO Sandra Ballard.

Andrew Ballard – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT

I’m here today because there’s something I want. There’s something I want for you. You, too.

I want it for you because I found it for myself, and that’s breakthrough growth. I’m talking about life-changing success.

Have you ever wondered why some people and some organizations achieve just remarkable success?

Well, I always have, and from 25 years of researching and working with successful leaders and organizations, I discovered that most of them have three common traits. So I put them into a formula.

But before going there, we need to address the enemy in the room. Status quo is the enemy of success. And I think the reason so many people feel content with the way things are and avoid change is because of fear, specifically, the fear of failure, and that’s because of our relationship with failure.

But failure is not the absence of success. It’s part of achieving success.

So, how would you approach life differently if you knew you couldn’t fail? Just think about what you could accomplish, the impact you could have on your family and your business, even your entire community.

I know, other than death and taxes, not much in life is certain, but what I’m getting to here is that highly successful people have a different relationship with failure. It’s not that they think that failure is not an option. It’s that they approach life differently. They embrace failure as part of achieving success.

So, why should success matter to you and me? Because if we want to achieve growth for ourselves and for the people and institutions we care about, we can’t be stymied by our fear of failure.

So, now that we’ve put failure in the proper context and shared why success and growth matter, I’ll share how we came to this formula.

I’m in marketing research, and our company has conducted thousands of interviews with leaders in business, government, and nonprofit organizations. The coursework I teach at the University of Washington studies the dynamics of successful and failed business ventures, and that’s how we discovered the three elements of breakthrough growth.

So, what is breakthrough growth?

Well, for me, it’s about generating a life-changing experience or accomplishment. Well, how is that possible? Vision plus insight plus innovation are what generate breakthrough growth.

So let’s break those three elements down.

1. Vision

First, vision.

By vision, what I mean is defining your preferred future. It establishes where you’re going, what you want to accomplish. It should be your North Star; it also should be aspirational.

JFK announced his vision. Fearing the Soviets would win the Space Race, in 1961 JFK announced his vision for putting an American on the moon within that decade. That audacious vision led to one of the most amazing accomplishments in the 20th century.

A little closer down-to-earth example resides right here in Edmonds, Washington in a nine-year-old girl named Kayla. Her vision is to help displaced animals by funding local rescue shelters. With the help of her parents, this budding entrepreneur started a kids’ clothing line of T-shirts that had animals on them dressed up in cute costumes. You do not need to be president to have a vision.

Next. Yeah, that’s a little closer to home than I expected.

Second. I didn’t say this would be comfortable.

2. Inspiration

Second, inspiration. Maya Angelou said that when we know better, we can do better. Insight is about knowing better. Gaining insight is about gathering the relevant information.

We gather information on our clients’ customers and competitors. Essentially, we bridge their information gap. Recently we worked with an IT company, and they were convinced their customers cared most about network administration. The insight our customer research exposed was that the customers weren’t worried about their networks. Their greatest fear was on security and data breaches.

Had we innovated a new go-to-market strategy without that critical insight, we would have put our client on the wrong path. Insight puts you on the right path.

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3. Innovation

Last, third, innovation. Something new, the first of its kind. More often innovation is about improving on something that already exists. Either way, innovation or renovation is about creating a better experience.

The original iPhone was introduced in 2007. It was the first of its kind. A year later, Apple improved on that existing product by releasing the 3G. Both products generated breakthrough growth for the company. And Apple is known for continuous innovation.

Since 2007, they’ve released 44 different versions of this product!

I’m a statistician by trade, and I’ve run the numbers and figure in 20 years they’ll be releasing the iPhone 3000.

Not likely; my point is that innovation and breakthroughs lead to other breakthrough opportunities. Certainly they’ve seized on that.

If we want to achieve a breakthrough, we need to innovate by doing something new, special, or different.


Yes, sequence is important, because vision inspires insight, and insight informs innovation.

Back in the early ’90s, when I became the executive director of a local March of Dimes chapter, we were not hitting our financial targets, and it was the first time I had ever run an organization before.

So I met with as many people as I could to learn more about our chapter and understand how we were viewed. My last meeting was at the University Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where I was introduced to baby Rose.

At 22 weeks gestation, she only weighed one and a quarter pounds. She was so tiny. Encouraged by the nurse, I reluctantly eased my arm through the sleeve of the incubator, and I gently placed my little pinky in Rose’s hand. She latched on like her life depended on it.

That floored me; that experience has changed me forever.

But at that moment, I realized we needed to put the mission of the March of Dimes in the hands of our leaders. So we held our next board meeting at the hospital, right across the hall from the NICU, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

And before starting our meeting, we all walked across the hall to meet baby Rose, each of us experiencing her fragility, watching her cling to life. Rose humanized our vision by giving every baby a healthy start at life, but we knew we had to start hitting our financial goals to continue funding that vision.

And so, we gathered the relevant information, which led to our insight of focusing on corporate donors. Our innovation was developing a brand new corporate sponsorship package and pitch, and baby Rose was at the center of our new story.

I remember meeting with the CEO of an insurance company. I shared my story about baby Rose. We only talked for a few minutes. He wrote a check for $5,000. Within one year, we had increased our corporate sponsorship revenue line by over 400%.

I also want to acknowledge that we would not have achieved that breakthrough growth without a dedicated board and a very amazing staff.

While Rose was the inspiration, our team orchestrated the breakthrough. The formula for breakthrough growth is not limited to corporate applications. My wife Sandra and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary soon. We have been – thanks, yeah. You don’t know; you’re about to!

The important part here is that we’ve worked together as business partners for 20 of those years. Now, I know, I’m not recommending that couples work together. It’s a tough balancing act, especially when one of you is a Type A controller. I’m not going to say which of us is the Type A.

Oh, you’re making this too easy. Only the last Christmas, Sandra bought me a sign to hang in my office that read: “Well, I’d agree with you, but then we’d both be wrong.”

Hey…You’ve only had to put up with me for nine minutes. Imagine a quarter-century of this!

So, every year, Sandra and I conduct a business planning retreat. Last year was the first time that we emphasized our personal planning. And we stated a vision of putting more time in our marriage and less time in our business. The conversation that followed was revealing and quite painful for me because my insight was that I had been an absent husband and father.

When our kids were young, I wasn’t around much. I was so focused on building my career, I lost sight of what truly mattered.

Here’s a key point: going through the formula helps you focus on what really matters.

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So, the innovation: simply a new routine. Sometimes a small change can make a big difference. Every workday evening at 6:00 PM, I hit a chime. We have home offices, and we meet at the island in our kitchen, uncork a bottle of wine, and we cook dinner together. We started weekly date nights and get out of town one weekend a month.

I just love this new routine… mainly because I’m so deeply grateful for my wife and children, and being present for them is what truly matters.

What I’m suggesting here is that breakthrough growth can often be an ongoing process. I have to work every day at being present. The irony is that with the focus on our marriage, our business has never grown faster. Double breakthrough.

So I’ll reveal my new vision, and that is that Sandra will put up with me for another 25 years.

OK, I started this talk by sharing I wanted breakthrough growth for you. I said that because sometimes, breakthroughs aren’t just good for our business or for our personal lives. Sometimes breakthroughs are necessary for our survival.

A story of another nine-year-old: me in third grade. Way back in the ’60s. My teacher informed the principal and my mother that I was mentally retarded. That teacher wanted me placed in a special school for kids with developmental delays because I couldn’t read, spell, or do math as well as the other kids.

My mom didn’t believe I was delayed, so she had me tested. Turned out that I had a severe case of primary dyslexia. That’s a genetic dysfunction that never improves with age. It never goes away.

Through the rest of my school years, I experienced relentless ridicule and humiliation, even from three of my teachers. Third, fourth, and eighth grade.

By the age of 16, I dropped out of school because I just couldn’t see life getting any better. I contemplated suicide. But I loved playing the drums.

And I had a vision, literally a mental image of performing live on stage in front of a packed concert hall, like this, because I thought if I could accomplish that, people would stop judging me as stupid.

But I knew to achieve that vision and that level of performance that I needed to sharpen my skills. So I learned how to read music. I studied under two instructors and put hours of practice in every day. And the insight that came from all of that practice was when I hit a plateau. I just stopped progressing.

So I innovated a new way of practicing the drums. I’m right-handed. I switched to a left-hand drum set. And as difficult as that was at first, my dexterity and coordination went through the roof.

By my early 20s, I had toured throughout North America and Europe, performing in front of hundreds of thousands of people, and recorded albums with four different bands. I didn’t realize it then, but breakthrough growth probably saved my life.

Now, this formula is not about me. I share my challenges, my failures, and my breakthroughs only as an example to show you how this formula can work in all of our lives.

Because if I can do it, I know you can do it.

I also know that the feeling and the fear of failure can leave us overwhelmed and feeling content with the status quo, maybe even give up.

But what I learned is that failures and the way others judge you don’t define you. Whether you’re a mother, a student, or a business owner, when you achieve breakthrough growth for yourselves, it empowers you to help others achieve breakthroughs for themselves, because isn’t the only true measure of success not just what we accomplish in our lives, but what we inspire others to do?

So, what will breakthrough growth mean for you? What will inspire your vision? What information gap can you bridge? What can you do that’s new, special, or different?

I don’t know; only you can answer those questions. What I do know is that when you add vision plus insight plus innovation, there is nothing worthwhile you can’t accomplish.

So…breakthrough growth.

I want it for you because I found it for myself.

Thank you so much.

For Further Reading: 

From Galaxies to Neurons – How to Breakthrough Belief: Loretta Falcone at TEDxBerkeley (Transcript)

Marc Andreessen on Big Breakthrough Ideas and Courageous Entrepreneurs (Transcript)

Daniel Amen: Change Your Brain, Change Your Life @ TEDxOrangeCoast (Transcript)

Boredom – the Real Secret Behind Innovation: Mark Applebaum at TEDxStanford (Transcript)


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