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Big Potential, Shawn Achor – A Book Review


The new book by Shawn Achor is an excellent read for anyone looking to transform their pursuit of success to raise achievement, happiness and well-being. “Big Potential” shares many examples and research showing that our potential is not limited by what we alone can achieve, but rather by how we complement, contribute to, and benefit from the abilities and achievements of the people around us.

My first takeaway from reading this book – as a leader, parent, and professional coach – is that if we focus on our individual achievement, we have an abundance of untapped potential. This is a cultural phenomenon; from childhood we are propelled toward and rewarded for individual achievement, when in reality our most powerful, impactful, satisfying life experiences come from working as a team with others. At home, whether working with my sisters to create a supportive actionable plan when my father was in the hospital or partnering with my husband and daughter on a house project, I am in my zone when we are flowing and working together. At work, I am energized and passionate working side by side developing our shared vision with my business partners at Emergent to deliver high impact leadership development opportunities for our clients.

Many of you have probably heard of the Fab 5; I have discussed it on some of my blogs on our website. The theory is that we are really made up of the five people with whom we surround ourselves. Achor’s book shares a similar theory, suggesting the types of people we should surround ourselves with and introducing readers to the following types of positive influencers:

Pillars – The “rocks” who have been there for us, who will drop everything and offer unconditional support and acceptance.

Bridges – The connectors to new people and/or resources outside our current group. These are the people that invite us to a committee or to introduce us to new contacts.

Extenders – Positive influencers who push us outside our comfort zones. While we are often drawn to people similar to us, this person could be a friend or mentor who has a different skill set and encourages and supports our growth.

Another good reminder for me from Achor’s book is that in our pursuit of the “Big Potential,” we do not need to despair if we experience fear, anger, or sadness – and in fact, the feelings and experience are crucial during our pursuit. They force us to turn negatives into sources of strength and resilience so that we can thrive in an imbalanced world. Achor shares practices to mitigate the negative influences, including taking a break from technology, going on vacation, practicing gratitude, and creating a power lead for your conversations – “I’m so excited about our work together” instead of “I am so busy.”

How could you be a pillar, extender or bridge for someone? Helping someone believe in or see their “big potential” helps you drive not only your potential, but that of your team, your family and your community. We could all benefit from seeing things from a bigger perspective and being pushed to heights we’d not thought possible; what action could you do to help others reach their “big potential”?

“Each one of us is like that butterfly in the Butterfly Effect … each tiny move toward a more positive mindset can send ripples of positivity through our organizations, our families and our communities.”

― Shawn Achor,
The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work

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