During a fairly awful week in the winter of 2014, I ended up having to check into hospital with my son for a few days. I packed like a true introvert – one set of PJs, two books.
The first book was required reading for our Paths to Power elective, taught by Gabe Adams, Assistant Professor of Organisation Behaviour, whose research focuses on why people help or harm others (how cool is that?). The book is “Power – Why Some People Have It – And Others Don’t” and was written by Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, who has been teaching a course on power since 1979. This is a guy who knows a thing or two about power, and what he has to say is pretty sobering. In short: “politics often trumps performance”; if you want to succeed, you need to stop believing that the world is “a just and fair place and that everyone gets what he or she deserves” and get focused on achieving and maintaining power – and there are some scientifically proven ways to do that. This book made for some uncomfortable reading. I mean, it makes perfect sense, it’s very realistic and grown up, and I definitely recommend it, but…something was amiss.
The second book I read that week was “The Monk and the Riddle” by Randy Komisar, which I got from my super-cool EMBA friend Komal Joshi, founder of Planned Departure. (Check her stuff out – trust me, you need it!) The book is a bit of an entrepreneur / venture capitalist love story (favourite quote: “it’s the romance, not the finance, that makes business worth pursuing” – and yes, he meant metaphorically; oh, and spoiler alert – the zany entrepreneur does get financing at the end!) and it actually has a lot of interesting stuff about VC in it. “The Monk” is, however, not really about how to get financing for your start-up; it’s about what Komisar calls “creating a life while making a living”. It warns against living on the “Deferred Life Plan” – i.e. doing what you feel you have to do, no matter how little you enjoy it, on the assumption that once you’ve – fill in the blanks – got enough money, put the kids through college, paid the mortgage, retired, etc etc etc, you’ll finally be able to do what you want. The advice is not that we should all quit our jobs and follow our wild teenage dreams, or give up having goals; instead, we should make sure that whatever we’re doing is something we feel enough passion for that we could imagine ourselves doing it for the rest of our lives – the old “the journey is as important as the destination”, I guess. And, as I read it, I think yeah, I’m all for that, and it definitely sounds better than “your task is to know how to prevail in the political battles you will face”.
So as I’m sitting in the hospital room reading a few pages from one book and then a few from the other (I am an admittedly disorganised reader), I look at my four-year-old, who by this time has discovered the remote control for his bed and is having the time of his life, and I do my usual “does all this business school stuff relate to raising children in some way?” And I guess one reason why “Power” was so difficult for me to accept is that it ties in with this discussion I keep having with other parents: are we meant to raise our children so they can get by and get in front in an unfair, “survival of the fittest” world? Or are we meant to raise them so the world becomes a little less unfair? And then I realise that framing this as an exclusive choice is as counterproductive as trying to choose between these two books I’m reading; just like “The Monk” says that it’s “not about how, but about why“, “Power” is only about how. They go together: getting your why straight will help you use the how responsibly, plus achieving the why can get pretty difficult if you’re clueless about the how. So, while I can definitely hope that the world my children live in will be fairer and more just, and I encourage them to find their passion and make the world better, I guess I’ll have to also make sure that they’ve got all this “power stuff” in their arsenal so they can face the real world as they follow their passion. Time to get my daughter to work on her warmth / competence balance, I guess… (you’ll have to read the book to get that, it’s actually fascinating stuff!).