collective wisdom
collective wisdom bookkey concepts
collective wisdom book

Key Concepts:
Six Stances * Power Over vs Power With * Proving What We Know * Polarization is a Wound * Creating Fields of Belonging * Mindfulness Practice

Power Over vs Power With

Probably no idea is more essential to Follett’s thinking than her distinction between power over and power with. Power over is a traditional relationship in which one person has power over another person or one group over another group or one nation over another nation. It is a traditional relationship in the sense that dominance and coercion are used time and again before other alternatives are sought. One side vies for power over another, at best trying to influence the other to concede its position, at worst using brute force to have its way. Power over is a relationship of polarity, opposite views and differentials in power forever attracting each other from a posture of suspicion if not downright contempt.

Power with is at once relational and collective. It creates new possibilities from the very differences that might exist in a group. Unlike brute force, which must be continually reinforced to sustain itself, power with emerges organically from the participants involved and grows stronger the more it is put to use. Power with is an organizational form of collaboration, an idea central to what today is called stakeholder engagement, multisector approaches, and cocreative power. Power with has the boldness to believe that acting from immediate self-interest is not always the wisest course of action, nor that one person or one group should be in a position to know what is best for another. Follett believed instead that reciprocal influence could lead to a creative synthesis. What is remarkable about Follett’s approach is that she did not advance power with as a utopian solution. Rather, she asked a far simpler and subtler question: How could our dependence on relationships of power over be diminished?

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