What is My Potential?

The construct of human potential is fascinating. What is the capacity of an individual? How much can one person achieve? How great a contribution can someone make to their organization, community or society? How is that potential nurtured, cultivated, explored and exploited? These questions tantalize the mind of a human performance scientist.

My peers in the study of human performance science are among the brightest and most able minds of our day. We have a greater body of research to draw upon than any other generation. We have the luxury of building on the foundation established by generations of research science. Information is more readily available than ever before. It makes the exploration of human potential a truly exciting proposition for a human performance nerd like me.

Though nerds love to study the science, we all have an interest in the research conclusions. We all want to do better—perform at a higher level. Whether we enjoy competition or not—competition is thrust upon us. We compete for better jobs, more income, richer benefits. Improving our performance improves our lives so we all want to reach a little bit higher, do a little bit better, test the limits of our potential.

Certain principles stand out as important for everyone interested in getting better, doing more and reaching higher. The first is that stretching, reaching and hoping are essential principles of growth. Next, the achievement psyche is fragile—reach too high, hope for too much, stretch too far and it breaks under the weight of learned helplessness. Lastly, carefully nurtured with incremental improvement, the potential for individual growth is mind-boggling, perhaps limitless!

It may seem that tapping our potential is an unsolvable puzzle; that those three principles are difficult or even impossible to follow. Rather than intentional growth we might think we are relegated to bouncing through life with all the bumps and bruises that experience provides. In this model, growth is something that happens to us, in random and unpredictable ways.

One of the brightest of my human performance peers is Dr. Thomas Gilbert. He shined the light of understanding on a secret key of tapping into our human potential: World Class. That’s the secret. That’s the key.

World Class means defining the performer’s world and best-in-class results. A high school athlete running the 400 meter may define his world as the region in which he competes. A more skilled or mature high school runner may consider the entire state as her world. It would be premature to compare herself to collegiate athletes. A younger or inexperienced athlete might want to define his world more narrowly. He might choose a world including other newcomers in his own school. Start by defining your world in terms of performers with similar experience and skill in a narrow geography.

Experience and proven skill level are key factors when defining the world in which the performer competes. Broader comparisons are unrealistic. They risk disappointment and discouragement that erode confidence and effort.

After defining your world, the next step of World Class is to identify the best of class result in the world as we have defined it. A newbie would consider the best time posted by her teammates in the current year. Our high school athlete might choose the regional record at his distance. The more experienced athlete would look at the state record. The best results in the performer’s world defines his immediately achievable potential!

As a performer approaches the mark that previously defined World Class for her, she enlarges her world to include others of her current experience and skill level. Enlarging her world gives her a new target. In this way performers establish a rhythm of continuous improvement.

Identifying a target goal that represents imminent potential is a remarkable first step in the achievement process. Defined in this way, the principle of World Class 1. Stimulates performers to reach, stretch and hope 2. Protects against discouragement that erodes effort and 3. Carefully nurtures incremental improvement.

Thank you Dr. Gilbert, for shining light on this secret key to individual growth, performance and achievement. World Class. An entire encyclopedia of human performance technology wrapped up in two words.