Unfolding Power

The third leg of the Contegrity Approach’s “triangle of fulfillment” is “power“.

In all likelihood, what I mean by power, and what people normally think of as power, have little to do with each other. This discrepancy is quite parallel to what I mean by a “self” (‘a Way of turning Life out”) and what common sense holds to be a “self” (“the subject in your actions, history and story”). So, let’s get common sense out-of-the-way and see if we can get to a view of power that is more likely to be fulfilling and sustainable.

Common sense has power as a kind of force — the ability to impose one’s will on others, or on the circumstance, or both. It is the capacity to enforce certain outcomes — the bigger the outcome, the more power it must demonstrate. This is more akin to a physics formula — the capacity to move weight– than a principle of human life and relations.

What I mean by power in the “triangle of fulfillment“, that is integral to fulfillment, is the capacity to unfold life into a fulfillment. There is something qualitative here. It isn’t’ about moving weight or overcoming resistance. It is about having life turn out more whole and more “resonant” with the relations involved.

This orientation to power puts new elements on the table to be considered as power: 

  • The power of listening and relating in such a way that people recognize their own strengths and bring them to bear.
  • The power of discerning the one developmental theme that is up and timely now that can be fulfilled.
  • The power to recognize “sources of power” relevant to the task at hand so that what results is an accomplishment complete with the next level of development of capability of those involved in the accomplishment.

Unfolding is different from “making happen”. Making happen has the flavor of “manufacturing”. As in “We manufactured that result (thing-like outcome).”

Unfolding is the more connected view and has a different grammar, as does power from an unfolding perspective. In unfolding, it is more like “We belonged with each other and with life and tapped a source of power sufficient to fulfill where life wanted to go. The accomplishment was fitting and inspiring.”

Altering one’s view of power alters one’s view of a self and a community. If what is called for is unfolding, differences are embraced as potential sources of power, collaboration is called for, openness is called for, and intentionality is called for. And rather than the “ass-clenching determinism to get a particular promised outcome to look a particular way,” a developmental and operational process is engaged wholeheartedly and brought to fruition with an openness to reveal what really fits these people, at this time, in this place, as a fitting accomplishment.

This is not to say that there isn’t an intended outcome. It is to say that there is a wisdom at play that knows that there is more understanding and a better assessment of fit the further into the engagement one goes. We know less at the beginning when an intended outcome is often set than we do after working in the area for a period of time. To be stuck in the original formulation is to be stuck. It calls for force, not unfolding. Force produces resistance and counterforce. Many organizations are stuck there.

It is qualitatively different to tap sources of power to unfold and fulfill a life, or to fulfill an organization’s mission, than to attempt to have the kind of force to ensure a particular pictured outcome against all resistance. Sooner or later the “overcome” resistance will build and make the next outcome harder to produce. In unfolding, the next accomplishment has a better and stronger base of relations and capability on which to be built, with differences integrated into the base.

Prudently pick the view of power that you are willing to spend the rest of your life investigating. It shapes who you get to be, and how you fit with others and life.

About Ken Anbender

Kenneth Anbender Ph.D. has spent the last 50 years working with more than a hundred thousand people directly on the principles and methods that support the fulfillment of a human life — in community and at work. He has developed a body of work that is licensable called The Contegrity Approach.

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