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Weekly 3: Understanding & using power


Idea Journal Weekly 3

July 14 · Issue #95 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Identify your superpower. Plan to the end. Don’t take things too personally. (~6 min read)

#1. What’s your superpower?
Author and marketing guru Seth Godin writes in his book Linchpin that when he was a kid, he loved the Legion of Super-Heroes and the Justice League of America: “These were comics for slumming comic-book writers, fun and sort of stupid stories in which a whole bunch of superheroes would get together, hang out in the clubhouse, and then work together to destroy some sort of monster that any individual superhero could never have bested.” 
Near the beginning of most of these comics, there was a scene where a stranger would meet the team of superheroes. 
Batman and Superman wouldn’t need an introduction, but the lesser-known characters would have to speak up and describe their superpowers. For example: “I’m the Wasp. I have the ability to shrink to a height of several centimeters, fly by means of insectoid wings, and fire energy blasts.” 
A sophisticated marketer might call this a positioning statement or a unique selling proposition. 
But for Godin, “Of course, it’s not that. It’s a superpower.” 
He suggests that when you meet someone new, you also need to have a superpower – “If you don’t, you’re just another handshake.”
If the other person doesn’t know your superpower, then how will they know how they can help you, or how you can help them?
Godin writes that when he asks people what their superpower is, many of them pick something that might be a power, but seems more average than super (e.g., I’m nice and follow directions). 
Many people want their pretty safe skill to be enough – enough to make you paid fairly, enough to make your life stable, enough to make you valued. 
But that pretty safe skill isn’t enough in such a connected and competitive marketplace: “The ‘super’ part and the ‘power’ part come not from something you’re born with but from something you choose to do and, more important, from something you choose to give.”
#2. Get a bird’s-eye view of the battlefield
In his book The 48 Laws of Power, author Robert Greene writes that most people think short-term and are ruled by their heart, not their head. 
They’re often locked in the current moment, their future plans are vague, and when they meet obstacles they improvise. Unfortunately, “improvisation will only bring you as far as the next crisis.”
For Greene, the solution to this myopia is to pause, take a more strategic perspective and “plan all the way to the end”: Will this action have unintended consequences? Will I encourage new opponents? Will someone else take advantage of my efforts?
When you see several moves ahead, you won’t be as tempted by emotion or the desire to improvise: “Your clarity will rid you of the anxiety and vagueness that are the primary reasons why so many fail to conclude their actions successfully.”
In an interview on The Knowledge Project podcast, Greene calls this tendency to be locked in the moment “tactical hell.” 
For example, say your company is in a battle with a rival for market share: “If you keep reacting to what your opponent is giving you in this rivalry to get market share, your mind never rises high enough above the battlefield to come up with a reasonable plan that actually is more strategic, and involves things that aren’t just reactions.”
Planning all the way to end is powerful because it forces you to think longer-term.
Greene acknowledges that regardless of how much you plan, the future remains uncertain. But most people suffer less from over-planning and rigidity than from vagueness and a tendency to improvise constantly in the face of circumstances.
As he puts it, “If you are clear- and far-thinking enough, you will understand that the future is uncertain, and that you must be open to adaptation. Only having a clear objective and a far-reaching plan allows you that freedom.”
#3. Make key relationships work
In his book Power, organizational behavior professor Jeffrey Pfeffer writes that the ability to make critical relationships work, even when you’re faced with opposition and personal slights, is a rare skill. It may be rare, but “it is crucial in surmounting and disarming opponents.”
Pfeffer tells the story of how businessman Gary Loveman used this approach when he joined the company previously known as Harrah’s Entertainment as Chief Operating Officer (COO).
Before joining Harrah’s, Loveman had been a professor at Harvard Business School and had done some consulting work for the company. But many insiders at Harrah’s thought they were more qualified for the role and resented his appointment.
One of the people unhappy with Loveman’s arrival was the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), a senior executive who was older than Loveman. The CFO position was important not only politically, but also for accomplishing key organizational improvements.
Knowing how critical the CFO would be to his own success, Loveman moved quickly to make the relationship work. He spent some amount of time with the CFO every day, kept the CFO informed about what he was doing and why, and involved him in decisions and meetings – he did everything he could to make the relationship successful. 
For Pfeffer, the lesson is that there comes a point in your career where you simply have to make important relationships work. Your feelings, or others’ feelings about you, don’t matter: “To be successful, you have to get over resentments, jealousies, anger, or anything else that might get in the way of building a relationship where you can get the resources necessary for you to get the job done.”
Quote of the Week
“The corruption of power is not in power, but in ourselves. And yet, what is this power which men live by and to a significant degree live for? Power is the very essence, the dynamo of life. It is the power of the heart pumping blood and sustaining life. It is the power of active citizen participation pulsing upward, providing a unified strength for a common purpose. Power is an essential life force always in operation, either changing the world or opposing change. Power, or organized energy, may be a man-killing explosive or a life-saving drug. The power of a gun may be used to enforce slavery, or to achieve freedom.”
- Activist and community organizer Saul Alinsky in his book Rules for Radicals
Idea Journal
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