Big Potential ~ a book review

Thursday, June 13, 2019
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Big Potential, written by Shawn Achor, is not what I thought it would be. The cover states Big Potenial, How Transforming the Pursuit of Success Raises Our Achievement, Happiness, and Well-Being. Of course, I was expecting a self-help  book which would help me improve my own life bit by bit.

This book, however, focuses on the interconnectedness of each person and how we reach greater heights by working together and helping one another out. This book is about leadership and taking an approach to leadership which is not self-serving, but one in which, each person works to help others grow, and in doing so increases their own achievement.

This is not the kind of book that tickles a self-proclaimed introverted loner's toes very much. But it was well-written and I kept reading and discovered some of the insights the writer discovered.

Achor writes many of us are still holding to a "survival of the fittest mentality" in which we focus on an individual's personal achievements: test scores, IQ, languages, and grades, but he argues by focusing on an individual's achievement, we are limited to small potential. He argues instead that true success, the correct variables to measure success (as backed up by his work at Harvard and some little study at Google), and greatest achievement actually occurs from the idea of "survival of the best fit," (p. 36). This is the idea that social connections and an awareness of their importance,  and the freedom of the team to speak equally and safely as the true key to big potential. 

Now my first thought was, "Oh God. Another leadership book." I am so sick of hearing this buzzword, which has been adopted my own workplace. I could have cried. I lean toward the "who", the individual. I don't want to think collectively. The idea of helping others rise while I feel invisible, is rather unappealing to me. It makes me feel rebellious and pouty and like stomping my feet in protest. But ... I do enjoy a nice small to medium size party, and I do think having a helpful, caring community within an organization is important. So I patted my pouty inner child and reminded her that she knew she needed some lessons on how the world works, hence all the reading, and continued.Now, none of this is brand spanking new to anyone who has been around awhile. We have all been hearing how much higher a goal can be met when everyone is working together, rather than every woman looking out for herself. I begrudgingly admitted there may be something to this, and continued.

The myth of the lone genius is discussed. Einstein and Shakespeare used and built on the ideas of others and what they put into place. Edision had the collaboration of a team that worked with him. According to the book "historians struggle to determine if he ever invented anything himself (42)." While he may have at one time been an inquisitive boy working in his parent's  shed (or something), The Wizard of Menlo Park didn't patent 1000 new inventions by his sole genius. It was in connection and collaboration with other great thinkers and experimenters.

This book requires a shift in mindset, from the me to the we. It isn't about how many points you individually scored, but the idea of how did you help your team win (p.67)? Again, as someone who never played organized team sports, that sounds a little yucky to me. But as someone who led my team to classroom jeopardy victory in tenth grade World History, I get it. They chose me for their team (who happens to love history and have a good memory for facts), and they were part of the winning team! Okay, I am sort of poking fun, but it is true. One of the ideas which has been floating around recently is you are the average of the five people you spend the most the time with. 

This idea that we inspire, challenge, and help each other achieve a greater potential through our social connections is not novel-it makes a lot of sense- but it can be used to help us achieve more. As we help those around us rise and succeed, we should naturally increase our own abilities and knowledge and find ourselves reaching higer potential.

It isn't the best news for a lone wolf, but it is a nice thought to mull over. 



I didn't sell any books, so Amazon cut off my affiliate status, so no link for now!


Achor, S. (2018). Big potential. 1st ed. New York: Currency, pp.42, 67.

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