Dr. Richard Byrne was the Keynote Speaker at Bio'76, which was the combined meeting of the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI), the Biocommunications Association (BCA), the Health and Science Communications Association (HeSCA), and the Association of Biomedical Communication Directors (ABCD). His presentation was powerful, and was filled with his technical insight, personal reflection, and comedic wit. In 1985, Dr. Byrne produced a cassette tape series of twelve professional lectures, which defined what he called, "Breakthrough." The concepts presented in his Breakthrough series are universal and are applicable today. In conjunction with Dr. Byrne's wife, Mary Anne Byrne, the Journal of Biocommunication is proud to include the first four of Dr. Byrne's lectures in JBC 45-2.


The following article has been transcribed from a cassette series produced by Richard Byrne in 1985. Some of the content has been edited from the original transcription text in order to provide clarity or context to the reader.



Dr. Richard Byrne


The Nature of Change

I think there are basically two kinds of changes in life. The kind of change that you're very familiar with, called cyclical change, meaning it comes and it goes, and it comes and it goes, and it's not that big a deal. It's there and you deal with it. Like seasons, the leaves turn red and brown, they fall, and in the spring they come back. Sometimes, I tell that story in Southern California and my blissed-out friends say, "Well, now how do you mean, the leaves fall?" because we have no seasons in Los Angeles. However, in most places, the seasons come and go. If you missed the color pictures this fall, you didn't get the pictures of the leaves, you wait until next fall, because it'll come back, and you know that.


The same thing is true of hemlines. They go up and down, and up and down, and that's how you sell clothing, but you always make your clothing wrong. The fashion industry says, "Did you just buy that? Oh, good. You like it? Good. Well, that is all wrong, so here's the new one." Men's lapels get wide and narrow again, and whatever size your tie is, just keep it, because that style will come back.


There are also cyclical changes in business, just as in family life. My favorite is centralization versus decentralization. It's just hilarious to me!


For example, corporate executives look around and suddenly they say, "Holy smokes! Look at all the computers out here. I mean that guy bought one, and they bought one, and they bought another one, and they bought twelve, and they bought fourteen! We've got to get some control here; we're getting out of control." So they bring them all the computers together, and they put them in a big room, and they monitor them, and keep track of them, and make sure they're used right. Then about two years later they say, "Wow, this is a lot of work with all these computers in here! Let's get these computers out to the people, let's get them back out there where the people are." Autonomy and local control, it's just like a big heart, that draws in the blood and pumps the blood out, and in and out, and so forth.



I always think of that during a commute. I drive in L.A. -frequently. L.A. inspires cars - it breathes them in in the morning. You can see that all the freeways are open on one side, because that's going out of the city, and the other side is all jammed. It's a big parking lot, and they're all coming into the city. Then late in the evening, there's nobody coming into the city, and the outgoing lanes are all a big parking lot. I sometimes think, we're really missing a bed here! What ought to happen is that the ranchers, living way out east of the city, ought to live in high rise condominiums in downtown L.A. In the morning, when they go out to round up 40 head of cattle, they'll scoot, 70 mph out to the ranch, and then in the evening they can scoot back downtown to boogie for a while. As long as you went against the usual cycle, you're still a part of the cycle, but you'd have a completely easy commute - except people in L.A. don't do that.


A question: Are microcomputers cyclical? They're "in" now and pretty soon perhaps they won't be. Then they'll be back in, and then they'll be back out. Some people say, "Sure, in two years, there will be a micro stored in every garage. That means you'll buy the microcomputer, you don't learn how to use it, you won't get your recipes on VisiCalc or whatever, and then finally you just store it. Some people take great courage or and even comfort in that. They say, "This is a fad! This is a fad! We don't need this! We didn't need this ten years ago! We didn't need it five years ago! We don't need it now!" Well, if it's cyclical, and if it's a fad, you don't need it now.


However, there's a second kind of change, a different ball game, called structural change. There is a cycle, in and out, in and out, hemlines, lapels, microcomputers, whatever it is, and all of a sudden boom, something happens. There is a boom, a single event that changes everything, forever. All of a sudden there's upset and chaos and craziness. It's called a quantum leap.


Quantum means there's discontinuity. It's not continuous. It's not based on how things were before, it suddenly shatters time and space and then the new cycle begins. Boom! There's a leap to a new place. That quantum leap, that springboard from certainty to uncertainty, from where we are to where we're going, that quantum leap is the essence of breakthrough. Breakthrough is about making a quantum leap in your life.


It's not about improvement. In fact, I joke with friends of mine that my purpose in life is to stamp out self-improvement. Get rid of that stuff! It has an underlying belief that every day, in every way, we're going to get better and better. Today I'll do 50 pushups, and then tomorrow I'll do 52 pushups, and when I can do 55 pushups, they'll like me. Just slowly creep toward getting better. Wrong! You can do that, and that's good, but that is not what's going on in the world. What's going on in the world is that people suddenly say, "I'm going to quit this job and form a company, and we're going to run it from a sailboat, and we're going to get some microcomputers, and I'm going to live in Guam." Boom, and the guy's gone. I mean, he did not figure that out, minute by minute, over the next twenty years. They would say, "The guy went crazy. The whole world is going crazy!" That is what breakthrough is all about. The arranged miracle is about sort of losing control, and transforming what you're doing.


I think that transformation can be totally positive. I don't think that it has to be just chaos. I think we can make quantum leaps in our personal lives, in our professional lives, in how we work together as organizations. The breakthrough is the arranged miracle.


Below is a transcript of me speaking, in a conference room, talking about the fact that you can't get there from here. You can't figure it out from where you are, or where you're going to be, when a breakthrough occurs.


When you have a breakthrough, you can't easily predict where you're going to end up. For example, could you predict that when we had horses and carriages, how that might translate to a time when we have a city with 8 million residents? Do you see any problems in having 8 million horses and carriages on the road every day? So you see, you can't effectively extrapolate from the old way of thinking. You can't look at the way horses worked, and then predict that scenario for 8 million people. Where would you get all the hay from to feed 6 or 7 million horses? Who would haul the hay? How many horses would it take just to haul hay for 8 million horses? And who is going to haul out the waste? You might need 14 million horses to feed the 8 million horses, who just made the long commute. My point is, you can't figure out where you're going to be, because there is a discontinuity. There is a discontinuity between where you are and where you're going. There is a leap upward.


Remember the four-minute mile? 1954, Roger Bannister? For nine years, nobody had lowered the track and field mile time by one one-hundredth of a second, and there were genuine beliefs that you couldn't do it. There were medical papers written that said if you ran a mile in 4-minutes, your heart would burst, blood would spurt out of your nose, your eyeballs would spring out of your head, and you'd fall dead on the track. Is that any disincentive to running a four-minute mile? I mean that was the belief. The belief was that if you did that, that extra one-hundredth of a second would kill you. Okay? So, Bannister did it. He was a medical student and he said, "I think that's stupid. I don't see any reason why you couldn't run a 4-minute mile." He said, "I don't think the heart will burst." He said, "I think you'd be faint and stagger around and collapse." He ran the 4-minute mile and he got faint, staggered around, then collapsed because that's what he thought you would do. The next time he did it, he didn't get faint, stagger around, or collapse, because he found out you don't need to do that. Now when he ran the 4-minute mile, what happened to the mile run? Everybody did it! People all over the world said, "I didn't know you could do that. I thought you couldn't do that!" Within two years, there was a race where everybody in the race ran the mile under 4 minutes. So, what changed? Our minds changed. The world changed its mind about the 4 minute barrier. The world changed its mind.


I believe the microcomputer is a stimulus. It's not the source, but it's a stimulus that has created transformation in the way business is done. What changes is not the technology; you change your mind about doing business. You start doing business in new ways. This is the problem with cost justification. Imagine we're going to buy five micros, but how will we know when we've cost justified? I mean how do we know when we achieve a return on our investment? You look at all the work you're doing, and then figure out how much that costs. Then we're going to put in the computer and fire three people. And how much did they cost? And if we can do the work for two years minus those three people, we paid for the computers. No, no. That's saying, how many million buggy whips will we need to run a town like L.A.? See, that's arguing from the way you do it now, to the way you think you're going to do it, but it doesn't work that way. There's a discontinuity. All the rules are off when there is a break in time. All the rules are off.


That breaking of the rules, when all the rules go away, that's what's frequently called a paradigm shift. It means that a paradigm is our picture of the world, what we believe is real. A paradigm is, for example, well, I believe that business is run this way, and that we should wear this kind of clothing, and drive this kind of car, and park this way. And then somebody else says, "Yeah, well, that's not my picture of the world. My picture of the world is that I'm going to go live on a beach and surf a lot." So they have a completely different picture of the world. When the breakthrough occurs, the world changes its mind. It suddenly decides that the beliefs from before are no longer relevant, and new beliefs are possible. All rules are off.


I am going to share a fantastic story about a man named David Volz, a young athlete who transformed pole vaulting. You may not even know about him, but he made a unique contribution to the sport of pole vaulting, and it's a perfect example of breakthrough. David Volz believed that the fear, the problem in leaping high, jumping 19 feet in the air, was the certainty that you then have to fall 19 feet immediately after. You climb 19 feet, and then say, "Now would you step out of this third story window here, please? We have a mattress for you, so don't worry." The problem is not, 'are you are strong enough to run hard, bend the pole, and pull and are you athletic?' No, no, no, that's not the problem; the problem is if you do it, you get to fall out of a third story window. Volz thought, "You've got to 'own' falling. You've got to 'own' falling. Falling can't be in there anymore. You just can't pole vault thinking about falling all the time. You've got to think about vaulting and forget about falling." So, he began to step off increasingly greater heights and fall backward, and fell backward, and fell backward. He finally began to, sort of, 'own' his falling.


Now comes the breakthrough. In one historic and momentous pole vault track event, Volz ran, planted the pole, bent the pole, inverted, pushed up, lifted through the vault, but brushed the bar off on the way up with his thighs. Knocked it off. Everybody went, "Oh no!" and he suddenly thought, "Oh wait, that's not right," and he didn't have to worry about falling, because he'd already handled falling. He had already nailed falling. While still in the air, he reached out and grabbed the dislodged bar, and just lifted it right up, back up onto the standards. He got it up on the standards, and he kind of steadied it with his fingertips, and then let go of it. He fell on the pit and the bar stayed up there.


The crowd said, "What? Say what?" The judges had a meeting and, of course, half of them said, "That's stupid, I mean, he knocked it off. He knocked it off! We saw him knock it off. He knocked it off on the way up, so he didn't clear it! I mean clearly he didn't clear it!" The other half said, "Well, that's true. That's true. He knocked it off, but he did put it back," and the debate went on, they said, "Get out the rule book." They got out the rule book, and they looked up "knocking off the bar." They determined that if you knock off the bar, you don't win; if you knock it off, you lose points, etc. Then they looked up putting the bar back, and they couldn't find a thing in the rule book about putting the bar back in position during the vault, because nobody ever thought of it! You knock it off at 19 feet, you're going to put it back? Nobody ever thought of it, and so they said, "He cleared the vault." That moment transformed pole vaulting. That's now called, "Volzing a jump." Vaulters occasionally, if they tap it off, will reach out with their hand. They can't actually grab it and lift it, but they try to bump it back into position. If you knock the bar off, tidy up! Give it a shot! It's another option.


I think that extra options are opportunities. I don't believe you're going to see world records set by pole vault athletes going through belly high, grabbing the bar, and then slam dunking it behind them. We're not talking about completely changing the sport here; we're talking about expanding the potential of the sport, which has already happened, as a result of David Volz.


When a breakthrough occurs, since the rules don't count anymore, almost anything is possible. There are new options available. When you have a breakthrough in the use of a personal computer, maybe you're afraid of it, you have a phobia, you breakthrough that, suddenly you can use it. All sorts of options are now available that weren't available before. Some people say, "We're going to automate the office." I don't even have an office! My agent has an office, but my office is in airplanes, and in my home, and my den, and in hotels, and wherever it happens to be. I have absolutely transformed the way I work, and I'll tell you about that later in this series. We use electronic mail through a portable terminal. I don't just say, now, "Why don't we have red filing cabinets? And over here, let's have some blue filing cabinets?" No, that's called fixing up the office. When I say, "I tell you what, why don't you meet me in Acapulco, and we'll talk about it?" That's called transforming the office. That's the kind of breakthrough that's available when you leap into the void, the uncertainty, when you go through the paradigm shift.


There is a process for breaking through that means you may experience a breakdown before you have a breakthrough. That is, you will encounter a problem, a barrier, uncertainty, and it will get worse. You'll try this and that, but neither work. You try something else, and that doesn't work. Finally you say, "That's it," and you breakdown. That breakdown is a positive sign. You should look for it. Some people, when they breakdown, say, "Oh no, I'm broken down!" No, you ought to say, "Oh wait! Hey! This is a symbol. The body's telling me something!" You know the joke, "Doctor, it hurts when I do that," And the doctor replies, "Well, don't do that." It's a symbol, it's a sign, it's a signal, and the body is telling you something. When you have a breakdown, the universe is telling you something, or you're telling yourself something. Later, in the Championship Living section in this series, we will talk about how to prepare for an assault on a breakthrough.


The last step, before you go through that breakthrough, before you have that transforming event, is that you are going to have to let go. You're going to have to relax. After you're prepared, you're going to have to relax and let go of your beliefs. Let go of your uncertainty about how this is going to turn out, and how something should be done. In fact, you'll always find that the barrier is not in front of you; it's almost always behind you.


Imagine that there's a rope tied around your waist, and the rope is hooked to an anchor. The anchor is stuck in the ground about ten feet behind you, and the anchor is called a belief. There's some beliefs you have called out, like 'I don't type,' or 'I'm no good with numbers,' or whatever the belief is. We'll talk more about some of those beliefs, but the strain that you're feeling in front of you, is not a wall that you're trying to scale, it's not a hurdle you're trying to leap over. It looks like it, and it feels like it, but it's not. It's an anchor to your past. You have to identify that anchor, figure out what is that belief, and you simply let go of it. Have you ever held a balloon at a football game filled with helium, and when the team scores you just let go. It's the easiest thing in the world, and just like that, 100,000 balloons sail up to the clouds.





Bryne, R. Breakthrough - Championship Living in a Computer Age (Audio Cassette Series), Springboard! 1985.



About the Author

The late Richard Byrne was a former professor and dean at USC's Annenberg School of Communications. He was known for making computers less intimidating for all of us. In 1982 Dr. Byrne founded one of the first consulting firms of its kind, called Springboard! His company was devoted to acquainting executives with high technology. As president,Dr. Byrne traveled as far as Europe and Thailand presenting as many as 200 lectures a year. He enlivened complex computer terminology with humorous wit and common-sense explanations. Dr. Byrne, who had previously taught at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Texas, left his position as a full-time professor at USC in 1984 to devote himself to an increasingly lucrative lecturing career.



Mary Ann Byrne has chosen to license this content under a Creative Commons Attribution, NonCommercial, NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Conflict of Interest Statement

The Journal of Biocommunication Management Board and Editors believe that transparency in academic research is essential. Our JBC authors are now required to disclose any possible conflict of interest when submitting a manuscript. In accordance with the Journal of Biocommunication's editorial policy, no potential conflict of interest has been reported or declared by Dr. Byrne's estate.




The Journal of Biocommunication wishes to acknowledge Mary Anne Byrne, who graciously has allowed us to publish the content from her late husband's recorded lecture presentations.

Dr. Byrne's portrait was provided by Mary Ann Byrne.