Book Review: Big Potential by Shawn Achor

Posted by Kristin Arnold on January 23, 2023

It’s the beginning of a new year (2023) and I pulled Shawn Achor’s book, Big Potential: How Transforming the Pursuit of Success Raises our Achievement, Happiness, and Well-Being out of “saved for later” into my Amazon shopping cart.  It arrived the next day on my doorstep and I completely devoured it.  So much so, that I think I’ll have to go back and re-read parts.

The main premise of the book is that working as individuals we can tap into some success – Achor calls this “small potential.”  When we tap into those around us, we can leverage those relationships into “big potential” and even greater success.  Sounds reasonable enough, especially when he weaves in stories, examples, and practical how-tos.
Frankly, nothing in this book is earth-shattering BUT it does create a playbook by which to be a great and successful team player:
1)  Surround yourself with positive influencers.  This tenet reminds me of motivational speaker Jim Rohn who said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”  Achor then expounds on what that really looks like and how you can do it.
2)  Expound your power. Four specific strategies to galvanize others:
  • Recognize that you can create change wherever YOU are (even if you are not the designated leader)
  • Develop an elevated pitch
  • Reward and reinforce people’s efforts to create change
  • Help others see meaning in their lives
3)  Create a prism of praise and recognition. Arguably the best part of this book as Achor would probably call me a “praise miser.”  “By denying the light of praise, we extinguish it.  By bending the light toward others, we magnify it.”  He has six strategies for magnifying the power of praise:
  • Stop comparison praise
  • Spotlight the right
  • Praise the base
  • Democratize praise
  • Unlock the Hidden 31 (those people who are positive but not expressive at work)
  • Don’t just praise the outcome – praise to an outcome
4)  Defend against negative influences. Five strategies to defend, disarm and overcome those forces that threaten our energy, creativity, passion, and potential:
  • Build a moat
  • Build a mental stronghold
  • Learn the art of Mental Aikido
  • Take a vacation from your problems
  • Pick your battles
5)  Create collective momentum. Three practical strategies for channeling positive, collective energy in the direction of your goals:
  • “Create Tours of Meaning” (move away from describing your daily duties and talk about the larger meaning in your work)
  • Use vivid direction (because the more vividly we can picture something, the more attainable it feels)
  • Celebrate the wins
All in all, a good read if you want to tap into even greater potential and success.

KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CSP, CPF|Master has been facilitating meaningful conversations between executives and managers to make better decisions and achieve extraordinary results for 25+ years. She's a leading authority on moderating panel discussions and passionate about finding the perfect olive to complement a vodka martini.

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