Strategy, Innovation & Leadership

Three types of power

By Oscar David | March 23, 2017 | 4 min read

Power consists of three types. I call them power 1.0, power 2.0 and power 3.0, just like software versions. 

The first version is 1.0. After a while, the next version is developed, namely 2.0. That does not mean that the dynamics of 1.0 disappear. The version receives an upgrade, making it more up to date. The underlying structure of power 1.0 therefore remains intact, but the addition of 2.0 creates more options and new strategies become possible. In turn, power 3.0 is the upgrade from power 2.0 and so is the most complete version. 

Power 1.0 The law of the jungle

Power 1.0 is the most primitive form of exerting power. This is about the survival of the fittest, to use Darwin's terminology. Charles Darwin discovered that the kind that knew best how to adapt to the specific circumstances of its environment would have the most chance of survival. The same applies to organizations. Depending on the organization, this can mean that for instance behavior that indicates modesty, loyalty, assertiveness or creativity helps to acquire the most power in an organization. Sometimes power 1.0 depends on who has the best credentials, fights the hardest or “has the gift of the gab”. In all cases, it is about the most effective behavior for the successful exercise of power, about strategies for what we also call 'the law of the jungle'. 

Power 1.0 is driven by the instincts for survival and winning. Those are some of the strongest forces in existence. That is most immediately visible in the animal world, but as soon as people are encountered with a threatening situation, for instance through having to abstain from food and drink for a while, they can also degenerate into “animal” behavior. Under normal circumstances, power 1.0 is instinct-driven, but with a little intelligence we are hopefully able to allow the survival instinct to do its work. That is why we also call it instinctual intelligence. 

Power 2.0 – Checks and balances

Power 2.0 is the upgrade from power 1.0. It is not a replacement of power 1.0, but it offers an addition to and an expansion of the repertoire. The addition supplied by power 2.0, is the ability to channel and regulate the manifestations of power 1.0. When channeling that energy, checks and balances are leading. The term comes from American politics. The checks speak for themselves: this means control mechanisms to ascertain whether institutions or managers keep to the agreements reached. Balances means mechanisms which keep power in balance. The desired effect of this is that those in power don't misuse their power, because the other party is just as powerful and is able to exert a control on the one in question.

The checks and balances are usually introduced as a reaction to manifestations of the shadowy side of power 1.0. Rules and agreements are made to redress the balance. Most organizations have all sorts of mechanisms that are related to power 2.0. There are works' councils, rules and procedures that need to be followed, there are complaints committees, ethical codes and so on.

At a societal level too, there are checks and balances in the form of courts and tribunals, the police and numerous inspection services that try to keep us in line. The speed checks on the roads are an example of power 2.0. Power 2.0 is the answer to the destructive working that power 1.0 can have. Depending on the age in which we live, more or less power 2.0 is argued for. Due to the financial crisis, that started in 2008 when the American bank Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, the world economy went into free-fall and there came a call for more power 2.0. More rules had to come to check and inspect the financial world and to curb the system of bonuses and other revenue models.

On the other hand, at other times there is a call for less power 2.0. An example of this is public policy that is focused on deregulation, such as was the case in the eighties of the last century. Another example is the attempts at simplifying regulations for entrepreneurs. In principle, regulations and control are sensible mechanisms because they help to avoid excesses and the abuse of power, while at the same time they cost a lot of money and retard creativity and obstruct new initiatives.

The positive side of power 2.0 is that it offers instruments to keep possible excesses of power 1.0 within bounds. It helps us to regulate and creates order and an overview. When power 2.0 becomes distorted, regulations are used as an aim in themselves for the exertion of power. If we say that something is bureaucratic, we are usually referring to the distortion of power 2.0. 

Power 3.0 – The integrity of power

The addition supplied by the upgrade to power 3.0, is what I call the integrity of power. This is about the capacity of people to exert power. Here, the focus is not on personal survival, but on the desire to provide added value. That does not mean that power 1.0 is no longer there, or that the upgrade from power 2.0 was superfluous. Depending on the situation, the instinctive decisiveness of power 1.0 or the controlling capacities of power 2.0 will continue to hold sway. With power 3.0, more capacity has simply been added and that is the ability to create and connect in a dutiful manner. Here the art is to find the right way of exerting power in any situation.

Whereas power 1.0 is instinctive and power 2.0 is regulatory and channeling, power 3.0 is creative. Power is used as the source for creating new possibilities and opportunities and is not bounded by externally imposed standards, but is primarily steered by inner values that retain the balance or promote growth. It is about the ability to absorb all perspectives and to weigh all interests. The execution of power enables the leader to serve the larger whole. To be able to do this, it is important that the leader has got to know himself and is able to act from a knowledge of himself. That means that he is able to distinguish between the snares of the ego and the reality of the situation.

In contemporary thinking about leadership, we see many elements of the upgrade to power 3.0. Besides fighting – power 1.0 –and besides ordered management – power 2.0 – leaders are especially encouraged to embody what they stand for and to confer confidence on their employees: an expression of power 3.0.


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