On Capacity

 potential, @gapingvoid

potential, @gapingvoid

We hear an awful lot about capacity. We hear it in phrases such as "we need to build capacity in our young people","this community doesn't have the capacity to change", and"Chris, your capacity to understand the world is diminishing over time". Okay, the last one is autobiographical but you get my point.

Many people - often in types of positions associated with leadership - apparently see a lot of capacity: they say that it's there, just waiting to be built. But what do they mean? What do you or I mean when we say someone or a community has "capacity".

I think what we really mean when we talk about capacity is this: that we have identified people and communities where if they are performing poorer than whatever average is in the context. The logic is: here is an under-performing individual (or community, or set of individuals, or whatever), here is where the majority of their peers score on certain measures, therefore there is trapped capacity within this individual. The conclusion from this is that we should put in some programming that would increase and build their capacity.

Here's the problem I think I have with this: it presumes that capacity is something that is built from outside the individual or community - that it is something that needs to be brought to them. I think this is incorrect, and it leads to programs and initiatives that are underwhelming .This is not to say that such programs and initiatives are not worthwhile. They may indeed help teach certain things, and provide certain skills, but they aren't building capacity.

They aren't building capacity for the simple reason that capacity isn't something that can be built. Capacity is something that is infinite in each of us. This isn't meant as a platitude. In fact it's intimidating. What it means is that we need to recognize that individual people and communities already have the capacity they need to drive change. What they actually need are methods and ways to recognize and unlock their capacity. This may seem like a distinction without a difference, but it is not. The difference lies in people exploring their innate talents rather than simply being told they can make a change.