Polina Marinova Pompliano never considered writing a book.
“I’m a journalist. I do short form. I don’t write long things,” she says.
But the editor who’d contacted her was persistent. He’d read The Profile, the newsletter of the web-based media company Pompliano started as a side project in 2017, and was intrigued.
Pompliano was three years into her five-and-a-half-year stint as a writer for Fortune magazine at the time. It was the latest step in what had been a steady climb up the journalism ladder.
While at UGA earning her degree in newspapers—the last class to major in the subject before it was phased out—Pompliano ABJ ’13 worked at The Red & Black for four years, including a year as the student paper’s editor-in-chief.
That education set Pompliano up well for when she started her professional career, first at USA Today and then at CNN. She joined Fortune’s social media team, worked her way up to writer, then editor. She was producing good work for an internationally respected publication, but she was restless.
“So I started The Profile, which was really small at the time,” Pompliano says. “But it was tied to my own name. It was something I built and could never lose.” In the beginning, the newsletter was mainly for family and friends, but readership grew steadily and so did Pompliano’s passion for it.
Editorially, The Profile is exactly what it implies.
In each week’s newsletter, Pompliano deep dives into the life and work of a newsmaker, thought leader, visionary, or all-around interesting human. By 2021, which was when the book editor contacted her, she was writing The Profile full time. And she was stretching out creatively.
Pompliano uses a variety of narrative tools to explore her subjects, often breaking the fourth wall to offer her own perspectives on those she highlights. Her pieces are engaging, punchy, and relatively short at under 1,500 words.
“Ultimately, if I was to write a book, it would be a compilation of all the lessons I’ve learned from profiling and interviewing people,” Pompliano says.
The editor was sold.
All the publisher needed was a title. For Pompliano, that was perhaps the easiest part.
“I believe we all have a hidden genius or kind of an X factor that makes us exceptional, but a lot of us haven’t discovered it yet,” she says.
Hidden Genius: The Secret Ways of Thinking That Power the World’s Most Successful People was released in June to much acclaim.
Over a nimble 252 pages, Hidden Genius uncovers those X factors through a mix of thumbnail profiles, quoted material, and a handful of slightly longer stories and anecdotes. While management trainers and personal development experts would have a field day with the treasure trove of lessons learned from Hidden Genius, the book appeals to any reader. It is easily digestible and broadly appealing.
I believe we all have a hidden genius or kind of an X factor that makes us exceptional, but a lot of us haven’t discovered it yet.” — Polina Marinova Pompliano ABJ ’13
Also, while there is no shortage of big names (Matthew McConaughey, Dolly Parton, and Neil DeGrasse Tyson among them) in the book, Pompliano doesn’t necessarily waste time shining lights on the stars.
“To me, success isn’t material wealth or any sort of external status,” she says. “To live a meaningful life is to be able to take the lessons you’ve learned to share them with other people.”
Since the release of Hidden Genius, Pompliano has embarked on an abbreviated book tour and continued to publish The Profile. A move from Miami back to New York and the impending arrival of her second child are complicating things in very good ways. But having spent her career shining the spotlight on others, being the focus of attention is a shift.
“It’s very strange to be the one answering the questions versus asking the questions,” she says. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”