cover image Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things

Hidden Potential: The Science of Achieving Greater Things

Adam Grant. Viking, $32 (304p) ISBN 978-0-593-65314-2

“You don’t have to be a wunderkind to accomplish great things,” according to this stimulating if inconclusive study. Drawing lessons from the stories of high achievers, bestseller Grant (Think Again), an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School, contends that realizing one’s potential requires getting “comfortable being uncomfortable” and recounts how Steve Martin bombed gig after gig as a young comic in the 1960s until he decided to overcome his reluctance to writing jokes (rather than improvising onstage) by writing for a variety show. Elsewhere, Grant emphasizes the importance of rethinking one’s strategy after failure, describing how pitcher R.A. Dickey bounced between the major and minor leagues before polishing his knuckleball and making it central to his game, which helped him rise to the top of MLB in the 2010s. Grant is a talented storyteller, though his reliance on anecdotal evidence leaves some doubt as to the replicability of the advice. He’s more successful in his data-driven exploration of how to design social systems to bring out the best in people; for instance, he points out research showing that Finland’s practice of making psychologists and social workers available to struggling students leads to better education outcomes. This intrigues, even if it doesn’t always convince. (Oct.)