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Actionable Ideas I Got from the Book “Hidden Genius” That I Wish I Had Read Ages Ago

by | Jul 17, 2023 | Success

When James Clear recommends a book, I pay close attention.

He recommended a book called “Hidden Genius: The secret ways of thinking that power the world’s most successful people.”

It’s written by a newsletter writer named Polina Marinova Pompliano. She makes 6 figures from the paid newsletter subscriptions and her profiles of successful people are some of the best I’ve ever read. So I bought her book.

Most profiles of successful people exist to fetishize them and show they’ve never set a foot wrong, instead of highlighting their best lessons.

Polina manages to do the latter. Rare. These are the actionable ideas you can use from the book to have a better life.

There is no such thing as total failure or bankruptcy

It’s rare that I get teary-eyed.

I like people to think I’m a strong man with an impenetrable mind. Polina’s book hit me with one idea that caused the tears to stream down my face.

The idea comes from African UFC fighter Francis Ngannou. He went to hell and back for his dream. He had to first escape Africa to get to Europe. That meant dodgy boat rides and nice long stays in prison.

The guy slept in multi-level car parks at one point. They felt like hotels compared to the dark places he’d been.

No matter what happened to him, he never feared failure. He wasn’t worried if he had to start again after prison time.

The art in life he’d figured out is that even if someone takes away your status, money, progress, business, or trophies … it doesn’t matter. You always get to retain the wisdom you learned along the way.

When I had $1.2M stolen from me I bizarrely discovered this same lesson. The money may have been taken but the skills and mindset I got while making that money couldn’t be.

Here’s the revelation I had: “If I can make that money in the first place, I can make it again.”

When I read Ngannou’s story in the book it reminded me of that big financial loss. It made me emotional.

Action for you take:

When a big failure slaps you in the face, immediately write down everything you learn from the experience before the failure.

Then use those dot points as a blueprint to stage a comeback.

The standard career creates one giant problem

Polina shares a story from Anna Quindlen’s commencement speech.

She quit working at the New York Times to become a mother. And got a lot of hate for it. Then she quit once more to become a novelist. Again, people looked at her in disgust.

But Anna says she was happy.

She became her version of success on her own terms without needing anyone to babysit her at a job in a kindergarten skyscraper.

The lesson she teaches is, we often follow the career path that makes us look good to the world with a nice fancy title and office address to be situated at. But if deep down your career doesn’t feel good, then this isn’t success at all.

If you win the rat race, you’re still a rat — Lily Tomlin

When you bet on yourself the way Anna did, it shows you that you can be whatever you want in life. It also gets you out of the box of thinking you can only be one thing.

We are a multi-dimensional species.

Throughout your lifetime you can be an accountant, astronaut, novelist, and tech entrepreneur if you want.

Don’t let the standard career punch the imagination out of you.

Action for you take:

Bet on yourself more. Build side projects as experiments.

A beautiful lesson on love from Elon Musk

Elon Musk is no Jane Austin when it comes to love.

Many people have fallen out of love with the old man and his rocket ships. Polina references an interview with Rolling Stone and Papa Elon.

Elon surprisingly says he can’t be happy unless he has a partner. “Going to sleep alone,” he says, “kills him.”

Wow, Elon got all vulnerable for once.

Does that mean we should all go out and get into a decade-long relationship tomorrow? Of course not. But it’s worth analyzing what makes you happy and what causes you loneliness.

I confess that I’m similar to Elon in this way.

I cannot be single no matter how hard I try. I like to have another person to be in partnership with. Perhaps that’s because multiple women abandoned me in my lifetime.

The trauma never quite goes away. And I’m okay with that.

Action for you take:

Think about what makes you happy, then go do it. If you’re like me and can’t be alone … that’s okay. Just don’t deny it.

The art of persuasion isn’t what you think

Stories are powerful blah, blah, blah.

We’ve heard it a million times, and we’re sick of it. The point of telling stories is they can trigger emotion. As humans we can’t not compare our lived experiences.

When a story triggers emotion it also triggers memory. Maybe it helps you access a memory and sometimes it helps you create a memory.

That’s the real point of stories.

Action for you take:

Next time you need to communicate an idea or persuade someone of a point of view — rely less on facts, diagrams, and Powerpoints. Go to the heart. Tell a story from your life.

Bonus points if it makes you vulnerable.

Creativity is connecting the unconnected

Creativity confuses the sh*t out of me.

The mistake I’ve made for 10+ years is, I assume to be creative, I have to be original. And the originality virus creates imposter syndrome inside of me.

Polina’s book shared the story of artist Leonardo da Vinci back in the 1500s. During the Renaissance he used a process he called “connecting the unconnected.”

Image credit-Midjourney

His goal was to find relationships between two unrelated subjects. Right now we’re living through the Digital Renaissance.

AI is making manual human work and knowledge workers obsolete. What’s now being rewarded is true creativity. Musicians, artists, illustrators, and writers are seeing their value begin to skyrocket.

Our job as creators is to connect the dots for fellow humans.

It’s to be creative and remix modern and old ideas together to make something brand new. It’s what DJs have been doing with music for decades.

Creativity is just connecting things — Steve Jobs

Action for you take:

One-off moments of inspiration get us nowhere.

If you want to increase your value and create a personal monopoly in this Digital Renaissance, you must make creativity a habit. Habits only work if there’s a system behind them.

So build a system to create at least one new piece of art each week. That art can be whatever you are obsessed with.

Obsession is the seed of creativity.

How to connect with 1000s of strangers in the street and build an audience of millions online

Brandon Stanton created Humans of New York.

Polina profiles his work in her book. She dissects Brandon’s genius down to three questions he asks strangers he meets in the street:

1) “What’s your biggest struggle?”

2) “How has your life turned out differently than you expected it to?”

3) “What do you feel most guilty about?”

This is how you start conversations that go deep. These questions will get you much further than the shallow networking corporations teach us to try and get us to make more business transactions.

What you want in life are deep relationships.

These form when you become a master of curiosity and ask questions that get people to share things they otherwise wouldn’t have.

Action for you take:

Strike up a conversation with one stranger in the next week. Ask these three questions and shut up and listen to the answers.

A life hack that extracts the best advice

It’s common for us to ask people for their opinions.

Polina’s book taught me it’s better to ask them for their advice. The subtle difference creates the feeling of partnership, so what comes out of their mouth is more likely to be helpful.

What it means to be successful is completely wrong

Success is bullsh*t.

I don’t buy most of what I read online about the topic. Neither does Polina. I love what big wave surfer Garrett McNamara said:

“I think you’re a master when you realize you know nothing.”

All these Eddie Experts who hang out on social media and think they know everything are insufferable. Most of them know nothing because they’ve never actually done anything in life.

All they’ve done is observe.

Clap, clap, clap.

As astronaut Franklin Chang Díaz says, “To succeed, you have to first learn to fail.” Failure is the way. You need to learn what doesn’t work before you ever learn what does.

Chef Grant Achatz appears in the book. He lost his sense of taste, yet he runs a hospitality empire.

He says breakthrough creative acts are often disguised as big failures. And he says the #1 way his creativity is destroyed is by success.

Successful people become less creative once they hit the big time.

I suspect it’s because their big fat ego gets in the way and makes them think they are now special. It’s why humility is a superpower. Franklin Chang Díaz also uses science as an analogy to describe success.

In science you have to do many experiments to prove theories and find answers. Most experiments will be a failure and that’ll shine a light on the path of what does work.

Action for you take:

“Make new mistakes every day. Don’t waste time repeating the old ones.”

We’re more boring in our 30s than our 20s

New York Times writer David Brooks mentions this idea in the book.

Most of the people we know in our 20s become boring as hell in our 30s — including us!

What causes this is our content consumption diet. Over time we allow mindless tv shows, Marvel movies, and junk food social media content to infect our minds.

This distances us from the wisdom true genius people offer.

That’s why it pays to be ruthless about who you follow or subscribe to. And instead of watching another 2-hour Fast N Furious 25 movie on Netflix, try doing a 2-hour course or reading a timeless book instead.

Action for you take:

Schedule time to do a course. Invite yourself via your calendar to a nightly meeting with a book. Unfollow/mute trolls, haters, and doomers.

The technique to unlock the full power of your mind

In the book Author Malcolm Gladwell offers some great advice.

We need to get our minds the hell off auto-pilot. Randomness is what rewires your brain and helps you start to notice things again. It brings us back to the present and slows down our perception of time.

Edith Eva Eger got stuck on a train to Auschwitz. The gas chambers secretly awaited her arrival. Her mother gave her some brilliant advice:

We don’t know where we’re going, we don’t know what’s going to happen, but no one can take away from you what you put in your own mind.

We get to program our brains. We do the software updates. We build the firewall around our mind and decide what gets in.

Don’t let stupid people with stupid ideas impregnate your mind.

NFL football player Tom Brady taught me another surprising lesson in the book, which is strange because normally I don’t listen to buff dudes who plow their heads into the ground for a living.

He brings up the idea of inflammation in the body. Nothing new. We’ve got to eat the right food, rest, and recover to low inflammation … blah, blah, blah. Then he bizarrely says:

You gotta limit inflammation in the body through diet, nutrition, or your thoughts.


But he’s right. Toxic thoughts create a toxic body. Toxicity is infectious and poisons everything from the mind to the soul. That’s why the thoughts we choose and our content diet are so damn powerful.

Action for you take:

Introduce more randomness into your day starting today. Take a different route to work. Listen to a random podcast. Read the ideas of the opposite side of politics you support.

Are You Operating With Maximum Energy?

For those who are tired of dragging through the day, who want to get back the fire they once had, who are ready to reclaim your natural energy… this is your book.

Unleash the fire within