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  • Toby Sinclair

Summary: Hidden Potential by Adam Grant

Updated: May 1


🤔 Should You Read This Book?

Toby's Rating: 5/10

I must admit. I didn't learn a great deal from Adam Grant's latest book. In his last book, Think Again, I had many takeaways. Hidden Potential wasn't the same. In essence, it argued that soft skills trump hard skills. I'm sure most readers already know that to be true.

There was, however, one idea that made me Think Again.....

👋 Hey - I'm Toby. This summary wasn't written by AI. I'm a real leader, managing teams in large organisations. I read to solve tough problems. I share book summaries to help other leaders tackle scary challenges.

💡3 Big Ideas from Hidden Potential by Adam Grant

Here are three big ideas that business leaders can apply to lead their business and team more effectively:

Big Idea 1 - Success is driven by Character (”soft”) Skills more than Cognitive (”hard”) Skills

Hidden Potential by Adam Grant emphasizes the importance of character skills. There are several stories shared about how success was driven by developing character skills, rather than cognitive skills. Recently a team of social scientists launched an experiment to test that hypothesis. They recruited 1,500 entrepreneurs in West Africa—a mix of women and men in their 30s, 40s, and 50s—who were running small startups in manufacturing, service, and commerce. In cognitive skills training, the founders took an accredited business course created by the International Finance Corporation. They studied finance, accounting, HR, marketing, and pricing, and practiced using what they learned to solve challenges and seize opportunities. In character skills training, the founders attended a class designed by psychologists to teach personal initiative. They studied proactivity, discipline, and determination, and practiced putting those qualities into action. Character skills training had a dramatic impact. After the founders had spent merely five days working on these skills, their firms’ profits grew by an average of 30 percent over the next two years. That was nearly triple the benefit of training in cognitive skills.

Big Idea 2 - Embrace Discomfort and Start Before You Feel Ready

Hidden Potential by Adam Grant emphasizes the importance of character skills. For business leaders, this translates into the courage to embark on new projects, innovations, or strategies even before feeling fully prepared. Encouraging a culture where taking initiative and stepping out of comfort zones is valued can foster a dynamic and progressive work environment. This approach also includes being open to learning new methods or adopting unfamiliar strategies that might be more effective for current challenges. In a clever experiment, psychologists Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach studied hundreds of people taking improv comedy classes and randomly assigned them to focus on different goals. The ones who persisted the longest—and took the most creative risks—weren’t the ones who were encouraged to focus on learning. They were the ones who had been advised to intentionally pursue discomfort. “Your goal is to feel awkward and uncomfortable … it’s a sign the exercise is working,” the instructions said. Once people saw discomfort as a mark of growth, they were motivated to stretch beyond their comfort zones.

Big Idea 3 - Foster a Humble Learning Environment

Hidden Potential by Adam Grant focuses on humility as a strength, especially in recognizing your limitations and being open to learning from others. In a business context, this translates to creating an environment where feedback is not just accepted but actively sought. Leaders should encourage their teams to admit mistakes, be open to new ideas, and focus on collective growth. By doing so, they can create a more collaborative and innovative workplace.

💬 2 Best Quotes from Hidden Potential by Adam Grant

Character is often confused with personality, but they’re not the same. Personality is your predisposition—your basic instincts for how to think, feel, and act. Character is your capacity to prioritize your values over your instincts.

This quote highlights how character is often misunderstood. Adam Grant goes on to further highlight the importance of grit and perseverance. It's easy to prioritize your values when the stakes are low. True character is demonstrated when you prioritize your values in the toughest moments.

Comfort in learning is a paradox. You can’t become truly comfortable with a skill until you’ve practiced it enough to master it. But practicing it before you master it is uncomfortable, so you often avoid it. Accelerating learning requires a second form of courage: being brave enough to use your knowledge as you acquire it.

In Hidden Potential, Adam Grant shares several stories of this quote in action. In particular, he focuses on learning a new language. The best language learners are often the ones who overcome their fear of making mistakes in public. To learn a new language you must fail in public. This applies to many skills. When you embrace failing in public your learning will accelerate.

Hidden Potential by Adam Grant Summary Image

Toby's Top Takeaway

Embrace Growth Through Discomfort and Continuous Learning

The biggest lesson I've learned from Hidden Potential by Adam Grant is the importance of stepping out of your comfort zone and embracing continuous learning as a pathway to uncovering your true potential. "Hidden Potential" by Adam Grant illustrates that potential is not about where you start but about how far you travel. This journey often requires starting tasks before feeling fully ready and embracing discomfort as a catalyst for growth.

Actionable Takeaways:

  1. Start Before You Feel Ready: Don’t wait for the perfect moment to embark on new projects or initiatives. Encourage yourself and your team to leap, even if it feels premature. This approach fosters a proactive mindset and accelerates learning and development.

  2. Adopt a Growth Mindset: View challenges and setbacks not as failures, but as opportunities to grow and learn. This mindset will help you and your team to persist through difficulties and view every experience as a valuable lesson.

  3. Set 'Learning' Goals, Not Just 'Performance' Goals: Focus on setting goals that emphasize skill development and learning, rather than just performance metrics. This approach encourages a culture of continuous improvement and lifelong learning.

  4. Embrace a Spiral Approach to Progress: Understand that progress is often non-linear. Sometimes you need to revisit and revise your strategies. This ‘roundabout path to progress’ is a normal part of the journey towards achieving great things.

By applying these principles, you can unlock hidden potential and achieve greater heights, both personally and professionally. Remember, it's not about innate talent or genius, but about the journey of learning, adapting, and growing.

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