A Spark From Heaven?, by Adrian W. Savage, is a beautiful distillation of pure wisdom regarding the realization of potential in individuals and organizations. The usual culprits blocking the realization of potential are habits. As we allow our habits to hijack conscious choice and fly our lives on autopilot, we abdicate the responsibility of making choices deliberately and thoughtfully. Thus is our potential thwarted. Realizing potential involves becoming the very best versions of ourselves that we can be. It embraces conscious choice, accountability, and persistence. According to Mr. Savage, patiently stretching beyond habits that detrimentally replace conscious choices with automatic responses is a critical key to realizing potential.
Mr. Savage introduces the fascinating concept of “conscious incompetence”, which states that people usually do things badly the first time they do them. Ironically, this is how we learn and grow. To the extent that organizations do not tend to support things being done badly (even the first time), they miss tapping the rich veins of potential that exist within their reach.
Mr. Savage tweaks the current organizational practices. The concept of “best practices” is primarily an excuse to not think about the myriad options that are really available with each decision, and to consequently miss opportunities to learn. The focus on normative “performance gaps” saps enthusiasm. The idea of the performance review, with its emphasis on subordinate’s deficiencies, usually creates rage, not a desire to improve. Perhaps the anger that Mr. Savage observes in modern organizations is promoted by these potential-robbing organizational practices.
This was a fun book to read. The image of Mr. Savage’s Burmese cat leaping from the floor to cling by its claws to the small of Mr. Savage’s back was an amusing example of a dysfunctional habit. It was also perfectly illustrative of the fact that some people (as well as cats) will do anything to get attention. Importantly, Mr. Savage never downplays the work involved in realizing potential. It is a patient, deliberate process; and life is never certain. The journey does not have a fixed destination. As individuals begin to realize their potential, however, they have the possibility of living vibrant, free and uplifting lives of conscious and deliberate choice.
As organizations allow people to realize their potential, the results can be extraordinary, full of boundless options and opportunities. I read this 206-page book in one morning, but found myself going back and underlining passages and paper-clipping pages. It is highly readable, and rich in depth and meaning. It is a good book to take on one’s life journey. It will make you think about how you think.