Things that grow are generally better. Whether you are trending on twitter, the equity in your home, your GPA, or your sense of well-being.
Things with potential growth are considered the better investments. Every financial investment, every hire selected considers the upside of the candidate.
Think about the recruiter for your favorite NFL team in the Super Bowl. Consider the incredible track record of Kevin Rose, arguably the best picker of start-ups. Or the admissions offices of the top universities. They require evidence of past performance AND evaluate the future trajectory of the candidates. How do these experts balance the value of track record with the upside of potential?
Recent research out of Stanford and Harvard called: The Preference for Potential revealed:
When people seek to impress others, they often do so by highlighting their personal achievements. Despite the intuitive appeal of this strategy, we demonstrate that people tend to prefer potential rather than achievement when evaluating others. Indeed, compared to references to achievement (e.g., “this person has become a leader in the field”), references to potential (e.g., “this person could become a leader in the field”) appear to stimulate greater interest and excitement, which translates into more favorable reactions.
It makes sense that there is this preference and bias for potential, especially in hiring and promoting. In any investment of time and money you should expect growth and a greater return. Upside matters! The intangibles become very influential. Desire, passion, and character add credibility to potential.
The fact that you have done it in the past is not enough to prove or demonstrate potential for the future. Competence is a starting point.
Some may say that this smacks of ageism. That younger candidates have an advantage in the race for potential. Probably true. But if you need experience AND potential, then youthful enthusiasm is not enough. The question is how can you translate your achievements into an adaptable investment that is relevant now and into the future? How are you able to show that your skills, knowledge and abilities are in sync with the future needs of the organization and the industry?
The future is not what it used to be. Yogi Berra
"What have you done for me lately?" is morphing into,"What will you be capable of doing later?"
We tend to over focus on our past achievements. We start to believe our own press releases, rest on our laurels and forget our potential. We rarely talk about our own potential. We hesitate because of our humility and our uncertainty. Deep inside we know what we are capable of and what we want to do, but if no one knows but us, what good does that do?
Do you see the trajectory of your career? Can you describe it?
I meet many people who can not describe their potential at all.
What is potential that is invisible?
Untapped potential is a sin. I think the greatest indictment a person can hear is "you have so much potential" and not know what they are talking about.
Get to know your potential. Start by finding role models of people that are doing what you think you want to do. People who are doing what you want to do and doing it the way you want to do it. Connect with these people.
Continuous effort–not strength or intelligence–is the key to unlocking our potential. Winston Churchill
Dive deeply into your work and your field–even if you are uncertain if this is THE one.
Then start to push yourself to gain more experience, confidence, and understanding of your potential. You will discover your strengths and your weaknesses. You will better define what you want and don't want.
Other people want to be associated with people who are growing and knowledgeable about the trends, the field. People who are well connected, well-read, and well versed. In other words, people who take their careers seriously–people who want to be leaders in their field.
Maybe you don't know exactly where you are going but you see yourself moving up the ladder. Then act like it! Read the trades. Follow the industry thought leaders. Join the industry associations. Take on visible roles at your employer, in the industry.
Potential can't be a latent undefined blob within you. It is revealed by your actions and your words. You show it and people see it. If it is a genuine pursuit of your interest in the field, some may see you as a "climber", but if you are not showy and egotistical, then the preference for your potential will be realized.
You prefer potential in things and in others. Now hold yourself to the same standard!
Thanks for reading. John
2 thoughts on “The Preference for Your Own Potential”
This even applies to retired people. Thanks for the inspiration.
Thanks Harry. Probably did not this point across well. But yes this applies to all ages and stages–people who are reinventing themselves, entering a new chapter, or a new career. Especially true of “encore” careerists who are moving from “retired” to the next phase. Thanks for pointing this out. John