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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Undeniable Allure of Potential :| Christian Jarrett, 99U

In larger, bold type, Jarrett begins his column on potential:

There's a chance I'm about to write the most useful article you've read this year. Intrigued? If so, your reaction is consistent with a thought-provoking new study that shows we're fascinated and impressed by claims about what a person might achieve. In other words, we're seduced by potential.

He explains that the traditional methods for self-promotion or promoting a business might not be as effective as we believe. Traditionally, we boast, "Look what I've done" as we list our experience, education and awards. 

But, he writes:
[N]ew research shows this strategy could be wrong. We should consider boasting not only about what we did in the past, but also about what we might be capable of tomorrow and after.
I've heard advice like this before, but I haven't read much about the basis for the advice. Jarrett describe related experiments conducted by researchers at the Harvard Business School.

For example:
They found that people playing the role of basketball coach preferred a rookie player with great potential over an established player with a great record. They were also willing to pay more for the promising rookie ....
The researchers think that hearing about a person with potential is more intriguing and compelling than hearing about a person who has already achieved because it prompts deeper reflection about them. ...
This leads us onto to a major caveat in the lessons we can take from this research. Claims about great potential won't fly unless they're backed up with credible evidence. ...
Jarrett concludes by giving some suggestions for self-promotion based on the research findings:
  • If we're to exploit this effect for our own benefit, in our resumes and website bios, we need to ensure that our claims are realistic, backed up with evidence, and phrased with subtlety.
  • Another way to avoid coming over as defensive or big-headed is to seek favorable claims of potential from third-parties – perhaps our clients or former employers. 
  • Liberate yourself by forgetting momentarily what you did well yesterday; reflect instead on what you could achieve tomorrow.
This article is featured today (Aug. 22) in Garbl's Simple Dreams--available at the Simplicity tab above and by free email subscription.

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