Capacity vs. Capability
Sometimes when two words start with the same few letters, people get them mixed up, not noticing the nuances in their meanings.
A couple of words that certainly fall into that category are “capability” and “capacity”.
This week I want to explore them a bit, from a business family perspective.
From Ability to Capability
Before we even get to “capability”, we should probably back up a bit and start with “ability”, to make sure we grasp that simpler concept first.
Ability is about what you can do, which you know that you can do because you’ve already done it, at least once.
Capability is more about potential to do something, and as we all know, even though you once were able to do something, that doesn’t mean that you’re still capable of doing it again now.
Ready, Willing, and Able
In some ways, capability can be summed up by the expression, “ready, willing, and able”. If I’m ready and willing to do something, plus I feel like I can muster the ability, then I at least believe that I have the capability to do that something now.
So if you know how to do something and you add some effort to that ability you’re now essentially ready to test out your capability, and can hopefully demonstrate that you can accomplish a task with a certain regularity.
With practice, you can hopefully get pretty good at it, to the point where others recognize that capability in you. You’re off to the races, right?
What About Capacity?
I think that there’s another level that you’ll want to get to that’s higher than simply developing capability, and that’s to increase your capacity to do important things.
The part of the definition of the word “capacity” that I think we should concentrate on when thinking about this is the “volume” aspect.
When talking about a container, whether it’s an aquarium, an airplane, or a football stadium, we can ask about what its capacity is, when we want to know how much it can hold when full.
From Capability to Capacity
So if we go back to the capability discussion, we were getting good at doing something over and over, and now we want to see how much of it we can do.
But we don’t want to do this for everything, we really need to pick our spots and develop our capacity for doing things that are truly important.
And when we’re talking about business families, what’s more important than everyone knowing how to get along and work together?
Families who have succeeded in growing their businesses and wealth AND in transitioning them to the next generation have almost always developed that capacity to work together somewhere along the line, whether they realized that that was what they were doing or not.
Contagious Capability Grows to Family Capacity
The great thing about a family is that every member has different skills and abilities.
It might not always be obvious how some family members can contribute to the business family, but if there are family members who are ready and willing, there should always be some effort made into finding a place for their abilities to contribute.
When you take the individual abilities, work on them so they become true capabilities, and then bring the people together with the right attitude to collaborate, you can develop the capacity for long term success.
The overall capacity of a family comes from the combination of all of its members’ capabilities, and that capacity can be way more than the sum of its parts.
Practice, Resilience, Guidance
Families who have succeeded at this almost never just stumble into that success. Working together with family members can be wonderful, and it can be frustrating too.
It takes effort, and plenty of practice to get it all right.
There will be plenty of trial and error along the way, so the family will need to develop its resilience.
And, importantly, few families get this right all by themselves; they will almost always have someone from outside the family to guide them, especially at key stages.
Whether it’s a family business consultant, a facilitator or coach, it really doesn’t matter, and ideally it’s someone who combines these skills.
Successful multigenerational families have all developed their capacity to work together over time.