During the 1960s, a movement arose in the US known as the Human Potential Movement. The advocates of this movement believed extraordinary capabilities existed in each of us, which when unleashed creates opportunity for greater happiness for the individual and for society.
Athletic potential is one of the most studied aspects of human potential and will be showcased during the 2012 London Olympics. For decades it was believed that human genetics was the blueprint of all human potential. However studying someone’s DNA does not translate into how those characteristics will be expressed. For example, Olympic athletes from the 1950s did not differ in genetic potential from today’s athletes, yet today’s athletes are stronger, faster, smarter, and more precise. The 1960s Human Potential Movement had a socialistic view that when potential is unleashed within the individual the individual reciprocates to help others within society unleash their innate potential. Essentially this is a teacher-student concept of human potential. In other words, you need great athletes to create more great athletes.
The genetic and teacher-student link to human potential is very individualistic and in my opinion questionable. Think of how our brain works. The billions of neurons that make up the human brain don’t acquire knowledge and then pass it on to other neurons. Nor does the neuron’s genetic material predict how the brain will function. Neurons form connections with other neurons forming what’s known as a neural network. The degree of interconnectivity between neurons and the flow of information, electrical impulses and neurotransmitters, defines its capacity for complex cognitive function. While the number of neurons of an infant brain is similar to that of an adult brain, a process of neural shaping occurs throughout life whereas the organisation and interconnectivity of brain cells become more vast and complex.
Throughout life humans form social networks. These social relationships are essential to our existence. When a social network possesses some level of shared values or common goals it is believed to have value. In other words the network has the potential to generate outcomes that otherwise were not possible on the level of the individual. The term often used for the value of a social network is social capital. Political scientist Robert Putnam said social capital "refers to the collective value of all 'social networks' and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other." In the same way that neural networks organise to build capacity social networks too build capacity (potential), not necessarily by increasing the size of the network but rather through qualities such as - reciprocity, trust, internconnectedness, flow of information, and shared interest.
In the case of athletic potential the athlete becomes the shared interest or goal of the collective whereby the network aligns to unleash his or her potential. The value of this network can be in part by participating in the physiological and psychological conditioning of an athlete. In other words, the social network can provide such services as better training tactics, technologically advanced gear, emotional support, as well as financial support so an athlete can focus their attention on training. Elite athletes are such because they possess extraordinary ability within their athletic discipline. But their true potential is expressed by a powerful social network helping them to achieve.
These concepts of social networks and social capital apply to each and every one of us. Even today’s leading businesses are adopting the concept of social capital that goes far beyond the reach of traditional sales and marketing. If you’re interested in unleashing your true potential consider carefully how you build and interact with your social networks. It’s important to remember that the size of the social network doesn’t equate to it’s value, and social networks have true value when they share common interest or goals, possess trust, and freely share information in an organised fashion. Lastly they share the belief that prosperity of the individual requires prosperity of the collective thereby encouraging reciprocity within the network. For social capital “the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts”.
Over the next few weeks Ascenta will be cheering on all our Ascenta Ambassadors competing in the London Olympic Games. We look forward to seeing their human potential expressed!