Boost Economies Don’t Unleash Potential — They Channel It

by cv harquail on September 19, 2012

Conversations with Traci Fenton of WorldBlu and Paul Carlile at Boston University have me thinking about the link between the Boost economy and human potential.

When Traci describes the value of organizational democracy, she explains that it unleashes human potential and helps to change the world. When Paul describes decision-making processes designed to facilitate broad participation, he wants to gather participants together in ways that unleash their potential to innovate. As I talked with each of them about the ways that a Boost network relies on both organizational democracy and design for participation, both Traci and Paul suggested that the same motive lies underneath all three perspectives. They are all about “unleashing human potential”.

Not that I have anything against “unleashing human potential”, but for some reason that motive didn’t resonate with me.

Certainly, any progressive organizational movement recognizes that both its energy and its accomplishments come from creating ways that individuals and organizations can do more and be more that our conventional organizational systems allow. But the language of “unleashing potential” was unsatisfying. 2579573442_16806ecb0d_b.jpg

What’s behind my resistance, I wondered?

For a while now, I’ve thought that learned cynicism made me think of “unleashing potential” as a noble goal, but one that was too vague and dreamy to drive business relationships.

But the more I’ve been thinking about it, I’m realizing that it’s not the idea of “human potential”, but the verb of “unleashing” that hasn’t been working for me.

It’s the “unleashing” that seems too vague, because we seldom discuss what it is that we do with this potential once it’s “unleashed”.  (This isn’t because change agents don’t care about what to do with the unleashed potential, but more that imaging a work world where we each feel unleashed is radical enough to require huge amounts of attention.)

There’s everything right about “unleashing human potential”. I just wonder — what comes next? And how is that relevant to a Boost economy?

What a Boost economy approach has to offer is that it asks us to address how unleashed and activated human potential can be invited and channeled in ways that are individually satisfying and collectively useful.

A Boost approach asks us to build relationships and networks that:

  1. Activate dormant, latent, or repressed potential,
  2. Invite this potential to be useful, and
  3. Create systems where the possibility of an additional contribution matters to the individual, to their productive social context, and to the collective purpose.

Inviting and Channeling Potential in a Boost Economy

Boost networks create channels that invite and hold positive contributions, and that move these contributions to a place where they can be useful.

Consider the example of diversity & inclusiveness. The idea here is not just to eliminate the experience of oppressions or repression that many people feel in an environment where they are ‘different’. it’s about finding ways to link their uniqueness to the work going on around them.

This is not to say that it’s unimportant to have a personal from a minority culture feel like he can be his whole self. Rather, it’s about finding ways to invite those other parts of himself and have them be relevant and meaningful to the social context and to the work that he is engaged in. So, the challenge for diversity & inclusion programs is not just to invite people to bring their whole selves to work, but also to create workspaces and social spaces where members’ full selves contribute to the overall purpose.

So much latent potential exists within our work selves and organizations, just pressing to be released.

Latent potential comes into work with us, in our selves, our views, our experiences and our abilities. Potential is also generated through our work together (like the ideas that arise when we interact, or the excitement when we see shared progress). And, potential contributions are generated in the interactions between our organizations.

Then there is the potential that gets unleashed, but isn’t captured.

Unless the relationships and systems are designed to channel energy so that it boosts the network, what happens to this “unleashed potential” is kind of sad. The potential that does get released is dispersed into the atmosphere. There, it can sometimes inspire or help us, but more often it gets lost, gets dissipated, feels irrelevant, gets overlooked, or even worse — gets exploited without our consent.

When we only ‘release’ potential, the air whooshes out of the balloon and goes…. where? If it goes nowhere meaningfully, it gets wasted. It doesn’t get regenerated, it doesn’t get renewed. Instead it disappears. So much for that.

Boost economies need to connect unleashed potential to activities and purpose we believe in.

The first challenge of a Boost economy is to invite the potential, so that it’s easier to “unleash”

The second challenge of a Boost economy is to create places where that unleashed potential can go and needs to go.

How often when we work with each other do we generate great ideas and terrific energy that has nowhere to go? Consider how the conventional relationships we have with customers or colleagues give us no where to bring our spontaneous suggestions or idea generosity. We might ‘unleash’ ideas and want to be generous by sharing them, but are these ideas welcomed? Is there a way to use them? Or will this potential get wasted?

In a boost network, all the ideas that we have for our customers’ business development flow thought a relationship that is designed (1) to invite these contributions and (2) to get them to the persons & organizations whom they might boost.

Boost networks also create ways that others can build on and benefit when any part of the system unleashes potential, because this potential gets channeled effectively into the the rest of the system.

If your ideas for a customer’s business get to that customer, and she finds ways to use them, and she builds her business, the ideas have a positive outcome. Bonus: Both you and your customer have made a difference. We have increased the capacity of the system to create better business.

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Unleashed potential becomes meaningful when it is channeled within the ecosystem to places where it can be useful.  When we create systems, networks and communities that invite potential and channel it towards a purpose, that potential can be both unleashed and collectively meaningful.

We already know what happens when potential remains captive, where individuals feel repressed, where they can’t bring their full selves to their work.  And we know what happens when people share their energy, but there is no one willing to hear it or no where that it can make a difference.  We get depressed and demotivated, we withdraw our energy, and our relationships wither. Collectively, our networks collapse, and our organizations founder.

I do believe that people and collectives generate positive energy in their work together, because at heart we are expressive, creative, and generous social creatures.

Our challenge is to take steps beyond releasing this creativity, expressiveness, and generosity, by designing relationships and networks that invite human potential and deliberately channel it towards goals we each care about. This way, when you unleash your potential, when we unleash our potential, we can boost the potential of each other and our community. 

That’s the potential of the Boost economy.

 

For the flip side of this concern, see: Are Your Social Business Systems Designed for Extraction or Contribution?

 

Images: Deflation of “Avion Special” and “Starship” Attribution Some rights reserved by rubberduckee

{ 1 comment }

Jeremy Lewis September 20, 2012 at 3:00 am

You’ve done it again, CV… You’ve hit the nail right on the head (now there’s channelled energy!). I love the way you focus and unpick every word in an organisation’s stated aims. Channelling potential is so much more purposive than unleashing it! Genius :-)

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