I have been hearing the word potential a lot lately in all sorts of contexts.

“She has great potential”

“They have the potential to be the greatest team in the sport”

“The company has the potential to be an industry leader”

“Unlocking human potential”

“They thought of all the potential risks to security”

Potential is often used to evoke positive images and hope, or to identify and mitigate risks. I was curious to look into the definition after noticing the impact of the word and how it is used. Potential is an adjective or noun (note: this is really not a grammar lesson):


adjective:having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future.

noun: latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success or usefulness.

As I thought about the definition, I began to consider how it is typically used when describing a partnership. In my view, potential is the underlying reason for entering into an alliance.

Imagine you are listening to the CEO during a company meeting describing partnerships as the main strategy for developing the technology. What impression would you get after hearing each of the following statements?

1) “Company X, an industry leader in this area, is one of our potential partners”

2) “Working with Company X could provide an opportunity to realize the technology’s full potential”

In the first statement, potential is used as an adjective to describe the partner. It is factual, and provides some assurance given Company X is an industry leader. However, it also seems a little flat to me. I am left wondering what is special about Company X. Are they really the best choice? Who are the other potential partners?

In the second statement, potential is used as a noun. It links technology with potential and inspires confidence in the strategy and choice. It provides a view of growth and future success.

Next time you hear or use potential to describe a partnership, pay attention to how the word is used. Does it inspire a vision of hope for the future? If not, why? This simple action could give insight to the value and quality of the partnership. If you are in a position to influence the decision, it could help inform the next best steps.