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On power and influence in Cleantech

Josh Gould

File this under simple, but underappreciated: power and influence are not synonyms.  They describe seperate, though sometimes closely related, phenomena.  Distinguishing between each requires self-awareness.  Successful people like Bing Gordon of Electronic Arts fame, who recently discussed the issue here, tend to be keenly aware of how much of each characteristic they have, and how best to conserve or deploy it.  Being successful in cleantech is no exception.

Let’s define the terms first.  Power is the ability to command someone to do something.  At its best power can enable or provide the legitimacy for people to achieve great things.  At its worst, power can be destructive and coercive (think of dictators or autocrats or, better yet,  Office Space).   In a corporate setting, a classic appeal to power is when a manager “pulls rank” or mandates that an employee do something simply because “I am the boss.”  Of course pulling rank is also a sign that the employee has little respect for, or is not influenced by, the manager.

Influence, on the other hand, is the ability to affect others, regardless of whether that ability is derived from formal authority or not.  Not surprisingly, the most influential often lack formal title or power.  Sometimes they are not even listed on an organizational chart.  Examples of influencers are the mentor, the spouse of the politician (Nancy Reagan had this reputation), or one’s friends and family.  While they (sometimes) lack power, they can be even more important than the powerful in accomplishing one’s objectives.

It’s not a radical idea that the combination of power and influence are necessary to function within, and amongst, organizations.  In an industry like cleantech with so many disparate players (e.g., startups, the largest companies in the world, governments, universities, utilities, regulators, politicians), the ability to mobilize a “coalition” with power and influence are critical.  Power in cleantech often resides in governmental or quasi governmantal bodies (think of the EPA setting mileage standards in the United States, or utility commissions guiding utilities’ ability to set rates).

A more interesting question is who wields influence in cleantech.  In fact, finding ways to analyze who truly wields influence in cleantech is a big part of what we do at Cleantech Group.  One way we measure this influence is our market mapping tool, which represents – visually – relationships as a measure of influence in cleantech (see left for a sample, which we track through i3).  Further, we run the Global Cleantech 100, which lists the top 100 companies around the world who are likely to make a significant market impact over the next 5-10 years.  Past Cleantech 100 recipients include A123 Systems and Tesla Motors - both of which later went on to IPOs. 

Another influential player in cleantech is OPower.  Indeed, one of the company’s core innovations is to incorporate the findings of famous behaviorial psychologist Robert Cialdini who performed ground breaking research on - you guessed it - influence and persuasion. 

Some other key influencers include non-cleantech corporates (witness Cisco and IBM pushing into water and smart grid, or Philips pushing into adjacencies in lighting and energy efficiency), universities (EnerNOC had its roots at Dartmouth,  A123 Systems came from MIT), utilities, and venture capitalists.  A comprehensive list is worthy of a book – rather than a post – but we would love to see our reader’s feedback. 

Who do you think should make a list of key influencers?

Josh Gould is a Director at Cleantech Group

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