The Bad Rap of “Politics”

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Over twenty years ago, Peter Block published a book entitled The Empowered Manager, Positive Political Skills at Work. It is one of the few references I have found that acknowledges the inevitable reality of politics as well as the possibility of redeeming the meaning of the word itself. Max Weber defined politics as “the struggle for power”. (The word “politics” originally comes from the Greek word polis meaning city or state.) The struggle for power is a reality day after day, wherever people gather.

Block writes: “The process of organizational politics as we know it works against people… We empower ourselves by finding a positive way of being political. The line between positive and negative politics is a tightrope we have to walk. We must be powerful advocates… in a way that does not alienate those around and above us.”

SFB Associates is launching our Politics of Creativity™ Assessment this week. It is very simply five propositions and twenty normative statements which we believe will help R&D; functions in particular find positive ways of being political. Proposition # 1: Innovators break rules. This is not necessarily bad, but it is almost inevitably political. Our purpose is to break down the barriers that give politics a bad rap in organizations – naming it for what it is – “a struggle for power” which is real and needs to be more effectively addressed if we want more innovative break-throughs.