Principles of Breakthrough: A Practical Guide for Leaders
These Principles are distilled down based on the best practices of the most effective executives, consultants, and leaders in the world. They are just as applicable to marketing, sales, operations, as they do to human problems.
You will find the definitions here will guide your thinking No matter how complex, immediate, or aggravating the challenge, this proven set of Principles can be applied to solve it.
They are tested in the real world not just by me but by the hundreds of professionals who have created massive breakthroughs in their organizations through it.
Don’t let their simplicity fool you. If they seem like common sense, ask yourself: have I applied this?
Principles of Breakthrough: A Practical Guide for Leaders
The Principles of
A Practical Guide for Leaders
January 3, 2020
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Dhawal Tank – dtank.co 2
Dear Organizational Leader,
To get the most out of these Principles, I recommended that you print
it out and keep it close to your desk.
Having it at hand means you will be able to quickly refer to it as you
face unique challenges in your business, non-profit, agency, or any
other type of organization you lead.
These Principles are distilled down based on the best practices of the
most effective executives, consultants, and leaders in the world.
They are just as applicable to marketing, sales, operations, as they do
to human problems. You will find the definitions here will guide your
No matter how complex, immediate, or aggravating the challenge, this
proven set of Principles can be applied to solve it. They are tested in
the real world not just by me but by the hundreds of professionals
who have created massive breakthroughs in their organizations
through it. Don’t let their simplicity fool you. If they seem like common
sense, ask yourself: have I applied this?
You will first go over the Principles in brief, and then you will see a
few examples on how you can apply them immediately.
To your breakthroughs,
Dhawal Tank – dtank.co 3
1.Start with a blank slate: Don't assume you know everything
about the situation. Approach it as an outsider.
2.Stop blaming: Believing that something is broken because
customers, employees, vendors, or market conditions are the
way they are is harmful. It also prevents you from seeing a
breakthrough solution. People act in their own self interest.
3.Articulate the Situation and the Outcome: It is not enough
to say that you have "a problem" with sales. What specifically?
And what specifically does a positive outcome look like?
4.Look for Inherent Simplicity: The roots of any challenge will
undoubtedly be tied in 1-2 causes. Fix these root causes and
you will breakthrough your business challenges.
5.Don't Focus on the Unimportant: Don't solve the
unimportant things. This is very tempting, but also useless.
6.Find the Unquestioned Assumption: At the heart of the root
cause of most business challenges is an assumption that has
gone unchallenged. What is yours?
7.Map Out the New Territory: Avoid that temptation of acting
right away. Instead, map out what the business looks like
once the new idea or assumption is involved. You will find
many ripple effects (positive and unexpected) that you can
plan for ahead of time.
8.Execute: Sell yourself the idea first, and then focus on selling
the idea to other stakeholders in terms that appeal to their
Dhawal Tank – dtank.co 4
Start With A Blank Slate
You got to be a leader by working hard and developing a level of
expertise about your field. This can be an asset, but it can also
prevent you from seeing your blind spots. It also prevents fresh
thinking to emerge. I have repeatedly seen an executive who
cannot see their blind spots and are stuck in stale thinking.
As a consultant, my primary work is often to introduce fresh
thinking to that executive and the organization. Sometimes it can
be from the same industry, or a different industry altogether.
Sometimes it’s a blind spot which the executive is adamantly
ignoring (but which everyone else can see from a mile away).
Look at your work, your company, or your team from the
perspective of an outsider. If you cannot make yourself do that,
speak with a friend or colleague in another industry and get their
Don’t use this as a medium of venting to others about how
challenging or bad things are. Be open to feedback and think
fresh. Being stuck in your head with the problem at hand can be
A personal inventory to understand your blindspots can also be
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Your employees, suppliers, customers, and other market
conditions are indifferent to your needs. While goodwill, trust, and
respect go a long way, understand that people act in their own
self-interest in the medium-term and long-term.
It is sometimes hard to decipher what their self-interest is, and at
times, it seems downright self-destructive (especially when it
comes to employees). Your job must be to understand what is in
the self-interest of each of the stakeholders you interact with.
Realize that your self-interest lies in catering to others’ self-
interests. This alone can cause a stuck situation to finally unlock.
Make a list of all the stakeholders that are involved in the current
situation you are tackling. Customers, employees, vendors,
Next, try to understand exactly what is most important to them. It
is not always money.
Third, develop a list of all the assets (hard and soft) that you can
offer them in return for what you want.
Finally, discuss with them about their interests. Offer what you
can, but also see how close to the mark you were.
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Articulate the Situation and Outcome
Do you have a clear idea of the exact problem you are trying to
solve/fix/manage? Clearly articulating the exact problem in directly
observable language (DOL) will do more to help you find a solution
than wildly throwing a bunch of ideas and hoping they stick.
E.g. It isn’t enough to say that you have a “problem with sales.”
What does this mean? Do you have a problem in keeping
salespeople, or is it the revenue generated per employee? Are
major customers leaving you or are you not able to find new
Therefore, you must clearly articulate the problem. And as best as
you can, articulate the outcome you would like if this problem was
Write out (seriously), don’t just think abstractly exactly what you
see the problem/situation is in the most concrete terms possible.
E.g. Don’t just say “there is a problem with communication.” Write
out “there is no response to the emails asking for direct input.”
Next, think of answers exactly for the problem as you have
described in the most concrete terms possible. Fixing a
“communication problem” is hard. But fixing a problem to get
people to reply back to their emails is a directly observable.
Dhawal Tank – dtank.co 7
Look for Inherent Simplicity
You have to be convinced that there is simplicity at the root of any
situation you are facing. Complexity is a more appealing demon to
battle. The mind tends to complicate things more than it needs to
be. Resist that urge.
Pareto’s 80/20 rule applies. 80% of the things you see happen in
your organization, team, department, and in the marketplace can
be traced to 20% of causes. And in this world, the ratio is more like
95/5, or even 99/1. Find the minority of causes that moves the rest
of the tree and you will be significantly closer to solving the issue
at hand and creating a real breakthrough.
As you write out the problem/situation and start thinking through
the solution/answer, you will see many branches start to form.
Your task is to trace these branches down to their very roots. In
almost every situation, the root causes can be traced down to just
A simple way to understand if you have arrived at a root cause is
to ask yourself: does this cause affect other things in my
team/organization/marketplace? Root causes should be playing a
disproportionate role and causing multiple waves in the situation
The resulting clarity will be free you to see a breakthrough.
Dhawal Tank – dtank.co 8
Don’t Focus on the Unimportant
This is a corollary to the idea before. It will be tempting to go down
the wrong paths and work on a bunch of unimportant things. You
will be tempted to work on the effects themselves as opposed to
As a leader, your job is to work on the important problems or
opportunities at hand. The mind’s tendency is to focus on
immediate short term snap judgements. Resist the urge. By
systematic in your thinking and follow your analysis down to their
How do you know if you’re working on the unimportant things?
First, ask yourself: is this a cause or effect of the situation at hand?
Ask yourself: if I change/fix this, will this cause a substantial change
in the situation? In other words, will it fix the problem? If the
answer is no, or “just slightly” that’s when you know you are
working on the wrong problems.
Another question you can ask yourself is: “Does this thing I am
solving explain any other problems/situations?” A minor problem
will likely be isolated. A root cause will explain many other things
happening in the organization.
Dhawal Tank – dtank.co 9
Find the Unquestioned Assumption
This is another corollary to the idea of looking for inherent
At its heart, there is usually an assumption that has gone
unchallenged. A few decades back, it might have been “we cannot
sell over the Internet.” Today, it might be: “millennial employees
are too ___.” Or, the best of all, “this is just how we do things
Ignoring this is dangerous. It is the reason why the big and mighty
companies often miss something big. It is the reason why 4/10
companies on the Fortune 500 review are gone from that list
within 10 years.
Look at the unquestioned assumptions behind your employee
practices, your supplier and vendor relationships, or how you treat
If an outsider comes and says “why do you do it this way?” and
your only answer is, “that’s just how we do it” or “company policy”,
maybe it’s time to question this assumption.
Breakthroughs happen when you challenge these unspoken
Dhawal Tank – dtank.co 10
Map Out the New Territory
The insights above will help you cut through the clarity and get
clear about the problem as well as the most effective solutions.
But before you decide the best of these options, think through the
downstream implications of that decision.
Since your solution tackles the root causes of your team,
organization, business or industry itself, you can definitely be
assured that whatever you implement will ripple throughout the
For each solution you and/or your team have devised, study the
downstream impact on your finances, your cultural dynamic, your
relationships with your customers, vendors, and suppliers, and
finally in relation to the marketplace itself.
Your previous thinking about stakeholders’ self interest will help
you anticipate the impact. Your goal now is to mitigate unwanted
consequences and commit to the solution that maximizes the
benefits will minimizing the costs.
Dhawal Tank – dtank.co 11
You must sell yourself first. You and your leadership team must
commit to a solution and a course of action before you can
execute with the aid of your suppliers, vendors, employees, and
ultimately your customers to change your position in the
Execution always start with selling. Do not hesitate to walk people
through your thought process and paint a vision for them about
what the solution looks like.
Involve their self interest most of all. Help them see why it is in
their best interest to move along in executing on the desired
Identify the people who need to be involved in this strategic
change. Identify the gaps that need to be filled. Identify a course of
action your existing stakeholders need to take, which ones need to
be let go and which ones need to be added in order to complete
the path to the destination.
Dhawal Tank – dtank.co 12
Implement the Principles in Your Organization
While the Principles above are simple, as you start applying them
you will realize that they can be uncommonly hard to implement.
Sometimes, you need an external voice to dig into your
organization, see the unseen parts of your business, and question
the assumptions that need to be challenged.
This is my work.
I provide strategic consulting work to organizational leaders across
the US, Canada, and Europe. This includes leading workshops and
speaking in any stage of thinking, deciding, inspiring/moving
people, and executing on a strategic change.
This is how the process typically works:
Fill out the Contact Form – Describe the issue you are dealing
with and what your attempts at solving them so far have included.
You can be as brief or as detailed as you want. This call is 100%
confidential and can come with a NDA if required and requested.
Go through Clarity Call - Lasting between 30-75 minutes, we will
go through the call and understand the outcomes you are aiming
Dhawal Tank – dtank.co 13
for, apply the principles above, and figure out areas of greater
exploration. My goal here is to start creating clarity for you.
If appropriate, receive a plan of action - We will determine in
the call itself if we have the ability to work together. If we do,
expect to receive a simple proposal within 24 hours on how you
can create the outcome you want.
Dhawal Tank – dtank.co 14
Frequently Asked Questions
What are your fees?
Unlike many other consultants, I do not charge by the hour so you
do not have to make an investment decision every time I am
engaged. My fees are value-based and are dependent on the
objectives you are trying to reach. This means that if I can solve the
problem in 1 day, I will not draw out our work in order to bill you
more hours. I believe it is in our best interest to work to solve the
problem as quickly and effectively as possible. This also means you
aren't making an investment decision every time I engage with you
and your organization. I will provide your custom-tailored fee
structure in the proposal after a complimentary clarity call which
you can book below.
Why can’t I do this myself?
You can also fix the pipes in your house yourself when the
basement is flooded, but it is often more effective to get someone
external to help you. An outsider like me gives an unbiased
objective view on your company. This is in line with Principle 1,
where you approach your challenges with a blank slate.
Why work specifically with you?
Other consulting firms have layers of people around them. I am a
solo-consultant with skin in the game with my clients and my
business. Unlike larger companies, my reputation is on the line
with my work. This means you can expect great responsiviness,
and results-orientation than others who bill by the hour cannot
provide. Plus my experience, thought leadership as a solo-
consultant, and education makes me equally qualified.
Dhawal Tank – dtank.co 15
Shouldn’t I hire an expert?
Sometimes you do. We can determine that in the Clarity call. I do
not take on clients whose needs I cannot meet anyways. It isn't
good business for me to do that. In other cases, an expert has a
narrow view of the world and uses their own heuristics to jump to
an answer. This can be useful, but a structured way of thinking and
applying the principles above can yield out of the box solutions
that experts with deep industry knowledge often miss altogether.
How can you be sure these Principles will work for me?
These Principles are not derived from fad-of-the-month business
bestseller books. These are tried and true principles gleamed out
from a century from real business executives across every industry
and country on the planet. I've worked alongside thought leaders
and executives, and the most effective problem solvers all share
these same principles of thinking. They absolutely do work.
My business is not in your geography, can we still work?
Yes. I travel and work remotely as appropriate for the work at
hand. Currently, I serve clients in North America and Europe.
Dhawal Tank – dtank.co 16
“I rank Dhawal as one of the best advisors I have ever had. He has an art for
finding and acquiring new pockets of customers in a way that produces
tangible results. Dhawal is not only intelligent and strategic he has an
extremely high degree of emotional intelligence. He undertakes challenges
with a calmness and prudence that differentiates him from other advisors I
have used. In addition to his strategic and tactical skills, he is quite gifted as
seeing where leadership approaches may be interfering with the desired
Sharon King, CEO, Starfield
“Dhawal is a true professional who approaches his work with enthusiasm
and integrity. As a startup, we appreciated his flexibility and ability to do it
all – from fresh big-picture ideas and strategy, to brass-tacks project
Joe Mahavuthivanij, CEO, Mythic Markets
“If you need a smart, driven and easy to work with MBA who can help grow
your business, look no further. His work was so impressive that I had to
offer him options in my business to make sure he’s with me for the long
haul! His ideas work practically for startups, as well as small and medium
sized companies. I highly recommend working with him to grow your
Lelian Girard, CEO, TUIO Payments
“He is one of the most diligent, patient and honest men I have met. It is my
sincere pleasure to recommend him to anybody out there looking for
RESULTS. I firmly believe that past experience is a strong reflection of what
an individual has to offer, and my experience with Dhawal has convinced me
that he is an invaluable team player, a dynamic and creative individual. I
really look forward to working with you again. Keep up all your good work.”
Aditya Gullia, CEO, Grace & Stella
Dhawal Tank – dtank.co 17
About the Author
My name is Dhawal Tank (pronounced The-vuhl Tank). I believe
that businesses and organizations are the real engine of prosperity, dignity,
and innovation in society.
I've worked inside of and consulted with dozens of organizations to see
where they succeed and what makes them come up short. My consulting
practice is based on sound principles gleamed through working alongside or
learning from the world's top leaders, executives, and thinkers.
As a result, I am one of the 100 Global Leaders of Tomorrow as per the St.
Gallen Symposium in Switzerland.
I have an MBA from York University (Top 10 in the World as per Forbes, see
here) and a Bachelors from the Ivey Business School (Top ranked undergrad
program in Canada, see here).
I write about Leadership, Technology, and Healthcare with a spattering of
personal development and environmental issues. My work was emailed
more than 20,000 times and read by close to 1 million people on
Quora.com. I’ve also been featured on Huffington Post, and Big Design Lab.
I’ve spoken all across North America in front of audiences ranging from 10
to 3,500 in Toronto, Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, Detroit, Calgary, and
I consult and work with a variety of non-profits as well. Along with my work
for BAPS Charities, I work with NY Times Best Selling author Dr. Michael
Greger’s organization NutritionFacts.org, and I advise startups in the IoT,
med-tech, food, education, and logistics space.
I currently live in California, and serve clients across the world. Get in touch
with me here for your needs.
Dhawal Tank – dtank.co 18
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