Tom Atlee: On Power

Cultural Intelligence
Tom Atlee
Tom Atlee


Power is energy that gets things done — or has obvious potential to do so.

Our most common conceptions of power — especially social power — involve our ability to cause things to happen that we want to have happen.

While this is definitely a major facet of power, a holistic, co-intelligence perspective suggests that there’s more to power than that.

What does power look like when we are working not just for what we want but for what others want as well — or when we join the power of the whole to satisfy the needs and aspirations of the whole?

What does power look like when it arises from a question, a story, a vision, or a heart resonance rather than from force, manipulation, privilege, or institutionalized authority?

Where can the “powerless” — those without traditional resources and established forms of influence – get the power they need to promote justice and sustainability that includes them?

What are the bright and shadow sides of power when it is centralized — AND when it is distributed and decentralized? Sometimes we need to use concentrated power to address large-scale issues like human rights, the preservation of oceans, or climate change. But how do we use it wisely without suffering the corruption that usually accompanies concentrated power?

What are the less-noted forms of power — power-with, power-from-within, power-from-among, power-as, whole-system power and, ultimately, wholesome power — and how do they relate to the more familiar dynamics of power-over, the power of influence, control, and domination?

These and other aspects of the co-intelligent perspective on power are explored in the articles below.

Transforming Power: Impact, Partnership and the Tao of Wholesome Power – an article in Kosmos Journal(Fall-Winter 2013) which is an integration of the two articles below, which cover this topic in greater detail:

Feedback, Social Power, and the Evolution of Social Systems

What kind of power, for whom, and for what? – Tom Atlee’s review of Moises Naim’s The End of Power

Ramping up the two big Powers (namely, established power and grassroots power)

We need to reformulate political power now!

Four Types of Power

Moving Beyond Power Plays to Collaboration

The Power of Questions

The Power of Story

Democracy: A Social Power Analysis (with John Atlee)

The Power Cube – a tool for analyzing the visibility, spaces, and scales of power, developed at the Institute of Development Studies to serve social change efforts

Imagining Real National Security – Empathy versus Empire

Wholeness moving in us and the world

See also

Co-intelligent Political and Democratic Theory


Process and Participation

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