Now reading: Managing with Power

Now reading: Pfeffer, Jeffrey. Managing with power: Politics and influence in organizations. Harvard Business Press, 1992 (Goodreads) (notes)

No, that doesn't really sound like the kind of book I would read, or the kind of topic I'd normally be interested in. But I'm taking a course called Power and Politics in Organizations this summer, and this book contains a bit of required reading, so here we are. It is a little difficult reading and studying power—Power—because it brings to mind a cavalcade of alphabros making gut decisions about things they don't understand and will have laddered their way up and out of the cleanup once the consequences have come home to roost. That is, I have a baseline distasteful feeling about.

[p. 10] By pretending that power and influence don't exist, or at least shouldn't exist, we contribute to what I and some others (such as John Gardner) see as the major problem facing many corporations today, particularly on the United States—the almost trained or produced incapacity of anyone except the highest-level managers to take action and get things accomplished.

I recognize that kind of person—it's many of the people I've worked with, and it's me. Some of the blame for not getting things done lies with those who set up and administer rigid top-down hierarchies that squeeze decisions out of the lower levels where they should be made. Some of the blame lies with the rest of us who don't do something about it.

One more line, and then we'll leave it for now. It's not explicitly about power, but it is about the frontloaded imbalance of the work to make decisions versus the work to make decisions work out.

[pp. 22-23] The important actions may not be the original choices, but rather what happens subsequently, and what actions are taken to make things work out. This is a significant point, because it means that we need to be somewhat less concerned about the quality of the decision at the time we make it (which, after all, we can't really know anyway) and more concerned with adapting our new decisions and actions to the information we learn as events unfold. [...] The most important skill may be managing the consequences of decisions. And, in organizations in which it is often difficult to take any action, the critical ability may be the capacity to have things implemented.

Hey—let's throw in some relevant Kurt Vonnegut here before we go. From The Sirens of Titan:

There is no reason why good cannot triumph as often as evil. The triumph of anything is a matter of organization. If there are such things as angels, I hope that they are organized along the lines of the Mafia.

Good doesn't just triumph over evil because it has better ideas.

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