Senyo Adjibolosoo is a Ghanaian economist, professor, prolific writer, theorist, author of almost 20 books, founder of a school, and a master storyteller. Senyo believes that Black people are being distracted to fight when they can use that energy to grow.
Well-known for a principle he calls ‘human factor development,’ we spent much of our conversation talking about this and its applications.
But our conversation also continually returned to Blacks, to Ghana, and to the African Diaspora, to history, traditional education, and the way human factor principles illuminate the struggles of humanity. It’s clear that Adjibolosoo’s determination springs from the depth of his desire to see all people free. But what does that freedom really mean?
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Adjibolosoo moved with his family to Canada in the 1980s to pursue a graduate degree, leaving Toronto after a year and half because he found it “too cold,” he finished his PhD in Vancouver and currently lives in San Diego where he is an Economics Professor.
He developed the theories of human factor development and human factor decay because of a “burning sensation” in his mind that began on arrival to Canada and sought answers to the realities he saw in the world. Seeing that many societies are functioning in a state of human factor decay, which is characterized as “attitudes, behaviors, and actions that are reflective of selfishness and destructiveness…habitual practices that are bankrupt of principle-centeredness,” he sought to understand how this condition could be changed.
As an economist, he witnessed that, rather than addressing these issues directly, they are ignored – perhaps normalized – and instead vast amounts of energy and resources are used to try to fix them indirectly, through institution building, loan programs, capital investment, and enrolling more students to be educated under a certain model. Adjibolosoo clearly saw that this approach was not working and would never work. The source of the human factor decay would have to be recognized in order to change it. If it was changed – well, there’s no limit to what could be accomplished. And when he realized this, his life’s work opened into a different dimension.
Human factor development calls for energy and resources to be redirected and focused specifically on cultivating positive human characteristics such as “integrity, loyalty, accountability, responsibility, motivation, honesty, wisdom, vision, dedication.”
During the interview, the questions I asked were often answered with a long and interesting story. Adjibolosoo apologized for this once or twice until I assured him I enjoyed the richness of his answers. Listening to these stories of answers felt like immediately finding oneself within a story: excitement rising suddenly, certain words emphasized skillfully, emotions palpable – the story comes alive.
I asked him if it is difficult to talk about the idea of true human potential with people who do not believe in themselves. I will share in full the story of his reply, a story he had read in this book, and then “exaggerated from the African perspective,” as he said, to tell it to me:
I would rather say that we are ignorant of our potential. Let me tell you a story or parable I read. How the Oak Tree Comes to Be. I didn’t create it. You can use it any way you want. It’s a common story.
The story about the oak tree happened when a bird was looking for food and found an oak seed and picked it up in his beak and flying off he wanted to eat it but was looking for a place to perch, break it and eat.
As it was flying it came to a place where it saw another oak tree, and then saw a lot of acorns under that big oak tree like they had been living there for many many years. He started thinking ‘well, it’s pitiful to eat this seed.’ He wanted to just drop the seed to be part of the colony of acorns under that big oak tree.
You know what happened when he got there? He became a very naughty seed. It was going around asking everybody, ‘Hey you guys! What are you doing?’ They said, ‘Oh we’re just having fun, playing basketball, soccer, football, eating hamburgers and using Jacuzzis and swimming and attending movies. We’re having fun!’
And then one day he told all of them individually, said, ‘You know, you guys can be better than that.’ And they said, ‘Prove it. How can we be better?’ He said, ‘Your better-ness is to become an oak tree.’ They said, ‘Oh, you’re out of your mind, you’re crazy, you stupid goon. Get out! How can we become an oak tree?’ He said, ‘You can, yeah you can!’ He pushed them to the point that they became so mad and angry at him that they decided that they were going to distract him and then excommunicate him.
So the day of excommunication came. They held a community meeting and told him about his sins of lying about how they could become oak trees and were going to banish him. And as soon as the pronouncement was made, one of the acorns rose up and said, ‘You know what, I think I would never ever be happy if I didn’t ask you to provide an answer to fully stupid things you have told us.’
And he said, ‘Oh yeah I’m ready. Since they have pronounced my banishment, I want to go, but I will be glad to answer your questions.’
So these acorns gradually stood up, came very close to him, and in loud voices asked him: ‘You have always been naughty! You have always been stupid and fully saying crazy things especially telling all of us that we are supposed to become these big oak trees. Where did you get that idea from? Explain to us what it is we need to do.’
And this acorn, a stranger, smiled, rubbed his hands, and he said, I quote, ‘I was hoping one of you would ask that question and I’m glad you did.’ And so he pointed his hand up to the oak tree and said, ‘This oak tree – ‘ and everybody’s head went up looking at it. Somebody blurted out, ‘What about it?’ He said, ‘I told you, every one of you is supposed to become this oak tree. The only way you could have become this oak tree is to have gone into the soil, get rotten, and when you come out you are this oak tree.’
When he said that, they couldn’t spite him, they couldn’t even continue to say ‘leave the community,’ but he began to walk away anyway. You know what, they got it. There’s no way you can become an oak tree as an acorn without rotting, dying, and rising up to be what your destiny is supposed to be.
Adjibolosoo ended the story and then said, “There are so many people who have forgotten that. Transformation is about personal change.”
Sometimes Adjibolosoo’s analysis of current human factor decay can sting. He speaks of “perennial leadership vacuums,” “the status quo of moral decay,” widespread corruption in Ghana, “system-wide personal foolishness,” stating that “corruption in the human mind…ruins nations;” indeed, “there is hardly any place on planet earth where the problems and challenges severe human factor decay poses are absent.” Without addressing the spiritual and moral decay within human lives, how can we solve the problems this decay creates? This is the question he poses repeatedly.
But his analysis is full of optimism. As an economist, he appeals within the academic world for a return to spiritual principles and personal accountability to address the vast problems humanity faces, saying, “everyone anywhere, any corner of the global village as we call it, every human being has that potential.”
As the human factor model grows in influence, it has been applied to leadership development, Indigenous conflict resolution, and models of education. Adjibolosoo is the Program Advisor for the Nyah Project, a leadership development program in Miami Dade, and helped found a school named the Human Factor Leadership Academy in Ghana based on an educational model he developed.
As an astute believer in human potential and a Ghanaian living in the United States for more than 18 years, Adjibolosoo had some thoughts for the African American community. Of course, such advice is not exclusive to that community, but as a believer in transformation as liberation, he said:
The African American community has potential that literally will leap this community to a level people will not believe, but it will take time to do. They will begin to realize that regardless of where they started from they can still become what the universe has in mind for them. They have to know that it’s possible and then pursue it daily. I think it’s going to happen.
You know Black Americans in the United States – I have been in situations where some of them demonize me to the degree of saying, ‘Yeah, you guys were bad. Your grandparents sold my grandparents.’ We have to think now about how we can make things work.
To my African American brothers and sisters, I tell them: if someone picks a fight with you, they are just distracting you intentionally. They want you to respond in a way that will get you tired until you give up. With the energy I have to fight I’m going to use that energy to get where I want to go.
People get distracted and the distraction becomes their battle. If you are growing in spiritual capital or moral capital you will never ever pick up that fight. It’s a waste of your life.
The only person who can stop you is you. If you believe that, you are good. If you don’t believe it, you just hurt yourself because it is right from a page of the Universal Library. No one can stop you. No one can stop you.
Of course, that does not mean it will be easy.
In many great stories, there is a villain or monster character and also a hero character. It would not make a good story for the hero to sit on a log and bemoan the meanness of the monster, nor for the hero to bitterly complain their lives away, nor to give up. The hero’s role is to triumph.
The monster may unleash a brutality and cruelty seldom witnessed. But the hero’s role is to triumph.
These two characters are to each other as iron sharpens iron, but the hero’s role is to grow, to use their wisdom and capabilities to find a way – and triumph.
We are all the heroes of our own lives.
Part of traditional African teaching was to develop positive human character. Adjibolosoo says of his elders:
“I’m beginning to realize that they were trying to teach us about spiritual capital…moral capital…aesthetic capital, human capital, human abilities and human potential” – components which are an integral part of the human factor theory.
There was no school building in the small village of Dudu, Ghana where Adjibolosoo spent his youngest years, but there was an informal school that met daily in the village. In the evenings, the elders sat with the kids around a fire “and they’d tell us stories.”
But what they did – my Grandpa especially – was they took a story which in an American setting you can tell in say five minutes or three minutes, but they would tell that story to us for a whole month!
…They would tell this story just up to the point of the mini-climax and when the story’s at that climax, when we as little kids are so excited, right, to find out what will happen next, the story will stop there for the evening.
And then they would tell us, ‘If you misbehave, you will not be in the story the next night. If you lie, you won’t be in the story the next night. If you kick somebody, if you say a bad word’ – they just put a gallery of bad stuff kids may do! – and you’d be kicked out of that segment of the story if, indeed, you did misbehave in any way. But you know they have come to that mini-climax and you want to hear the next one! That’s what we did as little kids! You had to be on good behavior! And your friends would remind you if you were maybe going to punch somebody in the face or say a bad word…and you’d look at yourself and, ‘Dang it! I won’t do it.’
…Our great grandparents didn’t have formalized schools, but those storytelling evening schools were powerful. They may also tell you those stories in parables and riddles when you are in the boat fishing. School was everywhere! …much of it was about connecting to the Universal Library – and their way was through living your life according to those principles, embedded in a story.
Adjibolosoo went on to say, “When the Europeans came, the way they treated us made us lose a sense of some of those great traditional African practices of education.”
Adjibolosoo writes frequently about the corruption in Ghanaian society that was unleashed by colonization, but which has since been perpetuated by corrupt political leaders and a philosophy spread by some Ghanaians who “have become savvier in engaging in insidious immoral practices and spiritually degrading acts of deception. …Crooked lifestyle choices are now the new normal way of life in the country.” This spiritual and moral decay is not unique to Ghana, but as his beloved country, it is where Adjibolosoo’s gaze continually returns.
Our distinct histories and the decisions we made in the aftermath brought humanity to a place of severe decay. To transform ourselves beyond this condition, Adjibolosoo says: “It’s about human revolution. But not revolution that will build a bigger house or make more money. No! The revolution that will make our communities a better place to live, in peace, unity, and with a great deal of camaraderie with which we can live a life that is fulfilling.”
Adjibolosoo’s vision of freedom is not political at its core. It is spiritual. It’s a freedom that comes from understanding our much deeper potential and having the determination to develop it.
 Adjibolosoo, S. “Pursuing sustained socioeconomic change in Africa the human factor way.” The African Business Review. July-August 2013
 Adjibolosoo, S. “Institution building: a destructive distraction to sustained development in African countries.” The African Business Review. March-April 2014.