The Five Lost Superpowers

Welcome to the Innovative Leadership Newsletter brought to you by the Innovative Leadership Institute, where we strive to bring you thought leaders and innovative ideas on leadership topics each week.

This week’s article is written by John Reid, President and Lead Designer of JMReid Group, a global behavior change organization specializing in leadership, development, sales effectiveness and skill enhancement.  It is a companion piece to his interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled The Five Lost Superpowers that aired on July 5, 2022. 

Short clip from the interview:

Link to the entire interview:


The Five Lost Superpowers – Highlights

There is a well of untapped potential inside you, just waiting to be unleashed.

Everyone has superpowers when they are a child, yet we tend to lose them as we grow up. We’re taught to dampen the natural strength of our Curiosity, Resilience, Authenticity, Compassion, and Playfulness, but they linger there, right below the surface.

In The Five Lost Superpowers: Why We Lose Them and How to Get Them Back, you’ll begin to understand why you came to believe that powers don’t fit in a “grown-up” world and discover how to reignite them in your best self as a leader, and in those around you.

The following chapter excerpts offer a glimpse into The Five Lost Superpowers – the full text is available wherever you buy your books in print, digital, or audiobook.


Welcome to Earth

In what can only be described as a miracle (given the odds), you were born! Do you realize what has to happen for you to be born and the chances you came out as you? The odds of you being born as you may be as much as 1 in 400 trillion. Welcome to Earth!

You were born with no cape, no lasso of truth, not even a heart-shaped herb from Wakanda. While you were pretty much naked, you did have one thing going for you: you were born wildly curious. From the moment you showed up, there you were, studying shapes, sounds, movements, colors, and textures. You explored both verbal and nonverbal language. You approached the world constantly testing a hypothesis that your little brain had concocted—“I can eat this block. I can ride this dog. I can touch this paint.” You were the head of Research and Development for You, Inc.

Theorists and empiricists have worked hard to understand childhood curiosity and have come up with a variety of ways to define it. Studies in the field use terms like incongruity theory, ambiguity aversion, effectance motivation, and ocular lust, to name a few.

Susan Engel, author of The Hungry Mind and a leading international authority on curiosity in children, says it best, “I would suggest that curiosity is simply the urge to know more.”

As an infant, your curiosity superpower is, well, in its infancy. You have not reached your full superpower as an infant because your language skills are of little help in your pursuit of knowledge. You’re simply Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne before they suit up.

It is when we become toddlers and are able to ask questions that our curiosity superpower reaches its zenith. It is questions, and how we structure and deliver them, that demonstrate true curiosity.

In 2007, researchers logging questions asked by children aged fourteen months to five years found they asked an average of 107 questions an hour. One child asked three questions a minute at his peak. That’s Hulk-level curiosity.

In their free exploration, children can pose delightful questions:

  • If I have two eyes, how come I can only see one thing at a time?
  • How did the first people make tools when there were no tools?
  • Why don’t spiders get stuck in their own webs?
  • What if bees could talk?

Children are not inhibited by adult mental and emotional baggage (feeling shame, fearing embarrassment, feigning confidence). Children are not told nonsense like, “Fake it ’til you make it” or “Hold your questions until the end.” If they are raised in a healthy environment, their curiosity and questions are rewarded. However, almost imperceptibly, their curiosity superpower is under attack.

That’s just a taste of Curiosity. Read on to start unlocking a bit of Playfulness.


Of all the superpowers, “play” is the most fun to say. “Work,” on the other hand, sounds so fixed, rigid, and serious. Playfulness, the noun, is described as being light-hearted or full of fun. While play appears to be a good time, in the never-ending to-do list of adulthood, play might seem like a colossal waste of time. In the end, do we really want to encourage managers and leaders to be playful?

Play, or playfulness, is the final superpower and a fitting capstone to our journey, which began with curiosity, as there is a natural connection between the two.

Play is to work as finger painting is to coloring by numbers. Coloring by numbers, with its rules and lines, is restrictive, with a clear end in mind; it’s so outcome-driven. Conversely, finger painting is liberating—a little red (creativity), some blue (imagination), let’s grab some yellow (curiosity), and why not some green (laughter), and you have this messy thing we call “play.”

It is hard to discuss play without bringing in imagination and creativity. Play is the physical exercise of the imagination. Being able to use symbolic substitutes for real objects is at the core of imagination. Imagination is not only an essential ingredient for play but an expected outcome.

The Value of Play

One of the more transformational studies of child’s play comes from Russian psychiatrist Lev Vygotsky, who stated, “In play, a child is always above his average age, above his daily behavior; in play, it is as though he were a head taller than himself.”

There are a number of interpretations of Vygotsky’s meaning when it comes to children as they develop. What is not in dispute is that Vygotsky is, as we are here, talking about one type of playfulness: make-believe and unstructured play. Unstructured by adults, but perhaps structured by the children themselves, with negotiated rules, identified roles, and chosen sides.

As we will see, the paradox of play is that while it may look silly and frivolous, it offers, when unstructured, a number of benefits for children and adults alike.

It is in this make-believe world that real-world cognitive development occurs. Vygotsky notes, “Play is a transitional stage. At the critical moment when a stick becomes a horse, one of the basic psychological structures determining the child’s relation- ship to reality is radically altered.”

Play also overrides instant gratification. In our opening story about Ben, his fellow Dragons were on the swing sets, or, as they called it, in jail. Clearly, they could run off whenever they wanted, so why wait? Observing the rules of the game brings greater joy than the easy relief of freedom. A fascinating aspect of child’s play is the unwritten rules by which most participants willingly abide.

Play facilitates the ability to see others’ perspectives—or what is called “cognitive decentering.” In pretend play, children adroitly assign roles (“I’m a Dragon”) and make use of props (“This wrapping paper tube is your sword”). Perspective-taking occurs because the child playing the Dragon is aware of the imaginary sword and proclamations of the Dragon Slayer. In fact, children can easily switch roles because they’re able to readily summon the appropriate perspective.

More tools for unlocking Curiosity and Playfulness, plus Resilience, Authenticity, and Compassion await. Read the full text of The Five Lost Superpowers and tap into your unlocked potential!

The Five Lost Superpowers: Why We Lose Them and How to Get Them Back by John Reid, Andrew Reid, Corena Chase and Lynae Steinhagen



John Reid is the Founder, President and Lead Designer of JMReid Group, a global behavior change organization specializing in leadership, development, sales effectiveness and skill enhancement. After John survived three bouts of cancer, he decided to pursue his passion for learning and development. John pursued this passion with a belief that people want to get better and can get better, but it is often the manner in which traditional training is designed and delivered that makes this desire for growth difficult.

As the lead designer for JMReid Group, John shifts the design emphasis from models and intellectual property to a learning experience that is relevant to the learner’s real world, taps into participants’ wisdom and is engaging and sustainable. His is a clearly learner-centric approach.

John is the author of Moving from Models to Mindsets: Rethinking the Sales Conversation and the book, The Five Lost Superpowers: Why We Lose Them and How to Get Them Back.



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