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The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence Paperback – May 16, 2017
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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“An innovative look at the idea of power.... [This] paradigm-shifting book challenges readers to find a new level of awareness about themselves and the leaders they choose to follow.”—Publishers Weekly
“The Power Paradox, compelling and eye-opening from start to finish, will change your view of what power is. Power turns out to be a subtler force than it seems, influencing us for better and worse more than we realize. This book explains how people get power, keep it, and keep from being corrupted by it. The good news is the radical claim at the heart of the book: that the best way to get and keep power is to use it for the greater good. This pathbreaking book is full of fascinating and little-known findings, and Dacher Keltner’s many years of creative work on the psychology of status and influence make him uniquely qualified to write it.” —Robert Wright, author of The Evolution of God and The Moral Animal
“Dacher Keltner shares insights into many aspects of power, including afternoon tea in Britain and how Lincoln won the presidency. His combination of academic sophistication and clear style delivers a new concept of power in our society today that is provocative and intriguing.” —Sheryl WuDunn, coauthor of Half the Sky and A Path Appears
“Dacher Keltner is the most interesting psychologist in America. He's busy changing the minds of Americans about how power works, how inequality works. It's only a matter of time before his ideas spread everywhere. And unlike most psychologists I know, he’s not a weirdo.”—Michael Lewis, author of The Big Short and Moneyball
“With personal insight and the latest science, Dacher Keltner is both realistic and idealistic: The Power Paradox sheds light on human power’s dark side, as well as its redeeming qualities. Everyone can learn from this wise book.” —Susan T. Fiske, Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology and Professor of Public Affairs at Princeton University
“That power is not taken but given is true for most human relations today. It has ancient roots in primate behavior. Dacher Keltner applies a lifetime of research to this topic, offering a lively description of how true power is like a return on a social investment in others.”—Frans de Waal, author of Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?
“The Power Paradox brings clarity to our confusion, brimming with evidence-based insights into powerlessness, the selfish uses of power, and the best kind: power that furthers the greater good. Dacher Keltner’s brilliant research gives us a lens that lets us see afresh hidden patterns in society, politics, and our own lives. No doubt this will be one of the most significant science books of the decades.”—Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Dacher Keltner is a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the faculty director of the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center. A renowned expert in the biological and evolutionary origins of human emotion, Dr. Keltner studies the science of compassion, awe, love, and beauty, and how emotions shape our moral intuition. His research interests also span issues of power, status, inequality, and social class. He is the author of the best-selling book Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life and of The Compassionate Instinct.
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- The ability to inspire others to work hard (anyone who has worked for Steve Jobs or Larry Ellison knows this does not always involve being nice)
- Salesmanship skills: the ability to read another person and tell them what they want to hear.
- Personal appearance.
- Knowing the right people.
Keltner asserts that power flows to nice people and the power they receive corrupts them. Nonsense. Steve Jobs was demonstrably a nicer person late in his career than early on. Do you think Richard Nixon was a man of integrity before he ran for President? (hint: watch the McCarthy hearings) Was Donald Trump kind and thoughtful before he got into politics? Obviously not.
So, why would I trust my own anecdotal observations over Keltner's research? Keltner's experiments appear to be flawed in not recognizing the difference between the reasons people state for giving power to someone else and post hoc rationalizations for those decisions. They don't seem to account for the bias that people will have in describing the character traits of someone whom they have chosen as worthy of receiving power. And they only look at the character traits that interest Keltner, ignoring those that don't fit his hypothesis. Finally, is it appropriate to generalize from small experiments with very young (college age) participants to much larger and more complex real-world situations with participants who have been around the block a few times with power dynamics? That seems risky, at best.
And last of all, Keltner states very loudly that power is given, not taken. That may be true in many situations, but I wouldn't want to try to convince people living in North Korea, or Arabs living in Israel, or young African-American men living in Ferguson.
Who gets power in a society and under what conditions the power shifts are fascinating questions. I hope the next book on the topic will shed more light than does this one.