If you could spend five years going out for coffee with some of the world’s most successful people and ask each of them for advice, your notes would probably look a lot like Polina Marinova Pompliano’s new book Hidden Genius: The Secret Ways of Thinking That Power the World’s Most Successful People. This book is enjoyable and packed with wisdom on each page. Each chapter is centered around an idea and features an eclectic mix of perspectives, from astronauts to movie stars to investors, on that particular idea.
In this article, I will highlight my seven favorite quotes from the book, discussing the principles they embody and how we can apply them to our own lives. If you’d like to see the full interview with Polina, click here.
Original creators typically have three things in common: They have a unique point of view on the world. They are confident they can achieve an ambitious goal. And finally they are willing to fail spectacularly in the name of creating something revolutionary.
This ethos underscores the importance of originality, ambition and the acceptance of failure in the path to innovation. Ed Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar and a prominent figure known for his nonconformist thinking, is a personification of these principles.
Catmull upholds the values of a distinctive worldview, the pursuit of ambitious objectives and the preparedness to encounter momentous failures in the name of originality. His method subverts the traditional approach of developing a concise “elevator pitch” for ideas. Catmull argues that if an idea can be encapsulated effortlessly, it’s likely an unoriginal derivative idea. He is inclined toward concepts that “baffle,” believing in their potential to culminate in truly transformative films.
Central to Catmull’s philosophy is the embracing of failure as an inseparable element of the creative process. Pixar‘s approach is rife with experimentation. Catmull motivates his team to produce an array of ideas, both exceptional and lackluster. He views failures as learning opportunities rather than roadblocks. This commitment extends to a culture of healthy debate, where ideas are critiqued but individuals remain respected.
Stress-test yourself through regular hardship.
Cultivating resilience through routine adversity might appear nonsensical at first glance. Yet, it could be an instrumental method for fortifying mental toughness. This concept is embedded in the philosophy of David Goggins, a former Navy SEAL-turned-ultra-endurance athlete. Goggins advocates for “callousing the mind” via self-induced trials, thereby preparing individuals for the unexpected adversities life might spring.
Goggins proposes incorporating stress tests in daily routines as a resilience-building strategy. A stress test could be as straightforward as accomplishing a mundane but less-liked task, such as household chores or an early morning run. This method serves a dual purpose: It not only demonstrates to oneself the ability to tackle difficult tasks, but it also girds them for unexpected life hurdles.
Goggins endorses a particular brand of self-dialogue, which he refers to as the “accountability mirror.” This technique encourages an honest self-examination and a clear-eyed acknowledgment of personal inadequacies. Alongside this recognition, he suggests setting daily micro-challenges to address these shortcomings, thus allowing for the gradual modification of behaviors and habits over time.
Trust = Consistency + Time.
Trust is a vital currency for all types of relationships, and it isn’t lightly bestowed; it is earned through consistent action and a demonstrated commitment to fulfilling obligations. Building trust takes time, and there aren’t any shortcuts.
This principle applies equally in both personal and professional relationships, and its impact is readily apparent. Venture capitalist and LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman sums it up as follows: Trust = consistency + time. The fundamental idea is that by maintaining a reliable pattern of behavior over a significant period, individuals lay the foundation for trust to develop.
The esteemed Charlie Munger, vice chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, regards mutually deserved trust as the pinnacle of human accomplishment. Trust thrives when clear expectations are established in a relationship, and those expectations are met consistently over time.
If the articulation of expectations is ambiguous or miscommunicated, trust can shatter swiftly. Hence, the edifice of trust is built on the clear delineation of expectations, a consistent commitment to meeting them, and allowing ample time for the relationship to mature and deepen.
Great stories happen to those who can tell them.
A great story is not just about what happened but about how it’s told. Extraordinary experiences may fall flat without the right storytelling skills to bring them to life.
Fortunately, effective storytelling is not a mysterious talent held by a select few but a skill that can be learned. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin exemplifies this. Known for engaging dialogue and masterful merging of perspectives, Sorkin has a way of making his audiences think and draw their own conclusions.
Central to Sorkin’s storytelling approach is the importance of conflict and intent. For a story to be truly engaging, according to Sorkin, it needs conflict and a clear understanding of the protagonist’s motivations driving that conflict. Take Sorkin’s film The Social Network as an example: the narrative’s heart is not just the creation of Facebook, but Mark Zuckerberg’s pursuit of social recognition.
Thus, a great story isn’t only about an event or situation; it’s about the characters’ wants and needs and their journey to achieve them. The potency of a story lies not just in what happens, but in the skill with which it’s conveyed.
Competence breeds confidence.
The pathway to confidence often requires honing skills through consistent practice. Chris Hadfield, the decorated astronaut and test pilot, embodies this adage in his remarkable life journey and perilous encounters.
Hadfield, no stranger to dire situations, has experienced scenarios that would unnerve the bravest among us, including exterminating a snake mid-flight and breaking into the International Space Station with nothing more than a Swiss army knife. Yet, it was his bout with temporary blindness while precariously hanging onto the space station that underscored the quintessential relationship between competence and confidence.
His hard-earned competence, a testament to years of rigorous training and relentless preparation, provided him with the confidence required to navigate these crises. Hadfield’s finely honed skills allowed him to remain composed, systematically addressing the predicaments with an astronaut’s precision. His competence did not diminish the inherent danger of his circumstances but equipped him to handle these formidable challenges with aplomb.
To demystify this dynamic, Hadfield draws on the metaphor of bicycle riding. The bicycle, emblematic of the dangers we confront in life, remains just as potentially hazardous as it was during the early, tremulous days of learning to ride. Yet, as we acquire the skills to control and maneuver the bike, our fear subsides, replaced by a growing confidence.
The bike’s potential perils remain unchanged; it is our competence in handling it that shifts our perspective, enhancing confidence in place of fear. This dynamic between competence and confidence elucidates a profound insight about human potential: it is through mastery that we build the bedrock of self-belief.
A soldier mindset is about victory at all costs. A scout mindset is better. It’s about accuracy at all costs.
Julia Galef, leader of the Center for Applied Rationality, crafts an enlightening comparison between the soldier and the scout, drawing on military metaphors to delve into the contrasting ways in which we perceive, process and pursue truth.
Soldiers’ mindsets are akin to individuals on high alert, primed to protect their viewpoint at all costs. The objective here isn’t to discover the truth or seek a nuanced understanding, but to triumph in the face of conflict. It is about staunchly defending one’s beliefs, sometimes to the extent of turning a blind eye to context or alternative perspectives that might pose a challenge.
The scout mindset, in contrast, is inherently about exploration and accuracy. Imagine a scout navigating an unfamiliar terrain, meticulously collecting information, endeavoring to build a comprehensive picture of the landscape. The pursuit here is not victory but an objective understanding, an earnest attempt to hone in on the truth as closely as humanly possible. This approach calls for setting personal biases aside and concentrating solely on the merit of the idea or subject under scrutiny.
It’s worth noting that the human psyche tends to gravitate naturally toward the soldier mindset. However, Galef posits that it is entirely possible to cultivate a scout mindset to consciously shift our focus toward objectivity and precision. In this journey, the destination isn’t the triumph of one’s beliefs, but the pursuit of understanding.
Audience and community are not the same thing.
In an ever-increasingly digitized world, the words “audience” and “community” often seem to blend into one another, creating ambiguity in their meaning. However, the noted author Chris Brogan delineates a poignant contrast between the two, drawing a distinction that has profound implications for how we communicate and connect today.
In Brogan’s perspective, an audience is akin to a one-way communication channel. For instance, envision a speaker onstage, addressing an audience of thousands. Whether it be a tweet dispatched into the ether of social media or a newsletter dispatched to innumerable inboxes, the speaker disseminates information with limited or minimal interaction from the recipients.
Contrast this with a community, which according to Brogan, is a more interactive, multidimensional entity. It is a circle, a space where communication occurs reciprocally, where everyone has the opportunity to speak and to be heard, fostering an environment of mutual dialogue and understanding. In a community, there is no dichotomy between the speaker and the listener. Rather, each person plays both roles in a dynamic exchange of ideas and thoughts.
A community is not about the quantifiable metrics often associated with social media success, such as follower count or likes. Instead, it is a platform that encourages moments of serendipity and unscripted connection between its members. These moments mirror the vibrant, unpredictable and organic interactions of real-life communities.
However, the cultivation of a community does not occur spontaneously; it demands a high degree of dedication and active effort. This could include responding to each and every reader email, orchestrating in-person events, and designing spaces where people can interact and engage — not just with the content but, more importantly, with each other. This continuous, intentional engagement is what truly metamorphoses an audience into a community.
The insights shared in Pompliano’s book Hidden Genius offer a glimpse into the mindset of the world’s most successful individuals. From originality and ambition to resilience and storytelling, these principles underscore the importance of a holistic approach to success. By cultivating a distinctive worldview, building trust through consistency, embracing failure as a learning opportunity, and pursuing accuracy over victory, we can adopt a mindset that enables us to navigate the complexities of life with greater confidence and clarity.