Setting a country’s structural growth rate on a higher path, i.e. sparking and sustaining a growth acceleration can have quantitatively huge implications for national income and, more broadly, for people’s wellbeing. We develop a novel statistical framework to identify systematically the set of binding constraints that were unlocked before the 135 growth acceleration episodes that took place between 1962 and 2002 worldwide. We employ this information to characterise the acceleration process, which tends to be preceded by a deep recession and major economic policy changes. Once we combined this information with a set of counterfactual analyses, we find however that successful acceleration strategies should not contain off-the-shelf approaches or necessarily all-encompassing “shock therapy” solutions. On the other hand, they call for a careful tailoring to local conditions. Richer countries tend to experience fewer accelerations, but once these have been ignited, they are better positioned to make the most out of them. Despite standard growth determinants doing a fairly good job at characterising successful accelerations, we note how take-offs remain extremely hard to engineer with a high degree of certainty.