What is power, anyway?


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An exploration of power in the workplace - the human side of systems - as a key underpinning element for any enterprise architecture or business architecture.
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  • Tetradian Consulting Unit 215 9 St Johns Street Colchester Essex CO2 7NN United Kingdom [+44] (0) 781 560 6624 [email_address] www.tetradian.com
  • What is power, anyway?

    1. 1. What is power, anyway? Tom Graves Tetradian Consulting (www.tetradian.com) © Tetradian 2002 / 2009 the futures of business
    2. 2. Almost everyone will say they want to be powerful but what is power, in human terms? Apparently it’s something that only other people have... perhaps...
    3. 3. We seem to be certain only in knowing when we don’t have it than when we do - whatever it is, anyway.
    4. 4. Since we know when we don’t have it, someone else must have taken it - someone’s taken our share and we want it back, please - NOW!
    5. 5. but
    6. 6. this isn’t power
    7. 7. it’s a delusion.
    8. 8. Power isn’t a thing an object a pie to be sliced into equal or unequal shares.
    9. 9. Nor is power associated in any real sense with that feeling of ‘power less ness’ that we want to avoid so much that we’ll give it to others to anyone for free...
    10. 10. Instead to understand power we need to go back to first principles and in physics power is ‘ the ability to do work’.
    11. 11. ‘ Power is the ability to do work’ - simple clear uncomplicated an expression of energy not a ‘thing’ an inherent property of everything .
    12. 12. It’s a property of people, too though we must expand that definition a bit or else we find ourselves defining slavery as power - not a good idea!
    13. 13. First, ‘ work’ can be anything people do: - dig a ditch - solve a technical problem - relate with others - find a sense of meaning and purpose - calm a fractious child or an angry client...
    14. 14. Whatever it is that we do, it’s work and we need power real power human power to be able to do that work.
    15. 15. Next, in human terms, power is an expression of personal choice personal responsibility personal purpose.
    16. 16. Without choice without responsibility - without commitment - the power fades to nothing or, at least the brakes go on and little work is done.
    17. 17. Without purpose there’s no direction so whilst much may seem to happen, little will be effective in any real sense - “ an empty thunder signifying nothing”...
    18. 18. Last, but not least, ‘ work’ is only one side of a tetrad: work play relate learn. Unless all four exist together unless all four are supported none of them will exist.
    19. 19. So, overall, human power is the ability to work play relate learn as an expression of personal choice personal responsibility personal purpose.
    20. 20. That’s what power is.
    21. 21. And anything else anything else that calls itself ‘power’ in human terms is probably a delusion.
    22. 22. The ‘power’ to crush others the ‘power’ to take priority the ‘power’ to withhold or deny the ‘power’ to trap others into doing our work for us the ‘power’ to dump on others as we please… - none of this is power in any real, functional sense it’s just a delusion...
    23. 23. It’s a delusion, because it’s not sustainable. Sooner or later the delusion falls apart and usually in ways that show the real extent of the delusion.
    24. 24. Real human power comes from within ourselves; delusory ‘power’ comes from a belief or fear that only other people have power, and that we must take it from them in place of our own.
    25. 25. In effect, delusory ‘power’ depends on having other people to steal from, to bully, to dominate, to cajole.
    26. 26. If that’s our ‘power’, and we’re on our own, our real powerlessness soon comes back to haunt us...
    27. 27. To hide from that powerlessness, we return to the delusion of ‘power’ again and again.
    28. 28. It feels like power sometimes but it’s not power - it’s just a delusion. So delusory ‘power’ is addictive - very addictive...
    29. 29. ‘ Power over’ others - bullying, domination - or ‘power under’ others - manipulation, blame - is not real power at all:
    30. 30. it’s an addictive delusion and perhaps the most common addiction the most common delusion of all.
    31. 31. More to the point, it’s a delusion of ‘power’ that prevents real power from existing.
    32. 32. And in business in our work with others we need real power not delusion to get things done.
    33. 33. We each make that choice - power or delusion - for ourselves and with others.
    34. 34. Our power comes only from within ourselves. No-one ‘gives’ us power, no-one ‘takes’ our power from us but we can easily lose it or waste it in delusions of our own or shared with others.
    35. 35. Collectively, we also gain more power more ability to work/play/relate/learn in synergy where the whole power is greater than the sum of each person’s personal power.
    36. 36. So we can either help each other to find and share that real, human power or hinder each other in shared delusions.
    37. 37. We either win together or we all lose together. There’s no ‘win/lose’ - that’s a delusion too.
    38. 38. Anything which supports real power will improve the ‘bottom line’ for everyone - whatever that ‘bottom line’ might be.
    39. 39. Anything which reduces delusions of ‘power’ will improve the ‘bottom line’ for everyone.
    40. 40. The more delusions about ‘power’, the less real power there is for everyone for anyone .
    41. 41. Or, more directly, the less delusions about ‘power’, the more real power there is for everyone .
    42. 42. So, to summarise, power isn’t the ‘power’ to crush others the ‘power’ to take priority the ‘power’ to deny others the ‘power’ to trap others the ‘power’ to dump on others… they’re just delusions about power.
    43. 43. Power is the ability to work play relate learn as an expression of personal choice personal responsibility personal purpose - and shared purpose, too.
    44. 44. So which do you want for yourself and for your organization: the usual delusions or real power? Your choice… … your responsibility… ...the power is yours to choose!
    45. 45. For further details on how these themes play out in the workplace, see the book Power and Response-ability - the human side of systems Tom Graves (Tetradian Books, 2009) More information, sample chapters and ‘manifesto’ reference-sheet at http://tetradianbooks.com/2008/07/hss/