The Return to Influence

Return on Influence

At first blush, influence sit at the opposite end of the commodification problem.

It's the GPS, portable version of your own brand — you can wear it any time, anywhere to find your true North.

Because influence starts with you and the return you derive from where you choose to spend your time, it is highly personal. Yet it is also a socially-recognized phenomenon — influentials — and a term adopted in social media.


This was how I started a post on Return on Influence October 30, 2007. It is still being widely quoted and linked to, which is why I added an update to it. I  have written plenty on influence over the last couple of years, had my solo about influence at SxSW last year, even started writing a book about it.

Then something interesting happened. I realized I was talking about influence in the same environments were most everyone else writing and discussing it was male. And something else. In the cacophony of words spoken about the topic, my voice was drowning.

Why was that?

The first one was that unfortunately the economic contraction has meant a much stronger return to conservatism. Whenever things get tough, those with greater resources, who are in position to make more decisions to affect others, hold on tighter to what they have and who they are/see themelseves as.

Whether in fear or other sentiments is not the point of this discussion. The point is this is bad news for women. This is part of the reason why women continue to be edited out. Women are dropping out of organizations because there is no opportunity for them.

It's a death by a thousand cuts, too. Subtle marginalization (partly) because the perception is we're not as influential.

This is why I'm returning to the topic of influence. It's a myth, it's BS. Plenty of women are influential in business. Getting cozy with the usual suspects when it comes to the "market" of influence is a lazy shortcut and a cop out from doing due diligence.

Increasingly, we live in a world where the concepts of interconnected, reciprocity, the ability to work in networks, and flexible at comprehending matter. They matter not for some sort of perceived soft position on collaboration. They matter to business trade.

Working at "app" level won't get us out of this mess. We need to upload humanism, do some serious OS thinking here. Interconnected is the reality of coded capitalists. This is greenfield opportunity, and those who get it will have you for lunch. You need everyone on board to make this happen.

I got interested in the levers of influence, how our identity shapes us, and how we shape our world, coloring it with our own perceptions, to explore this (apparent) conflict between what we believe in — all created human and equal — and what we do.

I'm traveling to see my family this week. I have two sisters and two nieces, and they are all amazing and influential in their spheres — in art and in business. Regardless of whether you acknowledge it or not, they are making a big contribution to thought and commerce.

I'm reminded of the quote from my mother I shared at SxSW and everyone liked so much:

Here's the difference, I never wanted power, I wanted to have an audience. I wanted to be appreciated and loved and not forgotten… therefore I was working in another way.

She was taught to be a homemaker — literally went to school to become a mother and wife. She learned philosophy and sociology from books recommended by our pediatrician and conversations with Ph.D. candidates.

In fact, once she attended a class at the University of Bologna with a friend who was completing her Ph.D. and the professor was so impressed with the clarity of her thinking that he wanted to support her thesis. When he learned she had only the eighth grade, he kicked her out of class (she was showing up the other students).

You don't need a Ph.D. to think clearly, it seems. Desire to learn and practice in thinking with your own head might work as well. You just won't get the "recognition" that you do, in fact, think appropriately.

When I sat down to work with mother on her resume a few years ago, we learned she had four full careers. In addition to being a mother and wife, she was a certified beautician, certified accountant, successful business development manager for a regional advertising agency, and yoga instructor, all the while volunteering for the teen anorexia blue phone line, providing assistance to people with disabilities, and providing geriatric care. 

So I'm naturally wondering — is it because she never wanted power? I'm not talking about purchasing power. According to recent surveys, women have plenty of that. Think about how companies court mom bloggers, who have managed to make an impact as a group.

Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely goes the saying. Is the current conversation about influence then just about power, which follows "in the hands of a few/usual" pattern?

We don't have to build rockets to change our perspective. A perspective is something worth changing. A narrow perspective molds the mind that generated it and the world in which it lives into its own shape. We need everyone to trade our way into growth.