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Summary: Hidden Potential by Adam Grant

Key Takeaways

  • Do you want to learn how to unlock your hidden potential and achieve greater things? Do you want to discover the secrets of extremely productive people, and how they manage to improve and succeed with less stress and more joy? If so, you might want to read the book Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things by Adam Grant.
  • In this article, we will provide you with a summary and review of the book, and highlight the main points and takeaways. We will also share some of the exercises and tools that the author suggests, and how you can use them to enhance your learning and performance. If you are interested in learning more, keep reading!

There is one thing that predicts your future growth more than anything else. It’s not your genetics or your intelligence. It’s your character skills. Character skills allow you to override your instincts and hold true to your values. Unlike personality traits, your character skills are not fixed. Research shows that adults earn an average of $320,000 more over their lifetime if they had an experienced kindergarten teacher who taught them to be more proactive, cooperative, focused, and persistent.

If we can strengthen similar character skills (regardless of how old we are), we will go greater distances and unlock hidden potential. When looking to strengthen character, it’s helpful to create an identity that encompasses the traits and behaviors of high‐potential people. I call this identity the “Proactive Imperfectionist Player.” Let’s isolate the first part – “Proactive Imperfectionist” ‐ and understand why being a “Proactive Imperfectionist” is essential to unlocking potential.

Summary: Hidden Potential by Adam Grant

Proactive Imperfectionist…

Most perfectionists fail to maximize their potential because they learn to hate mistakes and avoid criticism. Making mistakes lowers their self‐ esteem and makes them think, “I’m not doing that again.” And shrinks their comfort zone. This way of thinking repeats until their comfort zone is tiny, and they only do what they know they’re good at.

A “Proactive Imperfectionist” counteracts perfectionism by setting a “mistake quota.” For instance, a Proactive Imperfectionist learning a new language tries their best to speak fluently, but expects to make 200 mistakes a day. A Proactive Imperfectionist student does his best to ace practice exams, but doesn’t stop studying until he gets 100 practice exam questions wrong.

Make a mistake quota: When you set a “mistake quota,” you seek discomfort – which is crucial because how much you grow depends on how much discomfort you’re willing to experience. I challenge you to set the following mistake quota this year: experience two project failures (a side hustle project, a learning project, etc.). If you don’t encounter at least two failures, you either finished too few projects, or your projects didn’t push your skills enough.

Seek out hard truths: A “Proactive Imperfectionist” not only seeks out mistakes, but also seeks out criticism and hard truths that most people’s egos can’t handle. A Proactive Imperfectionist seeks out people they respect and asks, “What one thing can I do to get better?”


Reaching your potential requires incredible discipline.

Discipline to do focused, deliberate practice for several hours a week.

Discipline to resist short‐term pleasure and pursue long‐term growth.

However, research shows that people with extreme discipline rarely use it. In other words, disciplined people stay disciplined because they don’t rely on willpower. In the famous marshmallow test, the disciplined children who resisted the marshmallows the longest didn’t rely on willpower because they either covered their eyes, covered their marshmallows, sat on their hands, or mushed the marshmallows into balls and bounced them like toys. Those creative and playful strategies allowed them to stay disciplined. You see a similar principle in the lives of people who excel at their sport, craft, or profession. Masters in all fields design and redesign their practice to be fun and effective by engaging in what psychologists call “deliberate play.”

Deliberate play

A testament to the power of deliberate play is a basketball player once ranked a three out of five by high‐school recruiters who was told he would never be a star in the NBA because he lacked explosiveness. That player is now regarded as the best shooter in NBA history – Stephen Curry. Early in his career, Curry worked with a trainer named Brandon Payne, whose motto was: “There is no boring in our workouts.” Payne turned drills into games and always gave Curry a score to beat. Payne created games like Extreme Twenty‐One, in which Curry had one minute to score twenty‐one points with three‐pointers, jump shots, and layups, but after each shot, he had to sprint to the middle of the court and back. The intensity simulated a real game, and his score in one practice became the metric to beat in the following practice.

Incorporate “deliberate play” into your deliberate practice to prevent your practice from turning into an emotionally draining obsessive slog that leads to “boreout” (you quit because you lose interest). Be a “Proactive Imperfectionist Player” by turning practice drills into games (like Stephen Curry’s coach), injecting novelty (practicing in different locations and switching up equipment), alternating between skills (going between instruments), playing against the clock, and measuring your performance so you have a score to beat next practice. The less practice feels like work but still pushes you out of your comfort zone, the further you will go.

“Without enjoyment, potential stays hidden.” – Adam Grant


Self-help, Productivity, Psychology, Education, Business, Personal Development, Motivation, Success, Leadership, Innovation.


The book is based on the premise that we live in a world that is obsessed with talent, and that this obsession leads us to underestimate our own potential and the potential of others. The book challenges the common myths and assumptions about what it takes to improve and succeed, such as the idea that talent is fixed, that hard work is enough, that practice makes perfect, or that feedback is always helpful. The book proposes a new framework for developing potential, called The Productivity Code, which consists of nine principles that anyone can apply to achieve more with less stress and more joy. The nine principles are:

  • Principle 1: Learn to learn. This principle involves adopting a growth mindset, seeking challenges, embracing mistakes, and experimenting with different strategies and methods to enhance your learning and performance.
  • Principle 2: Learn from others. This principle involves finding and following role models, mentors, and coaches who can inspire you, guide you, and challenge you to grow. It also involves learning from your peers, competitors, and critics, and seeking diverse perspectives and feedback.
  • Principle 3: Learn to teach. This principle involves sharing your knowledge, skills, and experiences with others, and helping them learn and improve. It also involves teaching yourself, by reviewing, reflecting, and explaining what you have learned, and by creating your own learning materials and resources.
  • Principle 4: Learn to unlearn. This principle involves recognizing and overcoming the mental barriers and biases that limit your learning and potential, such as confirmation bias, sunk cost fallacy, or status quo bias. It also involves updating and revising your beliefs, assumptions, and habits, based on new evidence and experiences.
  • Principle 5: Learn to relearn. This principle involves adapting and reinventing yourself in response to changing situations, demands, and opportunities. It also involves transferring and applying your existing knowledge and skills to new domains and contexts, and integrating and synthesizing your diverse learnings.
  • Principle 6: Learn to enjoy. This principle involves finding and pursuing your passion, purpose, and strengths, and aligning them with your work and life. It also involves creating more time and space for the activities that bring you joy, fulfillment, and energy, such as hobbies, exercise, meditation, or spending time with loved ones.
  • Principle 7: Learn to optimize. This principle involves setting and achieving SMART goals, using effective strategies and tools, and measuring and tracking your progress and results. It also involves optimizing your environment, routine, and schedule, to maximize your focus, concentration, and productivity.
  • Principle 8: Learn to balance. This principle involves managing your time, energy, and attention, and prioritizing the tasks and activities that matter most to you. It also involves setting and enforcing boundaries, saying no to distractions and interruptions, and taking breaks and rest.
  • Principle 9: Learn to celebrate. This principle involves acknowledging and appreciating your achievements and milestones, and rewarding yourself and others for your efforts and outcomes. It also involves celebrating your failures and setbacks, and using them as opportunities to learn and grow.

The book is a captivating and enlightening read, that combines scientific research, practical advice, and compelling stories, to help readers unlock their hidden potential and achieve greater things. The author writes with clarity, humor, and empathy, and draws from his own experiences as a psychologist, professor, and bestselling author, as well as from the examples of various people who have overcome challenges and reached extraordinary heights, such as Serena Williams, Yo-Yo Ma, Mark Cuban, and Malcolm Gladwell. The book is well-structured and easy to follow, and each principle is explained in detail, with exercises, quizzes, and tools. The book is not only informative, but also motivational, and encourages readers to take action and apply the principles to their own lives. The book is suitable for anyone who wants to improve their learning and performance, and who is willing to challenge their assumptions and habits for the better.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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