Human Performance ~

A Question of Potential or Interference?

by Amanda Knight

The connection between ‘performance’ and ‘personal effectiveness’ is well documented, if not obvious.  The evolution of management and employee competency programmes, comprising of soft skills assessment as well as traditional hard skills evaluation, has reinforced the need for the development of people skills.  

For most organisations though, the apparent inconsistent results in the so-called ‘soft and woolly’ aspects of skills training have only served to reinforce the doubt and suspicion in many corridors of power of the need for, and the role of, human development. 

This is further fuelled by an inadequate understanding in organisations of how we actually function as human beings, and the enormous impact this has on our ability to perform as individuals, as members of teams, and as contributors to the wider goals of the business.  

Why are organisations prepared to spend millions in the research and development of technology, yet do not seek to understand and develop their human resource?  After all, an IT system does not make a business ~ yet without the people, that same business could not exist.  

There seems to be a cynicism beneath the requirement to provide employees with the opportunity to explore their potential.  Why is that?  

Well, perhaps they will decide to leave the organisation, which would be a wasted investment.  Yet the organisation that encourages the development of potential in its staff will unleash the creative energy required to propel a business towards a more successful and sustainable future.  And in turn, that creative and stimulating environment will prove to be a strong factor in retaining the very staff that helped create it.  

Or may be there is a fear that their newly-found wisdom would encourage employees to challenge management ideas and decisions a little too vigorously.  The only people that would need to be worried about that, however, would be those in positions of authority who have an egoic need for control.  

Any manager able to perceive beyond their own self-preservation will recognise the need to understand how their own ego responses, and those of their staff, impact on the team’s (and ultimately the organisation’s) overall performance.  

And this really is the crux of the people performance issue.  When will organisations truly understand and accept the fundamental impact soft skills have on the performance of the individual, the team, and the organisation?  

But is there a fast-track solution? 

This comes back to the need to understand how we actually function as human beings.  

Much development and soft skills training focuses on improving aspects of ‘behaviour’ ~ the need to be more assertive, more visionary, a better communicator, and so on.  But by seeing ourselves as needing to improve, or to be more or less of something, we are assuming that we lack that skill in the first place.  

In his book ‘The Inner Game of Tennis’, Timothy Gallwey discusses a simple formula for improving performance:

Performance = Potential – Interference  

What if we actually already have the potential, but this is inhibited by interference ~ habitual thought patterns and conditioning that make us think we are inadequate and incapable?  If we could believe, for example, that we are naturally good communicators but that there is old emotional memory creating a smokescreen that distorts our communications output and delivery, that gives a very subtle, but vital perspective from which to develop ourselves.  What is healthy about this idea is that it considers human development as a cleansing process rather than a negative, uphill struggle.  

So ~ we can consider human potential in two ways.  There is the traditional idea of the struggle to ‘improve’ oneself and become a ‘better’ human being.  And then there is the concept of realising one’s potential by releasing the creative being that already exists within.  

The problem with the former is that it reinforces existing perception ~ and supports judgement; either judgement of oneself, or judgement of and by others.  Whereas the latter is about uncovering the truth, the true ability of the individual …  

Developing Potential, Limiting Interference 

We have all heard of the concept of left and right brain.  The left brain is our rational brain (the cortex) and the right brain is our emotional brain (the limbic system).  Whether we are aware of it or not, every decision that we make, every action we carry out, requires the simultaneous use of these two areas of the brain.  Physiologically, the two do not, and cannot, function independently.  

The significance of this is that our emotional brain is as involved in our decisions and actions as the rational part, and this has serious implications for our personal effectiveness ~ our performance and achievement of goals; our ability to make decisions and communicate effectively; our relationships with others; and our health.  

To identify how we are using the brain to interfere with realising our potential requires understanding.  Understanding how our brain accesses and uses its emotional memory base.  Understanding what the data inside this memory store is compiled of and how it is impacting us today (without us perhaps even being aware of it).  Understanding how we can create new memory to help us enhance our personal performance and relationships, and create the results we want.  

It is vital, therefore to take responsibility for how our emotional brain works.  It then becomes possible to ‘train’ it to respond in ways that create the outcomes we want, both in terms of personal performance and our interactions with others.  

Whilst we need to understand the emotional factors affecting our performance, we also need to understand the range of intelligence that we can develop as humans.  The scientist Howard Gardner established that there are at least eight intelligences, all of which are capable of being developed, and all of which are interlinked.  The most commonly known are the linguistic and logical intelligences which make up our IQ.  Our intrapersonal and interpersonal intelligences form our emotional intelligence (EQ).  The combination of IQ and EQ is now widely recognised as a strong indicator of performance of the individual in the workplace.

The remaining intelligences (plus a proposed spiritual intelligence) may indicate supplementary abilities either in our professional or personal lives.  By considering the breadth of knowledge and capability indicated by the range of intelligences, we are being offered a whole new vista in terms of our human potential.  


Bodily/Kinesthetic   The ability to use one’s whole physical body to express and create, with the capacity for strength, balance, dexterity, flexibility, co-ordination and speed

Intrapersonal   The ability to gain self-knowledge and to act adaptively on the basis of that knowledge with the capacity for self-discipline, self-understanding and self-esteem

Interpersonal   The ability to perceive, make distinctions between, and respond effectively to the moods, intentions, motivations, and feelings of other people

Logical/Mathematic   The capacity to use numbers effectively and to reason well, including sensitivity to logical patterns and relationships, and statements and propositions (what if?, cause-effect)

Musical/Rhythmic   The capacity to perceive, discriminate, transform and express musical forms including a sensitivity to rhythm, pitch, melody and tone

Naturalistic   The ability to appreciate the impact of nature on the self and the self on nature, and a capacity for caring for, taming and interacting with living creatures, and sensitivity to plant life

Verbal/Linguistic   The capacity to use words effectively, in a written or a spoken form, including syntax and structure of language, phonology, semantics and its practical use

Visual/Spatial   The ability to perceive the visual-spatial world accurately and to perform transformations upon those perceptions, eg. through sensitivity to colour, line, shape, form and space

Source: identified by the scientist Howard Gardner

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs enables us to understand what motivates us as human beings, with a focus on human potential, as he believed that humans strive to reach the highest levels of their capabilities.  Some people reach higher levels of creativity, of consciousness and wisdom.  His term for these people was "self-actualising".  

Maslow set up a hierarchical theory of needs in which all the basic needs are at the bottom, and the needs concerned with man's highest potential are at the top. The hierarchic theory is often represented as a pyramid suggesting that each level of the pyramid is dependent on the previous level.  For example, a person does not feel the second need until the demands of the first have been satisfied.  

But if we are considering two interwoven aspects of development ~ potential and interference ~ then are not the basic needs and the growth needs two interdependent hierarchies?  


Basic needs hierarchy

Growth needs hierarchy



Esteem needs




Belonging needs




Safety needs

Aesthetic needs



Physiological needs

Cognitive needs



Unmet egoic needs create emotional interference

Unmet trans-egoic needs highlight untapped potential



Facilitating Learning  

Whether we are considering our own performance and how it is impacted by developing potential and limiting interference, or if we are involved in raising the performance of others, the function of human development is learning.  Learning about our unrealised potential, and learning how to reduce the interference by bringing daylight to our misguided perceptions.  

Wherever we are on the path to self-actualisation, enlightenment or our own Nirvana, we can take a giant step forward by doing what we can to minimise our judgements, and to believe in and identify with our inner creative being instead.  

Maslow proposed the following steps for nurturing potential in others ~ we can use these to assess our own progress too:


·          Teach people to be authentic ~ to be aware of their inner selves and to hear their inner-feeling voices

·          Teach people to transcend their own cultural conditioning, and become world citizens

·          Help people discover their vocation in life, their calling or destiny

·          Teach people that life is precious, that there is joy to be experienced in life, and if people are open to seeing the good and joyous in all kinds of situations, it makes life worth living

·          Accept the person and help them learn their inner nature. From real knowledge of aptitudes and limitations we can know what to build upon, what potentials are really there

·          See that the person's basic needs are satisfied, ie. safety, belonging and self-esteem

·          Refresh consciousness, teaching the person to appreciate beauty and the other good things in nature and in living

·          Teach people that controls are good, and complete abandon is bad as it takes control to improve the quality of life in all areas

·          Teach people to transcend the trifling problems and focus on the serious problems in life such as injustice, pain, suffering and death

·          Teach people to choose well, by practising how to make choices

Source: suggested by the humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow

Ultimately, the question of whether interference affects human performance by impacting on potential certainly appears to be valid.  Considering this simple formula as a focus for people development may well prove to be the key to improving performance in the workplace.

Amanda Knight is a human development consultant who specialises in Emotional Intelligence (EI) and realising potential.  She is an EI practitioner, a development trainer, and a personal coach.  A large part of her work is through her role as Training Manager for Activate, who run a centre of excellence for outdoor experiential learning in the heart of the New Forest on the south coast of England.

Amanda is a new recruit to our editorial team where she will be contributing her skills in corporate development.  She can be contacted at