26 October 2020

Love, Power and Technology Products

Of all of the things I wish had understood when I first set out on the project of teambuilding, one of the most impactful is neatly summed up as follows:

What love seeks to discover in another man as a gift of nature, power must create through the artifice of psychological manipulation. Love is reunion through spontaneous mutuality, power seeks to create a union through unilateral imposition.

This comes from a 1962 essay in Commentary magazine by Hans Morgenthau, so excuse the dated gender-types.

It took me many iterations to fully grasp that, as a founder of a technology business, I was not there to create the technology, nor was I there to invent the product. I was there to create the conditions in which other people could thrive.

After trying to create these conditions through processes, rules and enforced values (all types of power structures), I realized that what I, as the founder, actually needed to do was create an environment free of fear and rich in intense and directed belief, support and encouragement.

Directed means that there is still a goal - my role as a founder is not to merely pat people on the back and tell them everything will be fine (toxic optimism). My role is to help people understand the direction and then surround them with belief, enablement and encouragement that helps them develop awareness (or mindfulness) of their role in moving to our collective final destination.

Morgenthau sums this up nicely:

Yet of what love can at least approximate and in a fleeting moment actually achieve, power can only give the illusion…Power is a psychological relationship in which one man controls certain actions of another man through the influence he exerts over the latter’s will…Yet a political victory won with the weapons of threats and promises is likely to be precarious; for the power relation thus established depends upon the continuing submissiveness of a recalcitrant will, generated and maintained by the master’s continuing influence.

Power structures (rules, processes, orders, directives) are ephemeral - they come, they go - but there’s a deeper motivation that lasts, one motivated by love.

If love is too emotive a word for you, I can also express this as an intense, mutually satisfying relationship, un-needing of power structures (like job titles and reporting lines) in which people work together to achieve a higher goal.

As a founder, I will always be conscious of using power to achieve what I could achieve with love. As a coach, working with early-stage startups, this is one of the themes I return to again and again.

Cover image of the Russian city Norilsk from here. Architecture has been used since the dawn of civilization to impose power structures upon citizens and subjects.

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