When I spot­light­ed Joi Ito of MIT’s Media Lab, it was because I felt he was hav­ing a pos­i­tive influ­ence. Hmmm. Influ­ence — an inter­est­ing word, no? It’s used in a lot of ways and often affil­i­at­ed with the word pow­er. For exam­ple:

(1) A cou­ple of months ago, TIME hon­oured its 100 most pow­er­ful peo­ple. The mag­a­zine pref­aced its list with these words: “TIME presents its annu­al list of the 100 most influ­en­tial peo­ple in the world, from artists and lead­ers to pio­neers, titans and icons.”

(2) Last month, Forbes cel­e­brat­ed “The World’s Most Pow­er­ful Women 2013”. And, plain­ly, you couldn’t make this list unless you had great influ­ence: “We’ve select­ed women that go beyond the tra­di­tion­al tax­on­o­my of the pow­er elite (polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic might). These change-agents are actu­al­ly shift­ing our very idea of clout and author­i­ty and, in the process, trans­form­ing the world in fresh and exhil­a­rat­ing ways.”

(3) But influ­ence is not just about peo­ple. Last night, I spot­ted a press release high­light­ing an upcom­ing pre­sen­ta­tion by Mar­ketwired CEO Jim Delaney, who shares research that shows that social media are hav­ing an influ­ence on how peo­ple invest: “For pub­licly trad­ed com­pa­nies, social media is more than just a chan­nel to dis­trib­ute infor­ma­tion. It’s shap­ing invest­ment deci­sions. In fact, Mar­ketwired recent­ly com­mis­sioned research that found 60% of investors and ana­lysts under 40 years old are already reg­u­lar­ly con­sult­ing social media to inform their deci­sions.”

(4) There have been at least two recent books pub­lished on this top­ic: Kevin Hogan’s Invis­i­ble Influ­ence: The Pow­er to Per­suade Any­one, Any Time, Any­where [link] and Mark Schaefer’s Return On Influ­ence: The Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Pow­er of Klout, Social Scor­ing, and Influ­ence Mar­ket­ing [link].

InfluenceSince I have been track­ing how peo­ple and com­pa­nies find their next, I can affirm that get­ting to next involves influ­ence as much or more than pow­er. The rea­son for that is that peo­ple have to believe in the mer­its of a change of direc­tion before they them­selves will actu­al­ly change. Those who think they can sim­ply order an organ­i­sa­tion of 10, 100, 1,000, or 10,000 to “Change!” will find that the estab­lished order can be a com­mand­ing adver­sary to progress. Thus, I would point you now to two excel­lent, short treat­ments of the role of influ­ence in any enter­prise.

First, read last month’s thoughts of Den­nis Sparks on “6 ways you can influ­ence oth­ers”. Here’s how Den­nis opens his post: “The most com­mon ques­tion I’m asked by sys­tem admin­is­tra­tors, prin­ci­pals, and teacher lead­ers is some vari­a­tion of, ‘The peo­ple I work with are unwill­ing to change, and I don’t know what to do to get them to open their minds.’ Put anoth­er way, these lead­ers are inter­est­ed in being more influ­en­tial.” He writes with an edu­ca­tor-to-edu­ca­tor point of view, but I have spent enough time in the cor­po­rate world to tell you that his advice is most applic­a­ble to busi­ness man­agers and lead­ers.

Sec­ond, sift through the points made by John But­man on the HBR Blog Net­work. His short essay on “How to Influ­ence Peo­ple with Your Ideas” intrigued me because it lists six ques­tions that every per­son should ask before try­ing to influ­ence oth­ers. These ques­tions range from the big “what’s my pur­pose” lev­el but also include nuts-and-bolts ques­tions such as whether you have the sup­port­ing mate­r­i­al you need to build your case with oth­ers.

Let’s face it, any­one who has an inter­est in nextsens­ing has at least a minor inter­est in peo­ple who have changed the world. One web­site has a great set of lists of such peo­ple, in fields such as pol­i­tics, tech­nol­o­gy, enter­tain­ment and busi­ness. The site admits to a bias toward the West­ern world, but it invites you to sub­mit your own list or to chal­lenge its selec­tion. It’s a fun site for fans of nextsens­ing, and its open­ing lines set the stage for my clos­ing right now. “There are count­less peo­ple who changed the world, so I fig­ured I’d break them into cat­e­gories. My cri­te­ria is sim­ple, those who have the biggest pos­i­tive impact.”

It’s a great point: the pow­er of influ­ence is not that it can ele­vate any individual’s sta­tus or ego (although it might). The real pow­er of influ­ence is that it can have a pos­i­tive impact on every­one involved.

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