Blog >
What it Takes to Power Up 


What it Takes to Power Up 

Greg Hennessy shares an article on power and why those that have it gain more of it.

How is it that those with power seem to gain even more of it over time? And why do the disadvantaged seem to lose what little power they have, becoming increasingly reliant on those in positions of influence? If these dynamics are based on either divine or natural law, as some might suppose, then nothing can be done to change them—which is convenient if you’re one of the powerful. But if you believe this pattern of behavior can be changed, then you need to understand what drives it.

A system’s structure—its parts and how they interact—determines how the system as a whole behaves. If you want to know why you can’t take a sports car off-road, then look at its parts and how they work together. A sports car’s tires and suspension are designed for taking tight turns and fast acceleration, not to power through mud and over rocks and other obstacles. Structure is easiest to see in physical objects like vehicles, but it is equally true of social systems.

A given structure produces similar behavior, regardless of the specific system in which it is found. And when the same patterns of parts and interrelationships show up in a wide variety of systems, they are called archetypes.

As described by these references and others, a relatively small number of archetypes can be used to explain an astonishingly wide range of system behaviors. The classic Success to the Successful archetype describes the structure that leads to the accumulation of opportunity and power for some and its decline for others.

 In two decades of teaching systems thinking, I have described this archetype in countless workshops. One of my favorite narratives goes something like this:

Two new consultants, Chris and Pat, have identical potential and start work on the same day. Projects vary in length and start time, and at the moment, only Acme Financial is able to take on a new employee. The staffing manager flips a coin to determine who gets the plum assignment and who will review and organize recent project files. The loser of the toss will get the next assignment, which will probably be in three or four weeks. Chris wins the toss and joins the team at Acme Financial that afternoon. Pat starts reviewing project files, as planned.


Key points include:

  • Gender and emotion
  • Virtuous vs. vicious cycles
  • Perceptions of power


Read the full article, Power to the Powerful, on LinkedIn.