My experience attending AIGA & Yale’s School of Management course Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders.
**These last two posts were delayed due to the internet being out at our hotel following a big thunderstorm.**
Before I get into it, here are two images:
I’ve been talking all week about how good the food is. This is actually a relatively simple sandwich bar they had available to us as a mid-day snack. Most of the meals were buffet-style sit-down meals. There was also the week opening and closing dinners that were restaurant-style service.
It’s Thursday night. We only have one more day of classes before our week is complete. I’m feeling a little sad as I contemplate packing my bags. I feel like I’m making such great contacts and learning so much that I hate for it to end. Admittedly, I could not maintain this pace of writing, studying and eating indefinitely, but I think one more week would fatten up my belly and brain to just the right amount. Fortunately, I have about a year’s worth of recommended reading. So, the value provided by this course will continue to unfold for a while. And all the professors have been gracious enough to share their contact information and encourage us to contact them. What a wonderful source of power and influence! And with that beautiful segue…
Power and Influence
I found this class really interesting and am eager to read more on the subject. While we learned a ton this week, most of these classes are normally taught over an entire semester – or two. So, really what we’ve been given in class is a good overview, some important details and some perspective on how each subject relates to “creatives” in particular. And of course we’ve been given a long reading list. So, taking this course at Yale isn’t enough. No, you can’t learn everything there is to know about business in one week; even if it’s taught by some of the smartest and funniest professors in the world. Sorry.
Power is important and you should work at building it. There is a false perception in society that the pursuit of power is inherently evil and self serving. You need to get that thought out of your head. Don’t confuse having power with how power is used. You can just as easily use power to raise money to help the poor as you can use it to take advantage of someone. And don’t be naive and think you don’t want power. We all want to get things done – guess what’s really helpful when you want to get some stuff done: POWER!
Here are some other reasons you should work to build your power and influence: People with power live longer and are happier. This is partly due to the fact that they feel more in control of their circumstances. When things are bad they take action to change them. With power, people feel a sense of responsibility for others around them, so they work harder. Power stimulates the brain. Having power forces you to develop your discipline and stamina. When you don’t build and use your power it will atrophy.
Power is not typically attained through a series of tricks and shortcuts. Most of power is accumulated over time. It takes time to build coalitions. It takes time to show you’re a hard worker that others can count on. It takes time to develop expert knowledge. So, don’t expect to read a book and become all powerful.
The key traits that make a person powerful can all be learned (or at least enhanced.) The assumption that some people are just born with “it” is wrong. So invest the time in learning and practicing how to build and use power.
First and foremost power comes from merit. People are powerful because they’ve earned it. And conversely, the fastest way to lose power is to do a bad job and let people down. Just imagine a football coach. If he wins he’s considered brilliant, everyone will follow what he tells them to do. He’s powerful. What happens when he loses? His power is diminished. The players and press begin to question his judgment. He loses his sponsorship deal with the local car dealer.
There are different types of power. Know your weaknesses and develop them. A well balanced set of power types is stronger than just one. For instance, there is direct power (also known as legitimate power). Direct power is like the power of a boss over their employees. Direct power is easy because it takes little effort to use. A boss doesn’t have to work to get their employee to do something, they merely need to tell them to do it. If the employee doesn’t do what he or she is told they might be fired. But there are also softer powers. For instance, there is referent power. That’s power derived from people admiring or respecting you. An example in the work setting might be a peer, who isn’t your boss but someone you greatly admire. They’re powerful because they can get people to do things because people look up to them.
Following on this concept of different types of power, it’s important to understand and have a variety of power types. The more ways you can exert power, the more effective of a leader you’ll be. So, your boss may be able to bully you because he has legitimate power over you. But are there negative effects for him if he’s a bully all the time? Of course! His staff might start peeing in his coffee mug! Or he might lose power because his staff might go to the owner of the company and demand he be fired. So, he can be MORE powerful if he can learn to use other forms of power. So, you too need to understand the forms of power and practice different ways to enhance the forms of power that you’re not strong in.
The optimal type of power to use is based on the situation. You need to understand the situation and select the appropriate form of power to use. In other words, sometimes you do need to be a bossy jerk.
Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t
by Jeffery Pfeffer
(talking to really powerful and important people)
This was a subject that was kind of important to me. Go Media has definitely reached the point where landing projects with a local start-up will not help grow our business. We desperately need to get in front of and then have effective conversations with top management of large companies. That’s what this course was all about.
First, don’t assume that they’re like you or me, or even anyone you know. If someone has ascended into a position of great power and prestige, they are likely not typical. Assuming so would be a big mistake. One common theme we’ve been getting this entire week is RESEARCH. And it doesn’t stop with C-Level Conversations. You need to get to know your “mark” before you attempt to engage them. The more you can learn about them the better. Try to figure out what’s important to them. Are they interested in making more money, building up their power or saving the rain-forests. Your research will help you figure out how to frame your conversation.
Be brief. Look – if they’ve ascended to a position of power, they’re probably busy. So, don’t waste their time. Talk fast and get to the point; unless of course they’re from Texas. Then you should take your time, tell lots of unrelated stories and generally talk very slowly (fyi – that’s a comment about understanding a person’s culture, NOT an insult about the intelligence of Texans.)
Create value for them. If you’ve done your homework, you know what’s important to them. You also obviously know what you want. So… …do I have to spell it out for you? Develop solutions to their problems that ALSO give you what you’re after.
Know what type of power to assert. A C-Level person is going to be far less interested in what you have to say if they don’t see power and influence in you. But there are many types of powers. So, what type of power do you have? As designer’s we have expert power. We have a very specific set of skills and knowledge. We’re teachers. We have knowledge that they want. Make sure you’re communicating the value of your wisdom as it relates to their aspirations and problems.
Law and Management I & II
Our legal course was another one of those subjects that will be difficult for me to distill down into bite-size pieces that you’ll be easily able to apply to your day-to-day operations. One disappointment that I had in these classes was the fact that we didn’t learn much about intellectual property. It was on the syllabus. I’m sure we were supposed to learn about it, but I think we got off topic and wasted a lot of time discussing insider trading. It was an interesting conversation, but quite frankly I’m really not worried about that subject. So, unfortunately, I’ve got nothing on that topic. I guess my takeaway is this: Intellectual Property was on our syllabus, so it’s probably important. You’ll have to figure out how to learn more about this subject on your own.
Here are a few tidbits that I did get from the legal class:
Intent matters. You can build two identical companies: same technology, same processes, same systems. And by the simple act of marketing them differently, one can be legal and one can be breaking the law. An example of this is peer-to-peer networking software. If you run ads for one that say: “Steal all the music you want!” Your business is breaking the law and will get shut down. But run ads that say: “Share your family photos more easily!” And you’re ok.
Be proactive. The earlier you can involve legal counsel on a new business idea or negotiation the better. It’s far cheaper to understand the law up-front and structure your business with that in mind than it is to get sued or have to dismantle your business and rebuild it properly. As you can see in the example above, it might be something small that can have a major impact on your business or contracts.
Operate morally and ethically. If you simply run your business in a moral and ethical way, you’re probably not breaking any laws. Moral and ethics was actually a topic that came up in almost all our classes – more than I would have thought. I know it’s a very important subject to Go Media. You’ll often hear the president of a publicly traded company explain their immoral behavior by saying: “I have an obligation to maximize the profits of our share holder.” Our professor said this is absolutely not true. There is no moral, ethical or legal responsibility of the leadership of a company to maximize profits. Certainly stock holders are usually hoping they’ll maximize profits. But their real responsibility is to the benefit of society as a whole. Their (and your) decisions about how to “maximize profits” needs to consider the full impact on society.
Be involved in your legal discussions. Lawyers are humans too. When working with lawyers you shouldn’t “bury your head in the sand.” Some lawyers may not be as ethical as you are. Just because you can do it within the letter of the law does not mean you should. So question your lawyers, make suggestions and work with them.
Ethics come from the top down. As owners of businesses or leaders in the industry, people in your organization will follow your lead. So, start with yourself.
by Constance E. Bagley
One day left!