Marvellous manual

Power and Influence: The Rules have Changed by Robert L. Dilenschneider; Tata McGraw-Hill; Price: Rs.475; 210 pp

In newly rich societies of the  third world and in India in particular, where the educated middle class is enjoying unprecedented material prosperity, the popular misconception is that the purpose of hard work is to maximise income and accumulate capital to purchase financial security for self and family. This is true up to a point. But after an individual becomes a householder and accumulates sufficient capital to put food on the table and enroll the children in respectable schools, the quest for success in business and the professions as in politics, transforms into pursuit of power and influence in local communities and broader society.

How to acquire power and influence within the new tech-dominated societies of the 21st century, is the subject matter of this marvellous and typically American style self-improvement manual, peppered with case histories and useful advice. The author, Robert Dilenschneider was a highly successful former president and chief executive of Hill & Knowlton, one of the largest communication and public relations companies in the US, where he worked for a quarter century. Sometime towards the turn of the century (the book doesn’t say when) the company was taken over by J. Walter Thompson, which in turn was taken over by the transnational advertising WPP Group headed by Sir Martin Sorrell, described as a “very numbers-oriented guy”.

Despite being well past middle age, the author put in his papers and started over again to promote the Dilenschneider Group — an “international public affairs boutique” — and transformed it into a highly successful business enterprise and himself into the author of eight seminal books on business theory and practice, including the book under review, and On Power, which became pan-American bestsellers.

Power and Influence: The Rules have Changed is particularly useful to business and institutional leaders because it delineates the changes and challenges of the new ICT (information communication technologies)-intensive world, in which traditional norms of  conducting business have become obsolete. Among the numerous examples he cites in support of this conviction is that of his own Dilenschneider Group which had earned a reputation in the print media.  “What was growing in demand as tools of influence were the social media, that is, online chat rooms, bulletin boards, blogs, and podcasts that were introduced early in the new millennium. I had little choice but to modify the way I did my business,” writes Dilenschneider.

The author’s advice to those aspiring to acquire power and influence in the new 21st century is presented by way of ten cardinal principles of business and professional success. Ex facie, the advice encapsulated in motherhood statements seems gauche and corny. But read on and there’s a wealth of examples and case histories which transform this title into a valuable self-improvement book with a higher purpose.

Dilenschneider’s principles of success are contained in ten evocatively titled chapters:

Accept, adapt and accelerate or atrophy. (“Denial of technological realities or failure to adapt to everyday technology may mean losing your job.”)

Be prepared to start over again and again; think innovation — forget about just keeping up.  (“Attitude trumps resume. A plethora of hard knocks improved Steve Job’s attitude immensely, and look where he and the company he co-founded, Apple Computer, are now.”)

Think innovation — forget about just keeping up.  (“You need to anticipate technological changes on the horizon or just beyond it. That means doing your homework painstakingly.”)

Seize the opportunity in every crisis. (“The late management guru Peter Drucker wrote and spoke frequently about turbulence as opportunity. What is new today is the scope and intensity of the turbulence. That means more opportunity.”)

Look beyond the new rules to connect. (“The growing demand is for whatever or whoever can capture attention, and that demand is setting the old media rules of decorum and low risk on their ear.”)

Take the heat and never compromise. (“The blogosphere and the freewheeling Internet chat forums… have created an open unfiltered megaphone for anyone with a computer and a modem; (therefore) a striking characteristic of our times is unseemly uncivility. Winners are never surprised by these assaults.”)

Keep focusing on your strengths. (“Almost any profession that one could think of is getting hypercompetitive. You need to take stock of your personal and professional assets and then build on them.”)

Keep growing your network by shaving it. (“Alliances are often temporary and shifting. Lopping off those which are no longer professionally useful can be a brutal process. Be prepared to trim your Rolodex.”)

Seek acclaim but practice humility. (“The best way to wield power is not to brag about it. Most notions of intellectual property are anachronisms.”)

Search for power but never forget to share it. (“The wielding of power must mean giving a helping hand to the dispossessed; it must mean leading the mannered life; it must mean thinking consciously about creating a personal legacy of fostering goodwill, funding good deeds and furthering the aspirations of others.”)

It’s impossible in the space allotted for this review to dwell upon the numerous case histories and examples which the author cites in support of the validity of the principles of acquiring power and influence in contemporary, new-tech society. But a pleasant surprise is the substantial number of Indian leaders, mentors, entrepreneurs and professionals Dilenschneider cites as power and influence managers. The Mahatma, Nehru and Indira Gandhi apart, the list includes: Ram Charan, Kris Ramanathan, and Pranay Gupte — all heavy hitters with power and influence. If you don’t know who they are, you haven’t been using the blogosphere and internet as you should be.

Dilip Thakore