Soundview Executive Book Summaries

Can Diverse Interests Cost You Power?

Soundview Executive Book Summaries recently released a summary of author Jeffrey Pfeffer’s book Power: Why Some People Have It and Others Don’t. Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University. While the book contains many insights that would be considered controversial, I wanted to offer an additional bit of perspective from Pfeffer’s Author Insight Series interview.

I asked Pfeffer about his contention that a key to building power is to limit one’s focus and become an expert in a small number of areas. Today’s education system seems to train individuals for the opposite. It encourages having a breadth of knowledge as well as expertise in certain areas. When I asked Pfeffer if he though focus was a tough concept for the next generation of workers, he replied with the following:

I don’t know if it’s difficult for them to understand. It is certainly difficult for them to practice. I have students at Stanford that are very talented people who say to me, “Y’know I have many interests and I’m good at many things. Therefore, I have trouble focusing.”

But I’m just completing a case on a guy in the real estate industry by the name of Ross Walker. Early on, if you look at his career, he was in investment banking because that’s what everybody was doing at that time. Then he did an education high-tech start-up because everybody was doing start-ups. Finally, one day, he sat down and said, “What am I really passionate about?” It turned out to be the hospitality and restaurant industry. He focused his job search on that even though that’s not necessarily the most popular choice at Stanford Business School. He focused on finding a place where he could have a substantial impact and make a difference and have a strong mentor. That [job] turned out to be Wolff Urban Development with Lew Wolff, managing general partner of the Oakland Athletics. Ross focused his job search there just as he had focused on the GSB at Stanford. Stanford was the only place he applied to go to business school. Ross has been successful because he’s focused. If you divert your attention to many different things you probably won’t do very well on any of them.

What do you think of Pfeffer’s ideas? Send me a comment with your feedback.

To learn more about how to build your personal power, get your copy of the Soundview Executive Book Summary of Power. Pfeffer’s complete Author Insight Series interview is available now for Soundview subscribers!


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