Capacity is the ability to perform or produce. In relation to human mental ability, capacity refers to the power to learn or retain knowledge (adapted from WordNet). In life, capacity is an important concept because the essence of life is productivity. Without the requisite capacity, it’s impossible to perform at certain levels.
The development of this very critical aspect of life is a bit tricky because the existence or lack of capacity is not usually apparent until a person is called upon to perform a particular task. You may not realize that you’re missing out in the area of capacity building until a demand for performance is made on you. At such times, it’s always pitiful to discover that someone who looks every inch a performer is found wanting.
Quite recently, a friend told me about a young lady who applied for a job in his company. He said the lady appeared to be the right candidate for the job because she spoke well and looked presentable. Just for the records, he asked her to write four reasons why she felt she should be offered the job. To his surprise, the lady couldn’t write! When he probed, he found out that she didn’t have a secondary school education; she only picked up good command of English language while growing up! His advice to the lady was for her to go for adult education classes so that she can complement her verbal communication with written skills and possibly obtain formal educational certifications. This he felt shouldn’t be a problem because she’s is a teenager with a teachable spirit.
The young lady’s case may be considered extreme. However, there are many other cases of apparent lack of capacity that people exhibit.
How to build capacity
To build capacity is to enhance your ability to perform or produce. The fundamental way to build capacity is through education (learning). In building capacity, you start from the elementary level and gradually move through the intermediate to the advanced levels. By way of an example, a friend told me some months ago that he does 60 ‘press-ups’ every morning. I was really impressed about his statement because he looked really fit. I had done ‘press-up’ exercises before but I wasn’t consistent. After hearing my friend, I decided to give it a shot and be consistent. Even though I could only do 15 at the outset, I persevered. Now I can do 50 ‘press-ups!’
For a long time, I never saw the value in some of the things I learned in school. As I write this article, the ‘Almighty’ formula for solving Quadratic Equations readily comes to my mind. I can write it even when I’ve just woken up from sleep. I also used to wonder what the knowledge of the mathematical proof of Rational Expectations Theory (a series of differential equations) in Economics has to do with my life. The more ridiculous bit is that I still remember some of the pests that attack cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata), the likes of Aphis craccivora and Empoasca dolichi. These were some of the stuff I learned in Agricultural Biology courses 25 years ago. Let me not talk about the botanical names of weeds!
However, I stopped seeing those things as irrelevant when I understood the concept of capacity building. John Wooden said, “Once expanded by an idea, the human mind never regains its original dimensions.” What this means is that those things I thought were irrelevant did a good job of enhancing my mind’s capacity to learn and retain knowledge. This is where the advice of one of my mentors is invaluable. He said, “When you’re in school, make sure you learn everything you can learn. You can always sort out the things you don’t need later.” I’ve passed this advice to my children. When they say they don’t like some subjects, I encourage them to endure because it won’t be long before they get in the driver’s seat of their lives and will be able to decide what’s useful and what’s not.
Capacity building takes an awesome lot of time. As a matter of fact, it’s a lifetime discipline. After formal education, you get into self-education, which is best referred to as personal development. Someone said, “At the early stages of life, we learn to study. Later on, we study to learn.” The latter, studying to learn, is something you should do throughout life.
The importance of capacity building is exemplified in the requirement for someone wanting to become a medical doctor, for instance, to have at least 20 years of formal education. To become a medical consultant takes a much longer time period. Thereafter, s/he must continue to learn if s/he is to remain relevant in the profession. The need for continuous learning has made most professional bodies set us mandatory continuous professional development programmes for their registered members.
Preparation is synonymous with capacity building
The other name for capacity building is preparation. Abraham Lincoln said, “I will prepare and some day my chance will come.” This can be rewritten as, “I will build capacity and some day my chance (to use the capacity I’ve built) will come.” A big share of life is about preparation; it’s one of the 3Ps of life (watch out for the other Ps in my next book). You should always prepare for your next opportunity. The need for preparation derives from the fact that you wouldn’t have the time to prepare when your opportunity shows up. This is why lack of preparation is said to be one single reason for missed opportunities.
Your capacity building is your responsibility
The importance of capacity building to national development should ordinarily make it a priority for national leaders. Unfortunately, this is not the case especially in the underdeveloped countries of Africa.
As a result of this catastrophic failure, the responsibility for capacity building in our part of the world (Africa) falls on the individuals. This approach is evidently sub-optimal but it’s the only viable option in the absence of any other alternative.
Since the reward for your performance primarily accrues to you, it makes sense to make capacity building your responsibility.
Capacity building areas
Having come this far, you’re probably thinking, “In which areas do I have to build capacity?”
Capacity is to be built in every area that performance is expected of you. I will volunteer the following areas irrespective of what your life goals are: leadership, parenting, communication (written and verbal), financial literacy, computing skills, reading and learning.
For a meaningful life, you should build capacity in the above-mentioned areas in addition to whatever other goals you have. What you can do to build capacity in these areas include: reading books, attending seminars and workshops, and / or securing the assistance of a mentor.
Biblical perspective on capacity building
Let me wrap up this discussion with a biblical account of the importance of capacity building. After God had led the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt, He taught them all they will require to inherit the land He had promised them. In the wilderness, they were taught about obedience, the statutes and judgment (consequences of sins), various ordinances, among other things. In Deuteronomy 7 verse 22, Moses said to the children of Israel:
“The Lord your God will drive out those nations before you, little by little. You will not be allowed to eliminate them all at once, or the wild animals will multiply around you.”
The interpretation of this verse is that even though God had given the Israelites the Promised Land, He (God) will not drive the illegal occupants away at once but gradually to enable His people increase in number (build numerical capacity) to occupy the land! There’s no other proof that capacity building is supreme if God will not do anything where capacity is lacking. What’s more? Refusal to build capacity while desiring more is destructive! It’s synonymous with ‘biting more than you can chew’. When you do, the ensuing slack resources will breed situations (likened to wild animals in the Bible) that will end up devouring you.
The difference between the Moses’ days and now is that whereas in Moses’ days God wanted the Israelites to grow numerically before giving them what’s rightfully theirs (the land of Canaan), today, God wants you and me to build mental strength (capacity) before giving us whatever we desire. With the world population at c.7 billion people, we’ve obviously done well in the area of building numerical strength. Now, God is waiting for us to grow our spiritual, emotional and intellectual capacity. Little wonder, those that are making and would continue to make impact are those that have built the requisite mental capacity.
Reward for capacity building
The advancement made in technology is a proof that capacity building is the future. We must grow in knowledge and wisdom (mental capacity). This is the age of virtual economy: virtual money, virtual storage devices (clouds) and virtual friends, just to mention a few. The amazing fact is that our virtual capacity is limitless. Those that build capacity to perform in these areas will be rewarded with abundant resources to achieve more but those that refuse to venture will eventually lose all they have.