Big Potential Book Summary - Big Potential Book explained in key points
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Big Potential summary

Shawn Achor

How Transforming the Pursuit of Success Raises Our Achievement, Happiness, and Well-Being

4.4 (201 ratings)
19 mins
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    Big Potential
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    Perceiving success as a zero-sum game limits our potential. Helping others and collaborating with them greatly amplifies it.

    “Top of the class,” “first place,” and “best.” At school, on the sports field, and throughout our working careers, we’re taught to aim for top-ranked positions. It’s not enough to be good – we have to be better than everyone else. But what this implies is that there’s only so much success to go around. As a result, we become competitive and focused on accomplishing things on our own.

    But approaching success this way actually puts a cap on what we can achieve. It may seem counterintuitive, but if we want to maximize our potential, we shouldn’t compete with those around us. Instead, we should help them succeed.

    The key message here is: Perceiving success as a zero-sum game limits our potential. Helping others and collaborating with them greatly amplifies it.

    By competing and relying on our individual skills, strengths, and other resources, we can only acquire limited success. Or, in the author’s words, we’re stuck in the realm of Small Potential. But when we help others succeed, our pool of available resources expands. And tapping into this wider pool makes it possible to accomplish much more than what we’re capable of alone.

    This is Big Potential, and a study into the mating behavior of fireflies provides a glowing example of just how powerful it is. Research published in the journal Science revealed that when individual male fireflies light up randomly, there’s a 3 percent chance that a female will respond. But when large groups of male fireflies light up together, that number shoots up to 82 percent!

    Like these fireflies, when we collaborate, everyone benefits. And that’s not all.

    Achieving Big Potential isn’t just a one-off. The more we help others succeed, the more resources they gain in the form of experiences, skills, and opportunities. We have access to these resources and can use them to become better and gain bigger success ourselves. This creates a positive feedback loop called a Virtuous Cycle, in which Big Potential compounds and becomes easier and easier to achieve.

    So, how do we go about establishing a Virtuous Cycle?

    The answer is by planting SEEDS. But there’s no need for gardening tools; SEEDS is an acronym for the five steps to creating a Virtuous Cycle. We need to SURROUND, EXPAND, ENHANCE, DEFEND, and, finally, SUSTAIN. And in the following blinks, we’ll learn exactly what each of these steps involves.

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    What is Big Potential about?

    Big Potential (2018) highlights how we can maximize our potential by working with others instead of competing against them. Chasing individual success only taps into a fraction of what we’re capable of. But by connecting with other people, learning from them, and supporting each other, we can unlock hidden potential and reach new heights.

    Who should read Big Potential?

    • People looking to unleash their full potential
    • Anyone who feels stuck in their life or career
    • Leaders who want to bring out the best in people

    About the Author

    Shawn Achor is a renowned expert on positive psychology. His research has been published by WSJ, the New York Times, and Forbes. He’s worked with the Pentagon, the White House, and Fortune 100 companies, and his lectures have earned him distinguished teaching awards from Harvard University. Achor is also the author of the international bestseller The Happiness Advantage.

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