Machiavelli would love times like these.

The following qoute from Machiavelli’s timeless classic on power and politics, The Prince, is often cited as a reminder of how hard it can be to implement change in organizations, systems and cultures. Times like these, when it is very difficult to defend the status quo, are exactly when major changes and initiatives are most likely to succeed. Make your move, NOW!

“It must be considered that there is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favour; and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.”


Better Place & Better Ideas

I watched the press conference announcing the Better Place project in Hawaii, this exciting company will be fascinating to watch over the coming months and years.  As others get serious about electric vehicles, there will need to be standards set and non-proprietary recharging technologies created.  I can envision a chain of battery exchange & recharge stations that will service not just Better Place vehicles but also their competitors’ vehicles as well. Move over BP and Exxon, Big John’s Sun Spot is coming to a corner near you.

The Most Important Book in My Library

“The most important book in my library.”  This is how I describe The Anatomy of Power by John Kenneth Galbraith (1983, Houghton Mifflin).  Galbraith describes the forms & sources of power in politics, business, society and relationships (ie, life) in such clear, crisp language that, as one reviewer noted, “you can almost hear this book tick.” I have reread this book several times and often refer to key passages as I try to better understand how power, sometimes exerted by me and often felt from others, is affecting my ideas, projects and relationships in work, community, love and life.

We often think of “power struggles” as complicated and vague. This lack of clarity often makes us feel “powerless.”  In keeping with the surgeon’s metaphor, Galbraith dissects the comples body of power into three distinct forms, Condign power (the threat of punishment), Compensatory power (the promise of reward) and Conditioned power (the ability to change beliefs.) 

The simple beauty of Galbraith’s command of the topic shows as he similarly dissects the sources of power into three distinct and complete sets, namely: Personality, Property and Organization. The Form/Source matrix becomes vivid in your mind as he provides many historic examples of Power to make his point. The book is now 25 years old so a few of his case studies may be unfamiliar but it’s easy to imagine current events in this framework:

  • Obama makes voters believe in him (Conditioned Power) through his Personality and his campaign’s Organization.
  • Russia invades Georgia (Condign Power) and is successful because of it’s better equipped (Property) and better trained (Organization) troops.
  • US home buyers are convinced (Conditioned) that their houses (Property) will always increase in value (Compensatory). However, the markets (Organization) exert their (Condign) power and force people into foreclosure.

You get the point. 

PS: The book is suprisingly out of print but over the years I have purchased several copies to give to colleagues through for $3 to $10 for very clean copies.