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Our Favourite Adam Grant Quotes on Potential, Perfectionism, and Procrastination

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If you want heaps of the best quotes on perfectionism, potential, and procrastination, you need to read this amazing list of quotes from Adam Grant.

The leading organisational psychologist and author of Think Again, Originals, and Give and Take has a new book out Hidden Potential, and it’s full of great quotes on discovering your potential, inspiring quotes on perfectionism and top quotes on pushing through procrastination.

Ahead of his first-ever Australian tour Adam Grant LIVE in February 2024, immerse yourself in this extensive quotes round-up which also serves as a brief summary of Hidden Potential.

Let’s kick off with our favourite three quotes from Adam Grant’s book Hidden Potential:

“In life, there are few things more consequential than the judgements people make of our potential.”

Here Adam Grant explains how many of us, including the slow learners and the late bloomers, can be detrimentally affected by judgements from others. He tells how he was initially recommended for remedial writing at Harvard. “Forget imposter syndrome; I was an actual fraud,” he remembers thinking at the time. Despite this hit to his self-esteem, Grant pushed on and ended up with the only ‘A’ in writing class.

“If perfectionism were a medication, the label would alert us to common side effects. 'Warning: may cause stunted growth'.”

A self-confessed recovering perfectionist, Grant says that perfectionism traps us in a spiral of tunnel vision and error avoidance: it prevents us from seeing larger problems and limits us to mastering increasingly narrow skills. He says that travelling great distances depends on recognising that perfection is a mirage, and that extensive evidence shows that it’s having high personal standards, not pursuing perfection, that fuels growth.

“When you procrastinate you’re not avoiding effort. You’re avoiding the unpleasant feeling that the activity stirs up.”

Much of Hidden Potential is about teaching us that feeling discomfort is good for making progress. Of course, most of us don’t want that feeling, so we avoid it by procrastinating. To realise our potential we need to learn to live with discomfort, even love it!

Hope you enjoyed these three. Read on for hundreds more inspiring quotes by Adam Grant dealing with themes as wide as perfectionism, imposter syndrome, getting unstuck, procrastination, leadership and teams, and persistence, all taken from his new book.


“Everyone has hidden potential…My goal is to illuminate how we can all rise to achieve greater things.”

“Recent evidence underscores the importance of conditions for learning."

“What look like differences in natural ability are often differences in opportunity and motivation.”

“With the right opportunity and motivation to learn, anyone can build the skills to achieve greater things. Potential is not a matter of where you start, but of how far you travel.”

“People who make major strides are rarely freaks of nature. They’re usually freaks of nurture.”

“We can improve at improving.”

“What counts is not how hard you work but how much you grow.”

“The capacities to be proactive, prosocial, disciplined, and determined stayed with students longer – and ultimately proved more powerful than early math and reading skills.”

“Character is more than just having principles. It’s a learned capacity to live by your principles.”

“Character skills do more than help you perform at your peak – they propel you to higher peaks.”

“For every longshot who breaks through after being underrated or overlooked, there are thousands who never get a chance.”

If I had judged my potential by my early failures, I would have given up.”

“The true measure of your potential is not the height of the peak you’ve reached, but how far you’ve climbed to get there.”

Skills of character

“It’s not about the traits you have – it’s what you decide to do with them.”

“If our cognitive skills are what separates us from animals, our character skills are what elevate us above machines.”

“When we say success and happiness are our most important goals in life, I’m curious about why character isn’t higher on the list.”

Creatures of Discomfort – Embracing the Unbearable Awkwardness of Learning

“Becoming a creature of discomfort can unlock hidden potential in many different types of learning.”

“The best way to accelerate growth is to embrace, seek, and amplify discomfort.”

“There’s just one small problem with learning styles. They’re a myth.”

“The way you like to learn is what makes you comfortable, but it isn’t necessarily how you learn best.”

“Procrastination is a common problem whenever you’re pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone.”

“Although listening is often more fun, reading improves comprehension and recall.”

“The popular adage ‘use it or lose it’ doesn’t go far enough. If you don’t use it, you might never gain it in the first place.”

“Comfort in learning is a paradox. You can’t become truly comfortable with a skill until you’ve practised it enough to master it. But practising it before you master it is uncomfortable, so you often avoid it.”

“Your mental library expands as you communicate.”

“[Polyglot Benny Lewis] believes that if you want to become proficient in a language, rather than aiming to reduce your mistakes, you should strive to increase them.”

“When you get praised for making an effort, the feeling of the effort itself starts to take on secondary reward properties.”

“If we wait until we feel ready to take on a new challenge, we might never pursue it at all.”

Human sponges – Building the Capacity to Absorb and Adapt

“Being a sponge is more than a metaphor. It’s a character skill – a form of proactivity that’s vital to realising hidden potential.”

“Growth is less about how hard you work than how well you learn.”

“The sweet spot is when people are proactive and growth-oriented. That’s when they become sponges. They consistently take the initiative to expand themselves and adapt.”

“Being polite is withholding feedback to make someone feel good today. Being kind is being candid about how they can get better tomorrow.”

“A critic sees your weaknesses and attacks your worst self. A cheerleader sees your strengths and celebrates your best self. A coach sees your potential and helps you become a better version of yourself.”

“Instead of seeking feedback you’re better off asking for advice.”

“Rather than dwelling on what you did wrong, advice guides you toward what you can do right.”

“Many people fail to benefit from constructive criticism because they overreact and under-correct.”

“Being a sponge is not only a proactive skill – it’s a prosocial skill. Done right, it’s not just about soaking up nutrients that help us grow. It’s also about releasing nutrients to help others grow.” 

The Imperfectionists – Finding the Sweet Spot between Flawed and Flawless

“Tolerating flaws isn’t just something novices need to do – it’s part of becoming an expert and continuing to gain mastery.”

(Edited for length): “In their quest for flawless results, research suggests that perfectionists tend to get three things wrong. One: they obsess about details that don’t matter. Two: they avoid unfamiliar situations and difficult tasks that might lead to failure. Three: they berate themselves for making mistakes, which makes it harder to learn from them.”

“Extensive evidence shows that it’s having high personal standards, not pursuing perfection, that fuels growth. Many people interpret that as advice to shift from be the best to do your best.”

“Do your best is the wrong cure for perfectionism. It leaves the target too ambiguous to channel effort and gauge momentum.”

“The ideal foil for perfectionism is an objective that’s precise and challenging. It focuses your attention on the most important actions and tells you when enough is enough.

“Perfectionists often worry that failing even once will make them a failure. But take it from eight studies: people don’t judge your competence based on one performance.”

“It turns out that when people assess your skills, they put more weight on your peaks than on your troughs.”

“I realised that success is not so much how close you come to perfection as how much you overcome along the way."

(Edited for length): “To rapidly iterate and improve, entrepreneurs and engineers are advised to build a minimum viable product. But excellence is a higher standard: for me, that means aiming for a minimum lovable product.”

“Research indicates that one of the best ways to gauge the value of other people’s judgments is to look for convergence between them.”

“For every project that matters to me, I’ve had judging committees for over a decade now.”

“I’ve accepted that life is like diving: if you’re ever lucky enough to get a 10, it’s not for perfection but for excellence.”

“Striving for social approval comes with a cost: across 105 studies with over 70,000 people, valuing extrinsic goals like popularity and appearance over intrinsic goals like growth and connection predicted lower well-being.”

“Ultimately, excellence is more than meeting other people’s expectations. It’s also about living up to your own standards.” 

team having fun

Teams need to inspiring leaders. Read Our Favourite Adam Grant Quotes for Leaders

Structures for Motivation – Scaffolding to Overcome Obstacles

“Many new skills don’t come with a manual, and steeper hills often require a lift. That lift comes in the form of scaffolding: a temporary support structure that enables us to scale height we couldn’t reach on our own.”

(Edited for length): “4 Key Features of scaffolding: 1. Scaffolding generally comes from other people. 2. Scaffolding is tailored to the obstacle in your path. 3. Scaffolding comes at a pivotal point in time. 4. Scaffolding is temporary.”

“Scaffolding unleashes hidden potential by helping us forge paths we couldn’t otherwise see.”

“…the best way to unlock hidden potential isn’t to suffer through the daily grind. It’s to transform the daily grind into a source of daily joy.”

“Whereas burnout is the emotional exhaustion that accumulates when you’re overloaded, boreout is the emotional deadening you feel when you’re under-stimulated.”

“Harmonious passion is taking joy in a process rather than feeling pressure to achieve an outcome….I feel like studying. I’m excited to practise.”

“Across 127 studies with over 45,000 people, persistence was more likely to translate into performance when passion was present.”

“Deliberate play is a structured activity that’s designed to make skill development enjoyable.”

“Like free play, deliberate play is fun, but it’s structured for learning and mastery along with recreation.”

“There’s a movement to bring deliberate play into professional development.”

“By fuelling harmonious passion, deliberate play can prevent boreout and burnout.”

“Hundreds of experiments show that people improve faster when they alternate between different skills.”

(Edited for length): “It turns out that taking breaks has at least 3 benefits. First, time away from practice helps to sustain harmonious passion. Second, breaks unlock fresh ideas. Third, breaks deepen learning.”

“Relaxing is not a waste of time – it’s an investment in well-being.”

“Without enjoyment, potential stays hidden.”

“A rut is not a sign that you’ve tanked. A plateau is not a cue that you’ve peaked. They’re signals that it may be time to turn around and find a new route.”

“Skills don’t grow at a steady pace.”

“It’s often difficult to accept that we need to retreat. Backing up means scrapping our current plan and starting over.”

“It turns out that if you’re taking a new road, the best experts are often the worst guides.”

“The more uncertain the path and the higher the peak, the greater the range of guides you’ll need.”

“Sometimes you end up stuck, and it’s not because you’re on the wrong path. It’s because your path is taking you in long circles toward the top…”

“Languishing is the emotional experience of stalling. You may not feel depressed or burned out, but you definitely feel blah.”

“A digression doesn’t have to be a diversion. It can be a source of energy.”

“In one study, when people had spent engaging evenings on their side hustles, they performed better the next day in their regular jobs.”

“..the strongest known force in daily motivation is a sense of progress.”

“You can’t always find motivation by staring harder at the thing that isn’t working.”

“Sometimes you can build momentum by taking a detour to a new destination.”

“A detour is a route off your main road that you take to refuel.”

“When you get stuck on your way up a mountain, it’s better to shift into reverse than to stand still.”

“Progress is rarely noticeable at a snapshot in time – it unfolds over extended periods of time.”

“Teaching is a surprisingly powerful method of learning…psychologists call this the tutor effect.”

“Teaching others can build our competence. But it’s coaching others that elevates our confidence.”

“We should listen to the advice we give to others – it’s usually the advice we need to take for ourselves.”

“The expectations people hold of us often become self-fulfilling prophecies.”

“Dozens of experiments show that at work, when leaders hold high expectations, employees generally work harder, learn more, and perform better.”

“It’s easier to overcome obstacles when we’re carrying a torch for people who matter to us.”

“Progress is not only reflected in the peaks you reach – it’s also visible in the valleys you cross.”

“Resilience is a form of growth.”

“We find our deepest reserves of resolve when an entire group is relying on us.”

“Too many people spend their lives being custodians of the past instead of stewards of the future.”

Systems Of Opportunity – Opening Doors And Windows

“Good systems provide the opportunity for people to travel great distances.”

“If we design them the right way, admissions and hiring systems can recognise the potential in late bloomers and long shots.”

“In Finnish schools, a popular mantra is ‘We can’t afford to waste a brain’.”

“Interest is amplified when we have the opportunity to choose what we learn and share it with others. Intrinsic motivation is contagious.”

“An education system isn’t truly successful until all children – regardless of their background and resources – have the opportunity to reach their potential.”

“The best teams aren’t the ones with the best thinkers. They’re the teams that unearth and use the best thinking from everyone.”

“The best teams have the most team players – people who excel at collaborating with others.”

“Unleashing hidden potential is about more than having the best pieces – it’s about having the best glue.”

“Putting people in a group doesn’t automatically make them a team.”

“Leaders play an important role in establishing cohesion.”

“When we select leaders, we don’t usually pick the person with the strongest leadership skills. We frequently choose the person who talks the most. It’s called the babble effect.”

“The people to promote are the ones with the prosocial skills to put the mission above their ego – and team cohesion above personal glory.”

“With a team of sponges, the best leader is not the person who talks the most, but the one who listens best.”

“Brainstorming usually backfires….’Goodbye diversity of thought, hello groupthink’.”

“To unearth hidden potential in teams, instead of brainstorming, we’re better off shifting to a process called brainwriting. The initial steps are solo.”

“There’s evidence that just being looked at by the leader is enough to encourage people who lack status to speak up.”

“A powerful alternative to a corporate ladder is a lattice….. access to multiple leaders who are willing and able to help move you forward and lift you up.”

“Weak leaders silence voice and shoot the messenger. Strong leaders welcome voice and thank the messenger. Great leaders build systems to amplify voice and elevate the messenger.”

“In life, there are few things more consequential than the judgements people make of our potential.”

“When we confuse past performance with future potential, we miss out on people whose achievements have involved overcoming major obstacles.”

“The test of a diamond in the rough is not whether it shines from the start, but how it responds to heat or pressure.”

“When we fail to see hidden potential, along with shattering people’s dreams, we lose out on their contributions.”

“It’s often said that talent sets the floor, but character sets the ceiling.”

“How capable you appear to be is often a reflection of how hard your task is.”

“Ultimately, the key indicator of potential isn’t the severity of adversity people encounter -it’s how they react to it.”

“Early failure followed by later success is a mark of hidden potential.”

“The stress created in interviews prevents us from seeing people’s full potential.

“[New evidence shows] people with bigger dreams go on to achieve greater things.”

Imposter syndrome says, “I don’t know what I’m doing yet. It’s only a matter of time until everyone finds out.” Growth mindset says, “I don’t know what I’m doing yet. It’s only a matter of time until I figure it out.”

“Not long ago, it dawned on me that imposter syndrome is a paradox: Others believe in you. You don’t believe in yourself. Yet, you believe yourself instead of them.”

“I now believe that imposter syndrome is a sign of hidden potential.”

“When multiple people believe in you, it might be time to believe them.”

“The most meaningful growth is not building our careers – it’s building our character.”

“There’s no higher value than aspiring to be better tomorrow than we are today.”

“There’s no greater accomplishment than unleashing our hidden potential.” 

See Adam Grant in person in 2024

Don’t miss Adam Grant’s highly-anticipated Australian tour in 2024 ADAM GRANT – LIVE: Unlock Hidden Potential & Transform WorkLife. Tickets are selling fast (Some categories SOLD OUT). 

About Adam Grant

Adam Grant is a renowned organisational psychologist, bestselling author, and global influencer. As Wharton's top-rated professor for seven consecutive years, his expertise in motivation, generosity, original thinking, and rethinking has made him a leading authority in his field.

His five New York Times bestselling books Think Again, Give and Take, Originals, Option B, and Power Moves have resonated with millions of readers in 45 languages. His latest book is Hidden Potential.

With hugely successful TED talks and his TED podcasts WorkLife and ReThinking, plus a substantial social media following and popular monthly newsletter, Adam Grant is one of the world's most inspiring thinkers and speakers.


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