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(originally published by Booz & Company)


How to Balance Power and Love

Most business and political systems are characterized by an excess of power over love. There is too much fragmentation. So your first moves have to be love moves, to foster mutual connection and awareness. Bring together the farmers and environmentalists, the bankers and regulators, in some kind of dialogue that helps them see the interdependencies among them more clearly.

But you also need to make power moves. This is generally experienced as disruptive, because it goes against the grain. You have to learn to say, “Guys, it’s been nice talking with you, but now we have to do something, and here’s what I’m going to do.” One power move is to make special interests discussable — stop pretending they don’t exist.

Learn to recognize the places where you are stuck in one dynamic or the other. Typically, power-oriented players discover that their inattention to other players has produced opposition that they don’t even see at first. At Shell’s scenario sessions in the early 1990s, we never considered the difficulty of building production facilities close to indigenous communities in places like Alaska. We didn’t realize that our capacity in exploration and production would be literally blocked by our insufficient skill in engaging with these players. A little more attention to love — simply to seeing who was out there, and what they felt strongly about — would have helped us manage this much more effectively and inexpensively. Something similar is happening now with climate change. Many companies fear the introduction of restrictions on their power. They are missing an opportunity to find an underlying unity that could sustain them much more in the long run.

When British settlers arrived in Australia, they relied on a legal doctrine that referred to the land as terra nullius — land belonging to no one. This justified the ways that settlers could act, as if the aboriginal people didn’t exist. Then in 1992, the courts ruled that the land had in fact never been empty, and the descendants of settlers needed to deal with this fact. That was a move toward seeing the whole of the situation — toward love. But in many business contexts, we still assume that we’re living in an empty land, a terra nullius. But it’s not empty. It’s full of people from other cultures, or of other externalities that the power camp would prefer to ignore. As interdependence increases — and it’s increasing exponentially — we find out that neither power nor love can be ignored.


Author Profiles:

  • Art Kleiner is the editor-in-chief of strategy+business and the author of The Age of Heretics (2nd ed., Jossey-Bass, 2008).


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