5 Things That Surprised Me About Powerful People

December 8, 2011 § 7 Comments

Over the past couple of days I’ve met some very senior people within the world of finance, government and business through the World Economic Forum ‘Global Shapers’ programme. I was struck that those with significant resources, access and power often have little idea of what to do – eurozone crisis, climate change, destructive economic systems all seem to be beyond their control. In fact,

  • They don’t have the answers – there is a collective loss of confidence about how the world works. Very, very few have the courage to admit this lack of understanding + their own fear. Some very rare leaders are able to set goals (that override, or work within the growth framework) which steer their organisational ship in the right direction, with the hope that time+need will find solutions.
  • Some are asking the right questions – most are not. Some are desperately ‘looking for new models’ and wanting ‘innovators to scale up’, without really knowing how or what they’re looking for. Others ask absurd questions like ‘but what is the Occupy movement FOR?’ and are defensive about any criticism directed at them.
  • Social norms are often from the 1950’s – overwhelming gender imbalance and some very blokey culture, heterocentrism, tiny number of people of colour. No understanding of who-you-are-influences-how-you’re-heard. Often complete unwillingness to see this as a problem.
  • Transformations are possible, but badly executed – encounters with reality, especially experiential ones, can radically shift attitudes and behaviour. Often though, after this experience, solutions are still taken from the old system – ‘set up a school in Africa’ etc.
  • Little willingness to see systemic nature of problem – lots of de rigour systems language, but very few willing to use words like ‘capitalism’.

I realised that my own assumptions about the world still included the thought that these powerful people have a clear idea what they’re doing. Turns out, that ain’t so.

§ 7 Responses to 5 Things That Surprised Me About Powerful People

  • Anna K says:

    Oh wow. When I read the title of this I thought they were going to be nice surprises.

    I suppose these things don’t surprise me so much after all…

  • Natalya says:

    Yes, yes and oh right–yes.

    Especially #5

  • The social norms point makes me the saddest. But the one that gives me most hope is the first, that leaders don’t know what they are doing. Because if you can break through their defences maybe they can be influenced to act. Ie if there is massive public support. Just maybe.

  • rachelmsinha says:

    Hey C

    Very interesting. It makes me think of an article I read in the Metro (ahem) with Newsnights Paul Mason.

    He said:

    “The greatest source of hope for me is to see a generation rising who think all forms of hierarchical ideological activity are rubbish.

    Even the most rapacious people in the world finance system get that an uncaring form of capitalism is unsustainable. You’d have to celebrate that moment because there have not been many moments like it.”

    Love it!!

    He’s just written a book called ‘Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere: The New Global Revolutions’.

    It;s a bit scary to think it rests on our shoulders, but I think we could do a much better job.


  • Katerina Elias-Trostmann says:

    In terms of climate change, the main decision makers have frighteningly little technical knowledge about the causes, institutional weaknesses and possible strategies for adaptation that we can implement.

    We should be getting this sort of message out there more, to expose the weaknesses of certain decision makers.

    Thank you for this!

  • Great blog Casper – echoes thoughts I’ve had on meeting so called “powerful” people. And what Katerina said is right – a study of the Australian Parliament a few years ago found there were more climate deniers in there as a % than in the general public.

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