From starting a school to teaching world-class MBA students to advising extraordinary executives, I’ve had a front row seat on the cycle of human development across all stages of life. Suffice to say, there are numerous myths and misnomers that get in the way of maximizing human capital, individually & collectively.
The profound news is that a series of shifts are taking hold that point the way to a more aspirational and attainable approach to personal & organizational growth. By integrating research from fields like evolutionary biology, neuroscience and architecture, we are on the front end of a renaissance in human potential.
Here are 5 principles that shape an emergent science of human potential:
1. Genius Lives in All of Us. Far from being “other-worldly”, extreme achievements — be they artistic or athletic, entrepreneurial or environmental — are available to everyone. The question isn’t “if you’re smart; rather, how you’re smart”. Such an expansive definition of “intelligence” opens the door to an exponential number of previously unimaginable prospects for people, from all walks of life.
2. Potential is Vast; and Ours To Own and Develop. To date, the language around human development has been too passive. Framing “potential” as being something we “realize” makes it seem like growth is an artifact we discover on a hike or on our way to the store. Far from being laissez faire, unearthing one’s potential is a life-long quest that demands dogged determination.
3. Ambition is The Engine Room of Transformation. Dovetailing from above, the key variable that determines the trajectory of one’s life is ambition. It’s this staggering drive to “succeed”, no matter the adversity, that propels progress on a micro and macro scale. Pursuing such “greatness” is a brave choice that one makes, every single day.
4. Life and Leadership are Generative. Those that experience the most dizzying heights — from Mars exploration to Cancer eradication to Antarctic expeditions — don’t have it all mapped out ahead of time. Instead, they “make it up as they go along”; the further they advance, stretching beyond what was the edge of possibility, the more expansive the horizon becomes. In essence, opening up a whole new range of options with every threshold that is eclipsed.
5. The North Star is MEANING. From education to economics, there is much debate about why we toil as a society. Is it to achieve competitive advantage globally or attain a higher standard of living locally? Do higher test scores drive future success? Or is happiness the barometer we should be tracking?
At the end of the day, the renaissance in human potential is all about MEANING. Creating more impactful, connected and fulfilling lives requires that we unearth and deploy our unique talents, passions and aspirations like never before. Such a quantum leap — in the arc of humanity — is what the coming decades and new science are all about.