Book Review: Hidden Potential

As a child, I pursued several dreams. I dreamed of going to Princeton University and becoming a famous attorney. I dreamed of making my high school basketball team and then moving my athletic talents to the collegiate level. I also dreamed of joining a rock band and traveling the world playing concerts in front of huge audiences.

I never achieved these dreams. I was too short and not good enough to play high school basketball. My grades were not good enough to get into Princeton and I had no interest in seven years of college. I never learned to play an instrument and my singing is only appropriate in the shower or on a distant Spanish trail.

While I had potential in each of these dreams, I lacked the skills needed to achieve any of them. In best-selling author Adam Grant’s newest book, Hidden Potential, he provides the reader with a framework for raising aspirations and exceeding expectations. Grant shares ample evidence, surprising insights, and great examples of how just about anyone can achieve their dreams. Grant demonstrates that progress depends less on how hard you work than on how well you learn. He suggests growth is less about the genius you may have and more about your character.

Several interesting takeaways from the book:

  • One study set out to investigate the roots of exceptional talent among musicians, artists, scientists, and athletes. They were stunned to find out that only a handful of these high achievers had been child prodigies. It was not their aptitude, but their unusual motivation that stood out for most of them. Potential is not a matter of where you start, but of how far you have traveled.


  • Many of these high performers received great support as they climbed to extraordinary feats. Grant refers to this support as “scaffolding” as you see next to a building under construction. That scaffolding is a temporary structure that enables work crews to scale great heights beyond their reach. For top performers, great parents, teachers, and coaches who support these outliers represent the scaffolding.


  • Traveling great distances requires the courage to seek the right kinds of discomfort, the capacity to absorb the right information, and the will to accept the right imperfections.


If you believe you have “hidden potential”, regardless of your age or experience, you’ll enjoy and benefit from reading this book. It will also be helpful in finding the “hidden potential” in your employees, your students, and your children.