The Difference: Maximising Human Capital vs. Maximising more Important Stuff

Way back in 2005 (does anyone go that far back these days?) David Brooks, NYT columnist and all-round genius, said that if we ‘want to understand the future, it’s just two words: “Human Capital.”’

Antique Diving SuitAnd
yet, he didn’t mean the stuff you and I typically call human capital –
skills like knowing how to read or turn a lathe, or knowledge like
remembering what you then went on to read or how many notches to turn
said lathe for the optimum result. Those things, he argued, are the tip
of the human capital iceberg, the easy to measure and test and report
stuff that makes jobs for economists and politicians (does anyone trust
these guys anymore?)

He was talking about real human capital,
the foundational human capital part of the iceberg of one’s self that is
harder to measure and test and report but which props up all the rest.
Things like:

  • Social Capital: How to behave in groups or institutions or business settings
  • Moral Capital: The ability to be someone you can trust
  • Cognitive Capital: Not just the size of your brain, but how you use it
  • Aspirational Capital: The drive, will or ambition to succeed

We might add here:

  • Creative Capital: The imagination to come up with new ideas
  • Or Emotional Capital: The ability to empathise with people whose imagination is bigger than ours

But before we get carried away, did anyone listen? Not really.

David sensed they wouldn’t either; how can you measure someone’s imagination?

Ok, you could read their diary (ok, no one keeps a diary anymore, try
their Facebook profile for a guage of someone’s imagination instead).

But the point he wanted to make was as usual a serious and valuable
one: If we stick to measuring and reporting what we can because that’s
what we’ve always done and it’s easy, and don’t even try to build the
tools to measure what’s truly behind the visible results, what’s the
long-term value in it? If we are serious in saying that those tip of the
iceberg things are important, but also admit that they are only brought
about by these solid foundations – especially now – shouldn’t we be
focusing all our energy on creating the kind of schools and businesses
and society where these components of human capital are systematically,
morally, culturally, creatively, aspirationally, instilled? Shouldn’t
all our skills and knowledge be bent in that direction? We can still
measure and report how Titanic busting the iceberg becomes? While at the
same time, sending down some clever divers with new tape measures and
new reporting tools to get at the real truth.

In 2015, I fully expect nothing to have happened. But then, the Government’s new consultation on narrative reporting, in a sense a new move to bring back human capital measurement and reporting, is looming on the horizon?

Care to get wet and show them the true size of the iceberg before they hit it – or worse, sail right on by?

PS There are some pulling on their diving suits right here if you’re interested. Maybe not diving suits like that…


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