Human Capability and you

Human Capability and you

Human Capability and you

Human Capability is the key to any organisation’s future. It used to be seen as something you could buy. We have learnt that it is a combination of innate intelligence, common sense and drive, plus how you are managed and rewarded. All these attributes are essential to empower someone with the human capability to carry an organisation, or a part of it, through the next decade.

Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey writing in HBR postulate the three plateaux of Adult Complexity as 1. The Socialised Mind, 2. The Self-Authorising Mind and 3. The Self-Transforming mind. I express these slightly differently but with broadly the same meanings – 1. Seeking, 2. Questioning, 3. Rebelling. Those who want to match the changes taking place in all aspects of life must master these stages much faster than was necessary fifty years ago.

I put ages on these stages with great reluctance. Some people never leave Stage 1 and many others get stuck in Stage 2. When I was young it was expected that you would end the major Seeking Stage 1 by 25, with the caveat that you never stopped learning, of course. Stage 2 would take you to early 40s at which point Stage 3 would kick in and you would be made a director.

To manage any major department or project today you need to reach stage 3 by between 20 and 25. Let’s look at these stages in more detail and see why they are so important.

Seeking is the extension of childhood curiosity and learning into adulthood. Its lifelong nature is widely recognised but only moderately practised by perhaps half the managers in businesses. In a paradox of mind-blowing complexity the ability to access all knowledge from a mobile phone has made the Mobile Generation less willing to learn what will inform their judgments and more than ever willing to defer such learning until some problem or opportunity presents itself.

In a purely commercial sense – and forgetting the value of all knowledge for its ability to contribute to a rounded life – this would not matter if the Mobiles’ minds were creative and sought beyond the immediate checklist or internet solution. WIth many this does not happen. The programmed solution is enough to deal with the issue and move on to the next game. The consequence is that the Mobiles’ stop thinking and live by process alone. Official departments are very prone to this.

Questioning is a continuation of learning but with a critical view of what is taught and of how it is taught. For Human Capability to reach stage 3 by the age of 23 this Stage must, like Stage 1, be completed before the end of tertiary education. This hypothesis has massive implications for both secondary and tertiary education. The key to this stage of maturing is curiosity. It doesn’t matter whether that curiosity is about how a part of the human body can be refurbished to last longer or about the rising oceans surrounding us. The curiosity must be a never-ending round of questions. That is how we both learn and teach. Socrates got that right.

Rebelling is taking charge and getting change done. It is an assertive stage not an aggressive one. Things achieved with polite firmness are more successful than things achieved by fear because to use fear is to employ the corruption that could eventually destroy our species. A society that dissuades or prevents polite rebelling will die very quickly in today’s world. Rebelling is saying ‘I am responsible’ rather than the frequently heard plea ‘Not my job’.

Now consider how you have dealt with these stages. Where have you reached on never-ending Seeking? Your answers will be honest, I am sure, but review them critically yourself. Do you tend to exaggerate your capabilities or are you forever self-deprecating? Whichever, adjust your first answer to something more realistic. If you do a PASDAQ®* that will help you do it rationally.

How has your Questioning stage worked? If the answer is ‘it has not finished yet’ re-examine what you are doing. We accept continuing questioning for life, of course. But are you stuck in the stage when more knowledge will make you better informed but distracted from action? 40% of managers who come to us are stuck in this stage. It is ruining their chances of promotion and control.

Have you really developed into the Rebelling stage? When did you last challenge, or even ask about, the strategy of the business you work for? When did you see a stupid procedure and put an end to it? When did you negotiate within and outside the business to increase efficiency? Have you been marked as a ‘person of interest’ by your superiors? Your honest answers will tell you a lot.

Life is not about getting out of bed early in the morning, nor about working late into the night. It is about knowing what your values are and choosing your priorities to fit them. “I don’t know where I’m going” is invariably a statement of “I don’t know who I am”.

Define yourself correctly and the rest will fall into place. You have every chance to do that now.

Perhaps tomorrow you won’t.

Good morning
John Bittleston

*For details of PASDAQ® please email