“Whatever the mind can conceive and believe the mind can achieve.” This is the bold claim made by Napoleon Hill in his 1937 book, Think and Grow Rich. I first read Napoleon Hill’s book when I was 20 years old and doing first year in electrical engineering at the University of Witwatersrand. It was the first self-development book I read and I was hooked. Whilst I was studying the hard sciences of engineering, my pastime was reading the soft sciences on how humanity works. Over time my desire to investigate the true nature of humankind has come to dominate my curiosity.
Our knowledge of the physical world has been driven by the hard sciences like physics, chemistry, mathematics and biology. We have made extra-ordinary progress in the domain of understanding the physical world. On the other hand our knowledge of ourselves has lagged far behind our knowledge of the physical world.
“We suffer from the asymmetry between our knowledge of nature and our knowledge of man, between outside awareness and self-ignorance”.
–David Landes, 1998
Growing up in South Africa and studying engineering gave me a rich environment in which to appreciate humankind’s asymmetry of knowledge between the physical world and the knowledge of ourselves. Whilst I was studying science and appreciating how we, humans, have deciphered the mysteries of the atoms and planets, in our country, our society was still arranged and divided on the basis of skin pigmentation.
On the other hand, the miraculous political transition of 1994 provided a glimpse of what humanity is capable of achieving. Under the leadership of Nelson Mandela South Africa provide an example of how a potential human calamity could be transformed into a global example of Human Abundance.
Human Abundance and the Self -Knowledge Revolution
“…by any conceivable standard, humanity is far and away life’s greatest achievement. We are the mind of the biosphere, the solar system, and—who can say?—perhaps the galaxy.”
In the past 500 years humankind has experienced two major milestones on the path of understanding our place in the universe.
The first was the Copernican Revolution that displaced the earth as the centre of the universe. In 1543 Nicolaus Copernicus published his book De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres). In this book Copernicus presented views that displaced the earth and placed the sun at the centre of the universe. Despite the fact that Copernicus’ book was initially prohibited by the religious authorities, it prepared the ground on which great scientific pioneers like Galileo and Isaac Newton would build the foundation for modern science.
The second revolution was initiated by the 1871 book, Descent of Man, by the English naturalist Charles Darwin. Darwin firmly located humankind as part and parcel of nature. This revolution was eloquently captured by Jan Smuts in the following excerpt:
“The acceptance of the theory of evolution has brought about a far-reaching change in our outlook on the universe and a sense of our values. The story of Creation, so intimately associated with the groundwork of most religious, has thus come to be re-written. The unity and inter-connections of life in all its manifolds forms has being clearly recognized. And man himself has had to come down from his privileged position among the angels and take his proper place in the universe as part of the order of Nature. Thus Darwin completes the revolution of Copernicus.” – Jan Smuts,1932
The revolutions of Copernicus and Darwin set us on a path to uncover many mysteries of the nature of our world. This has allowed humanity to develop scientific methods and technologies that have transformed all aspects of our lives.
The second half of the 20th century marked a new frontier of enquiry; the scientific study of human nature. In the 21st century we are entering the Self-Knowledge Revolution with the new science of Human Nature. Humanity, the greatest creation of the universe, is ceasing to be the subject of only speculation and myth, but it is now a domain of formal study.
“The new science of human nature can help lead the way to a realistic, biologically informed humanism. They expose the psychological unity of our species beneath the superficial differences of physical appearances and parochial culture”
– Steven Pinker,2002
Science will not make us know everything, but science is the most reliable method of enlarging the circle of what is knowable. We have unlocked the mystery of the Big Bang, but we are still yet to know what banged, why it banged and if anyone banged it.
Human Abundance and the Legacy of Nelson Mandela and Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein is regarded as one of the greatest scientists who ever lived. He made a phenomenal contribution to our understanding of our universe. Einstein’s greatest contribution is not as much about how he conducted science, which was legendary, but more about the laws of nature that he left for us. Einstein left us with the legacy of laws like E = mc2. This simple equation helped us unlock massive energy trapped within invisible atoms and made us understand the source of energy that powers the stars.
Similarly, Nelson Mandela is one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century. Much has been studied and written about his leadership philosophy. What is important to me is more about what Mandela taught us about the nature of humanity. To learn the most from his legacy is to decipher Madiba’s E = mc2 of human nature and leadership.
Einstein was a physicist and his primary subject was the laws of nature. Mandela was a leader and his subject was the nature of humanity. One of the greatest legacies of Mandela for me is his belief in the universal abundant nature of all humans. My observation of Nelson Mandela is that he believed very strongly that all South African people are capable of transcending their fears, based on zero-sum scarcity, and create an abundant solution for our country.
My view is that Nelson Mandela’s E= mc2 of humanity is Human Abundance. This is the source of unlimited power of humankind. Capturing this in a framework will ensure that we will not only remember how great a leader Mandela was, but also we would have captured his contribution in a learnable, teachable and duplicable template.
Human Abundance is an approach aimed at awakening humanity to its true nature – unleashing the unchartered and perhaps unlimited potential of humankind. A belief that beneath our superficial differences of ethnicity, nationality, culture and religion lies an abundant human force – a force that we are yet to fully harness because we are still ignorant to it. And yet when we fully grasp what we potentially are, we will transform all facets of human interaction. We will transform how we interact and relate as one humanity on the planet, how we lead and rebuild our nations, how we lead and transform organizations and lastly, how we lead ourselves individually and live in an impactful and abundant way.