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Making a Difference - What happened to the human potential movement?
By David Harder on August, 6, 2019

Making a Difference – What happened to the human potential movement?

America has become a country where anyone can believe anything they want and much of this outrageous signature began in California, the birthplace and world capital of the human potential movement.


I was a teenager when I first became involved in it. I didn’t jump into the seminars to expand my mind. Instead, many of my decisions were based on increasing any probability of getting my adoptive, violent, and evangelical family member’s heads to blow up.


It was an outrageous time. Well-to-do yuppies flocked to Esalen in Big Sur. It was the Ritz-Carlton of metaphysics where truth-seekers could study the latest in Karma management, crystal energy, and astral projection. My late and great friend Emily Coleman led the nation’s first nude encounter group wearing only her jewelry with flowers glued to her unmentionables.


I was herded into an auditorium at the Los Angeles Convention Center with about 500 other participants in EST. I was fascinated with the cursing and swearing, with frantic volunteers running about with wireless mikes and yes, they kept us from going to the bathroom for up to 10 hours with the missive, “You are not your bodies.”


Many of these experiences were crude. But, the central message, as I interpreted it, was that we were conditioned to buy into beliefs and cultural models that were just as crazy. Once we recognized this truth, all of us had the power actualize and design our lives. Today, many practitioners of organization development are not aware that the seeds from that practice began in the 70s with the human potential movement.


I actually became a facilitator for two organizations. From my vantage point, I could see that most people came to these programs to improve their love life or their work. But, I found the strategy for improving someone’s career to be centered on the idea that everything would improve if they were to, “make a difference.”


So, participants made grandiose announcements such as,


“I’m going the heal the rain forest.”


“I’m going to help build a new school system.”


But, what was there for the person who didn’t want to make a difference? More commonly, I watched participants make commitments to change their careers. When they made these announcements, they were greeted with the directive to sign up for another program. None of these courses had the eloquence to help people create solid business plans or develop an effective career marketing strategy. They did keep them in the same state of enthusiasm they had before. For many, that was a bit like getting hooked on drugs that made them feel better but did little to advance their purpose.


We launched Inspired Work with a commitment to instilling deeply personalized mission, vision, and purpose. For some of our participants, making a difference isn’t part of the outcome. We are happy about that. There is no one size fits all when we pursue happiness, fulfillment, and meaning. Because every deliverable is as unique as the person’s DNA. In fact, the more detailed we become in our purpose, the more the world around us is able to help.


But, how do we come up with a way for every person to go home with a clearly effective and actionable plan? That turned into my greatest challenge. There were no truly effective models in the human potential field. In order to complete the curriculum, I had to learn a few skills that were missing from my repertoire.


This is what I learned:


When we develop a clearly detailed mission, vision, and purpose, our success is based on the quality of help we draw into our lives. Developing the right life skills is far more important to our success than collecting multiple degrees. These very real and necessary needs cannot be satisfied by reenrolling people into new versions of the same program.


Making a difference in the world is one of the primary drivers behind having satisfying lives. But, it has become even more important to define and find the work that we love. That definition is unique for every single person. Why is this so important today?


As work goes through its biggest restructuring in history, loving our work is proving to be the most dependable fuel for change. “It is just a job” is no longer enough. When we are in love with all that we do, we become willing to learn new skills, even if that pursuit requires a bit of courage. When our work is meaningful, we become more willing to assess ourselves and make changes, some of which could be uncomfortable.


Most behavioral scientists characterize true self-esteem as having a direct experience of our individual productivity. Of course, we want work that is meaningful. On the other hand, practical success requires that we learn how to connect with the right people. This cannot be handled by taking more and more courses with the same people.


The greatest lessons I have ever learned were simple and powerful. I have attended certain classes half a dozen times, not because of my immediate understanding. I came back because I had to hear the messages multiple times in order to change my behavior and outlook.


Today, the message I keep repeating to anyone who listens is,


“Accelerating technology is offering us freedom. What do you want to do with your freedom?”


Who could have predicted that technology would pave the way for people to not only do what they love but to save the world?


If you want to make a big difference in the world, now’s the time to do it.


If you want to love your work, this is the time to find that work.


The world coming towards us will not hand out rewards for ambivalence.


The world coming towards us requires new mindsets.


My suggestion is to pursue those changes right now. That will be far more rewarding than hanging onto shrinking industries, to jobs invented during the dark ages, or cultures that breed fear rather than growth.


Human potential has always been based on pursuing the possibilities that interest us the most. The movement has given us a revolutionary impact in opening up to and developing vision. However, its primary failing has been in helping people make the bridge between their vision and practical outcomes. When someone develops a cherished vision, their success is based on having an honest assessment of their needs and if we are able, to connect them with the right support systems. If someone needs to learn consultative sales, you don’t enroll them in an advanced course, you send them to the best consultative sales trainers. If an individual has an ambitious commitment to getting a better job, help them find the resources that specialize in marketing campaigns.


At this great turning point in front of us, it is vitally important to invest in help. But, it is even more important to produce results. This time, the fallback on “possibilities” simply will not be enough.


Bob Maurer, the Director of Behavioral Science at UCLA Medical School has worked with us for years. He says, “The cruelest thing we can do is to love someone for their potential.”


I agree. But, I would like to add that it can be even more cruel for us to wait for our potential to be fulfilled in the future.

For the vast promises of self-actualization and human potential to be realized, it is time to do whatever it takes to make it real, practical, and profitable. Right here and Right now.


Brought to you by David Harder, President – Inspired Work, Inc.


Schedule 15-Minutes to Discuss Your Workplace or Career with David (Here)


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