Judah Pollack & Olivia Fox Cabane | Breakthrough Thinking (Episode 591)

Judah Pollack (@JudahThinks) and Olivia Fox Cabane rejoin the show to discuss their new book, The Net and the Butterfly: The Art and Practice of Breakthrough Thinking.

The Cheat Sheet:

  • What is breakthrough thinking — and how does it relate to nets and butterflies?
  • Though we all have the same brain architecture, why do some of us find breakthrough thinking more natural than others?
  • Learn how to access your brain’s genius lounge (without being impeded by your brain’s executive office).
  • Understand how your brain pieces together disparate information to solve problems in unique ways. 
  • Spot your own native breakthrough style and cultivate habits that more frequently activate it.
  • And so much more…


(Direct Download Episode Here)

Unless you have the confidence of a bona fide genius, you might think of breakthrough thinking that solves complex problems as something that other people do. But one thing modern science has sorted out: breakthrough thinking isn’t an intrinsic quality reserved for the elites who walk among us — it’s something anyone can learn to do.

Judah Pollack and Olivia Fox Cabane revisit The Art of Charm to discuss their new book, The Net and the Butterfly: The Art and Practice of Breakthrough Thinking. They’ll explain what science says about our capacity to think uniquely and give us exercises to nurture this quality within ourselves. Listen, learn, and enjoy!

More About This Show

Even if you don’t think of yourself as the sharpest crayon in the box, you doubtless have moments of what might be mistaken as — if you didn’t know any better — genius. You may reason that even broken clocks are right twice a day, so such flukes are bound to happen to everyone now and again. We all tend to write these moments off as happy accidents, but don’t consider that it might just be possible to summon them at will instead of waiting passively for them to randomly visit as they see fit.

In The Net and the Butterfly: The Art and Practice of Breakthrough Thinking, co-authors Judah Pollack and Olivia Fox Cabane liken these moments to elusive, beautiful butterflies. We enjoy their company, but they have erratic, non-linear paths, so it’s hard to predict where they’ll be next.

“There is no one, two, three: breakthrough,” says Judah. “But there is a series of steps you can take to highly increase the chances — to set the conditions — that you’re going to have a lot more breakthroughs. That you can induce them. There’s this mythology that breakthroughs only come to very special people. They come randomly…and there’s nothing you can do, right? It’s just the domain of the geniuses, and the rest of us just don’t have it.”

The truth is, we all have the same brain architecture — that is, the capacity to think at a so-called genius level. The problem is, a lot of us have grown accustomed to a certain way of thinking, and we’ve let our brains get out of shape. If you think back to your childhood, you probably let your imagination guide you through new adventures on the playground every day. It’s what kids do.

But now that you’re grown up, you may have fallen into a repetitive pattern that no longer relies on that kind of thinking. It’s not that you don’t have the capacity to be creative, but you’ve let your imagination fall by the wayside. It’s still there hiding in the weeds, but you only occasionally catch a glimpse of it in those rare moments you discount as flukes.

“Saying that you’re not able to have breakthroughs or you’re not creative is kind of like sitting on a couch for a year, a total couch potato,” says Judah. “And then somebody’s like, ‘Go do ten pushups.’ And you can’t even do one, and you’re like, ‘Well, that’s that. I can’t ever do pushups!’

“No! You just need to build yourself up. Work out. Get fit. It’s the same thing with your brain being creative and having breakthroughs.”

One great way to work out the brain is by learning a new language. In studying Mandarin, for example, Jordan is enjoying these benefits:

  • Plasticity — the brain’s ability to form new neural connections.
  • Associations — a new landscape of information and frames from which to draw. Between things that are seemingly unrelated, it gets easier to connect the dots in new and interesting ways.

These workouts take place in what Judah and Olivia call the executive office of your brain — where all the conscious, focused thinking happens. But there are also benefits to be found in doing mundane tasks that engage the brain on a different level and take you to your genius lounge. Think about the great ideas you have when you’re taking a shower, going for a walk, putting up shingles, doing the laundry, or washing the dishes.

“What happens in your brain is all the power reroutes out of the executive office to the genius lounge,” says Judah. “And suddenly the genius lounge is just racing — it’s running. It’s going. But here’s the thing: this executive is not absent at this point. Because the executive has to focus the geniuses on a problem. So when you go to take a shower, it’s very good to focus on what is this thing that’s blocking you. What is it that you want to have a breakthrough about? And by doing that you focus the genius lounge.”

Listen to this episode of The Art of Charm in its entirety to learn more about what’s going on in the genius lounge the rest of the time, the reason there’s a connection between creativity and depression (though the correlation is usually mistaken), why the saying ‘write drunk; edit sober’ makes sense from the perspective of the prefrontal cortex, how a young Keith Richards utilized the hypnagogic and hypnopompic sleep states to get his fledgling band the satisfaction it sought, and lots more.


If you enjoyed this session with Judah and Olivia, let them know by clicking on the link below and sending them a quick shout out at Twitter:

Click here to thank Judah and Olivia at Twitter!

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AJ Harbinger - author of 1047 posts on The Art of Charm

AJ Harbinger is one of the world’s top relationship development experts. His company, The Art of Charm, is a leading training facility for top performers that want to overcome social anxiety, develop social capital and build relationships of the highest quality. Raised by a single father, AJ felt a strong desire to learn about relationships and the elements that make them successful. However, this interest went largely untapped for many years. Following the path set out for him by his family, AJ studied biology in college and went on to pursue a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology at the University of Michigan. It was at this time that he began to feel immense pressure from the cancer lab he worked in and began to explore other outlets for expression. It was at this point that The Art of Charm Podcast was born.

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