Big Potential: a Book Review
First of all, I experienced the power of the Big Potential firsthand.
In 2013 I took part in a 3-month online Transformational Contest. In theory, we were there to compete for the few main prizes.
The expectation of the contest was that each member had to login once a day and provide an update about his progress. The social element was added practically as an afterthought. There were very strict rules about this obligatory logging in and updating, but practically no rules about social interactions.
In practice, we did that and plenty more: we cheered each other up, we supported each other, we exchanged advice and encouraged each other.
And we succeeded like no other bunch of people I’ve ever seen in my life.
Success of Average Folks
Make no mistake, we weren’t superstars. Most of us were broken and had a difficult history. One of my friends struggled with brain damage after a car accident, another was practically bankrupt, yet another was coming out of an abusive relationship. I was at the beginning of my personal transformation and had virtually zero tangible accomplishments under my belt.
Yet, we succeeded. The contest lasted 90 days, but the fruits are still visible even today. At least four of my TC friends wrote and published their books, including the one with damaged brain. A few pivoted into a different career; my friend who had just come out of an abusive relationship became a freelance writer. Some started new businesses. Many transformed their finances or health.
I’ve never seen a group of people make such rapid progress in my life. I worked for several organizations, I have been with my church community for 14 years. I saw individuals make rapid progress. I saw the constant progress of my church community brothers and sisters, but it was at a glacier-like pace. The Transformational Contest was the only time I saw massive, rapid and lasting progress of many.
We succeeded, because we tapped into the Big Potential.
“Big Potential” is groundbreaking despite the fact that ancient wisdom said exactly the same thing: do to others like you would like they do to you.
The book of Proverbs is full of similar sayings. Listen more than you speak, be authentic, support others and you will be blessed. By the way, this is not the first time the current research firmly confirms what the Bible and ancient sages said thousands of years ago. This is fascinating. In the past centuries, people who wanted to lead a moral life had to refer to the code of conduct. It worked. The history is full of people who succeeded because they lived according to the timeless rules and didn’t succumb to complacency or easier ways.
Nowadays, we have it even simpler. Data confirms what the code of conduct says. The element of faith is reduced. We are finally at the stage of development when we can actually measure that living a good, self-disciplined, service-oriented, decent life is advantageous for an individual.
About the first 25% of the book actually dwells on what Achor called the Small Potential – individual performance and how it is mistakenly highly valued in our society.
Yes, it’s true that individual performance is required. It’s always better to tap into Big Potential when you already have Small Potential. But our craze of individual accomplishments is totally not grounded in reality. We fix on it and we miss the big picture, the Big Potential. Shawn Achor quotes research after research showing that the exaggerated focus on individual kills the true performance. We compete instead of cooperating. And our results stay at the low level.
It is so much easier to develop an individual’s performance in the environment of the Big Potential. However, the fixation on an individual’s results holds us from creating such an environment in the first place.
Infinite Versus Finite
Reflecting on the book’s message for this review I came up with a similarity. Big Potential is like the eternity in Christianity. The Bible and tradition teach us that practically everything in this world is worthless compared to the happiness we will experience forever in the presence of God. It is worth it to leave everything behind, like the apostles did, to get into Heaven.
Yet, very few Christians actually practice this. We are earth-bound like the book of Wisdom says “For a perishable body presses down the soul, and this tent of clay weighs down the mind with its many cares” (Wisdom 9: 15). And we dedicate 95% of our time and energy to earthly belongings, businesses, ventures, activities and issues, leaving only 5% to spiritual life.
The same goes with the Small Potential. The idea of collaboration is not foreign or modern. We kind of know that it’s better to cooperate than to compete. Yet, we (companies, schools and even families) dedicate 95% of our energy to track and modify individual performance and the team is always an afterthought, if that.
Here is the thing: some saints said that our time on Earth has infinite value because it can ‘buy us’ salvation and God, who is truly infinite. The same is true about our work here. Saints often encouraged us to consider our toil as a form of prayer. As long as our work makes us better and closes us to the gates of Heaven, its value is uncountable.
The Small Potential, individual performance, is only as valuable as it contributes to the Big Potential.
It IS good to be smart, nice, quick, sharp or skilled. It contributes to your team’s potential. If you are a valuable person, you will be a valuable addition to the team. However, modern fixation on individual performance makes us to use our good qualities like a club to beat everybody else around. This is not the Big Potential. If your super qualities make you arrogant to the point that it is hard to cooperate with you, you lose. You invested in Small Potential, not the big one.
We Live in the Big World
The harsh truth is that there are very, very few occupations in the modern world where Small Potential can make you a superstar. It’s hard to imagine a more lonely occupation than an author. It’s hard to find any other occupation where so much depends on your individual skills. If you don’t write well, no editor will help you to make your book great. An editor can polish a gem until it shines, but cannot make a gem out of a botch.
The only ultra-successful modern author I know who may be described as a loner is Cormac McCarthy. This guy’s book sold millions of copies, but he gives interviews very sparsely (read: once in 13 years!).
I can track how team effort was always behind successes of my books. I could never publish something alone. My proofreaders and editors were invaluable in straightening my English. Hynek Palatin made the first decent covers for me and suddenly my books started to sell better. Chris Bell helped me with marketing “Master Your Time” and it became my first bestseller. Jeannie Ingraham helped me to write “99 Perseverance Success Stories” and this book already sold over 3,200 copies. Steve Scott notified his email list about my new releases or promotions and every time it skyrocketed my sales.
The Big Potential
After finishing with the Small Potential, Achor tackles the big one. There are five fat chapters on it.
I read in a so-so review a complaint that there were too many stories and research instanced in the book and too little actionable advice. Yes, there is plenty of that, but I deem it necessary. People follow a vision, and now we don’t have a vision of the Big Potential. We have no clue how great of a game-changer it is.
We need to have it painted in front of our eyes. The stories and research instanced in the book do exactly this. Thanks to them you can realize how big is BIG potential, how it dwarves the Small Potential by many orders of magnitude.
However, the vision part is only half of each chapter or less. Each chapter contains also a few to several strategies how you can implement the Big Potential. Here they come:
Surround Yourself with Positive Influencers
STRATEGY #1: Tap into the power of positive peer pressure.
STRATEGY #2: Create balance through variety.
STRATEGY #3: Create reciprocal bonds.
Expand Your Power
STRATEGY #1: Lead from the eleventh chair.
STRATEGY #2: Develop your Elevated Pitch.
STRATEGY #3: Use progress as fuel.
STRATEGY #4: Lead from every lunch seat.
Enhance Your Resources
STRATEGY #1: Stop comparison praise.
STRATEGY #2: Spotlight the right.
STRATEGY #3: Praise the base.
STRATEGY #4: Democratize praise.
STRATEGY #5: Unlock the Hidden 31.
STRATEGY #6: Don’t just praise the outcome; praise to an outcome.
Defend Against Negative Influencers
STRATEGY #1: Build a moat.
STRATEGY #2: Build a mental stronghold.
STRATEGY #3: Learn the art of Mental Aikido.
STRATEGY #4: Take a vacation from your problems.
STRATEGY #5: Pick your battles.
Sustain the Gains
STRATEGY #1: Generate more positive energy by creating Tours of Meaning.
STRATEGY #2: Use Vivid Direction to generate a path for that energy to flow.
STRATEGY #3: Accelerate the momentum you have created through the power of celebration.
As you can see, some of them are hard to comprehend without context. What the heck is “Unlock the Hidden 31?” The background stories are necessary.
The Masterpiece on Praising
Other strategies may seem obvious, but they are not. I consider the chapter on praising a masterpiece well worth the price of the book.
Praise as a tool for improvement has been known for eons. You probably think you know how important praise is. And how hard it may be? You probably think there is nothing new that can be said about praising.
“You know nothing, Jon Snow.” – Ygritte
Shawn Achor explains in detail how to instill a habit of praising in an organization. You don’t have to be head of an organization to implement it. Praising may start from any point of it.
I tell you, “Big Potential” already influenced me. I’m considered (rightfully!) an outsider in my day job. A corporate environment makes my stomach twist in the wrong way. I’m of the opinion that everybody would do much better on their own. Anyway, a couple of days ago I praised my department and my supervisor indirectly. I just couldn’t help it. I noticed something in which we were consistently beating all other departments and articulated it out loud.
A Significant Book
Usually, I don’t come back to non-fiction books. Like never-ever. It’s not an empty promise: I will come back to “Big Potential” many times.
Deep in my guts, I still feel I didn’t grasp the significance of the Big Potential. I had been bombarded by the cult of ego for decades. Be the best! Run the fastest! Be the strongest! It’s not easy to get rid of these thinking patterns. I need to refer to this book regularly. I may include it in my daily readings and read one paragraph at a time every single day.
We struggle with the idea of potential. We were tricked into thinking that our individual performance is crucial to our individual wellbeing. On a small scale, it may be true. If you want to put a food on the table and keep a roof over your head, you’d better perform. But when you try to get into the realm of well-being and abundance, you’d better learn not only to cooperate, but consider your peers’ wellbeing more significant than yours. This is how the Big Potential begets.
So, a small potential is a necessary seed, but it’s not a fully-grown tree.
“In all truth I tell you, unless a wheat grain falls into the earth and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest.” John 12:24
I wonder how many other truths Jesus hid in His parables. This verse ideally applies to the Big Potential message. And this message is not a fable made by a crazy fanatic, but a result of meticulous research on huge data sets, so huge that they are available for humans for the first time in history.
A Big Potential Story
It is never about the one guy. It’s always about the team. One last story to illustrate how much the small potential relies on the Big Potential.
In 17th century lived Saint Stanislaw Papczyński. He had some difficult times with his calling before he started his own religious order, a Marian congregation. It was the first Polish religious order for men. On the way to the realization of this goal, for a duration of 30 years, Papczyński had to overcome innumerable difficulties.
When he died, the order wasn’t particularly big. It had only two monasteries, if I recall correctly. In 18th century it grew steadily, expanding to Portugal and Italy. One man started the order, but it took the whole order to grow and progress.
Then Russia invaded Poland and a long struggle began. Czarist Russia repressed religious institutes in Poland. By 1908 only one living Marian remained.
Here comes a story like from Star Wars. The remaining Marian, Vincent Sękowski [Yoda] was the Superior General of the order. A young Lithuanian priest [Luke Skywalker] secretly joined the ranks of the Marians. He had been brought up in a village where the Marian Fathers staffed the local parish and he had an utmost respect for the Order.
The priest was George Matulewicz, who became later a bishop. Only five months after a pope approved the renewal of the Order, Vincent Sękowski died.
Stanislaw, Vincent and George were remarkable individuals. At some time in the history, all of them were ‘the only ones.’ A lone man against the world. They were seeds.
Now, the Marian Order is the tree with many branches. It consists of about 500 priests and brothers, it has convents in 19 countries on 6 continents. This is the Big Potential at work. An individual may be only the seed, not the tree.