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The capability of young people

Sheila Rossan (SVP at Bioss Global, London, UK)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 2 February 2010




The aims of this (mainly) conceptual paper are twofold: first, to define “capability” as used within Bioss (what used to be the Brunel Institute of Organization and Social Studies), which is referred to as “complexipacity” elsewhere in this issue – and second, to describe the capability of two young people whose teachers and parents did not recognise their strengths.


Presents examples of conditions that make the expression of capability difficult, and typically include rules applied too rigidly or too bureaucratically, irrespective of the capability of the person, and also when there is a mismatch between the capability of the person wielding authority (teacher, boss, head of family) and the person who is the object of that authority (pupil, subordinate, children). That mismatch occurs when the capability of the authority‐holder is less than that of the people for whom she/he is responsible.


What is meant by “capability” is the ability to handle complexity, to juggle many variables at once, and to handle uncertainty and risk. It is clear that the potential level of capability is set at an early age, although that level may not be reached until the individual is past retirement age. The theory, evidence and practice all suggest that people vary in their capability; they develop at different rates; they mature to different levels. But everyone's capability continues to develop over time.


The paper shows that capability certainly exists in young people, whereas wisdom develops later. Capability cannot be taught, but that one can create conditions that allow it to be expressed, and thereby enhanced.



Rossan, S. (2010), "The capability of young people", On the Horizon, Vol. 18 No. 1, pp. 71-78.



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