The Potential Principle, by Mark Sanborn
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Nelson Books. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
While it is not too uncommon to encounter self-help books that seek to encourage the reader on to further success in life , this book seeks to provide a context for self-help and personal improvement that puts such efforts into a 2 x 2 matrix and into a context. Its purpose can very easily be seen to be part of a tendency among many people to look for greater formalism in life, and how one feels about this book will depend in large part on one’s attitudes toward this formalism. The author candidly discusses his faith as well as his flexibility in looking towards and improvement and offers an ideal world of constant toil and effort under the sun that would likely earn it the sobriquet ‘vanity of vanities’ had it been around during the time of Solomon. In particular, the author straddles some serious lines that point to the most important conflicts of our time, praising our society’s love of what is new and up-to-date, which is responsible for a great deal of the waste that we see around us and the decline of people building things that are made to last, while also encouraging the use of the past to disrupt the present because of the tendency of others to be chronological snobs without a knowledge of history.
In terms of its organization and structure, this book has a strikingly formal one as one might expect from its approach and purpose. The first part and the first two chapter of this book are devoted to explaining why one should improve in light of current conditions and the fear of falling behind after an introduction of the potential principle as a whole. The whole book and the author’s whole argument is premised on the fact that we as individuals and institutions can achieve far more than we believe possible, and that selling ourselves short discourages us from making the efforts that would make great improvement possible. The second part of the book discusses the path to improvement, as the author introduces the 2 x 2 matrix of potential dividing one’s opportunities for growth into four qualities: performance, learning, thinking, and reflection. The third part of the book looks at the means of improvement, with chapters on various strategies for growth such as personal disruption, refocusing, engaging others, and increasing our own capacities. The book closes with a personal look at what matters in driving our personal improvement as well as some appendices that give sixteen combinations of matrix and breakthrough improvement that combine the four strategies given into the four areas the author had posited, as well as eight questions for making oneself better.
I found this book to be a useful one as well as a deeply personal one, and also enjoyed the way that there were discussions at the end of each chapter where people who have achieved success gave testimonials of a sort on how they made great strides and great improvements in their lives. In general, I found this discussion to be focused on worldly success based on current contemporary trends towards continuous improvement with the lack of stability that we find in our contemporary world. This is not a book that is directed towards the kingdom of heaven, whatever the religious beliefs of the writer, but rather one that is written to encourage people to be better in our present world here and now. Those who are interested in such success will find much here to enjoy, but not all readers will feel equally sanguine about the author’s relentless focus on how to achieve more and better through constant efforts at growth and changing one’s habits ruthlessly and having a drive for constant and ceaseless personal improvement. The author seems not to want to dwell on the larger reasons for resistance to change or on the power of the habitual for a great many people. Perhaps that would make the subject for another interesting book.
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