The Balance of Potential and Capability

“If I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.” 
― Mahatma Gandhi

This is a very inspiring quote and from a personal level I really like it. But I struggle with it sometimes in relation to business as their is always a tension between the concepts of potential and capability. One thing that this quote points out is that one “acquires” the capability as a result.

We know that acquiring a capability to do something not done before requires effort, investment and often sacrifice. On the broad end of the spectrum given that perseverance might not be added to the mix you could fail (and maybe learn something in the process hopefully).

So where I struggle in business with this natural tension is that often we base decisions on the potential and then work to retrofit the capability to meet the potential of what we are trying to do.

I have seen many organizations fail as they implemented a framework (like scrum) with “silver bullet” mentality without realizing what they could support or what they were lacking.

My Thoughts (and only my thoughts) …

So as I struggled with this over time, I have often thought, what if we start with a “goals first” approach to what we actually want and disregard the potential of everything possible?

So you may say “ok, I want to be an agile organization“, there’s my goal. I would say that you are looking again at potential without regard to your capability. This is a broad end state epic goal. Maybe you can decompose that into smaller goals to meet this overarching epic.

But, what does that mean to you? What things are you doing or not doing now that are your goals to be changed through an embrace of working in a more agile manner? Have you assessed your current state to determine where your strengths and weaknesses are now in meeting that goal and what does success in working in this new way look like? These feel like measurable goals and a way in which you can couple a plan to those goals.

My thought is that instead of being focused on all the things we “could possibly do” it seems more reasonable to define what we want to do. This allows us to take action and develop a plan to meet those short term goals while not losing sight of the potential. It also allows us to continuously assess if we have the necessary capabilities to meet those goals and determine what capabilities we need for those “future goals” and “future potentials”. It even allows us a way to “start starting” and ” pivot or persevere” in our plan. But it keeps us grounded to accomplish the goals that we determine bring value as opposed to focusing on “how great we can become”.

This is something that has been on my mind and I just needed to work through my thoughts in a blog post. If you find yourself in the midst of this tension between these two things, this may be something to help or you may have even better ideas. As for myself, I am going to try and listen and simply ask the questions “tell me what you want things you want to provide or accomplish today or soon” or “do we have the capability to meet those things you want to do”. From those two questions, a conversation about the prioritization of goals and alignment off capabilities and deficiencies should be able to start.

Have a great day and stay agile!