The Power of Giving Away Power Book Summary - The Power of Giving Away Power Book explained in key points

The Power of Giving Away Power summary

Matthew Barzun

How the Best Leaders Learn to Let Go

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What is The Power of Giving Away Power about?

The Power of Giving Away Power (2021) explains how leaders, organizations, and businesses can harness power by giving it away. By replacing traditional ideas of hierarchy with a mindset centered around constellations, we can create flexible networks that allow us to get big things done, better. 

About the Author

Matthew Barzun is a businessman, political fundraiser, and former US diplomat to Sweden and Great Britain. He began his career working as a business executive for media company CNET Networks. During Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential run, he pioneered the small-dollar fundraising events that helped win the election. 

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    The US was built as a constellation, but has come to embrace the pyramid structure of power.

    When the founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776, they felt like something was missing. 

    They’d just cemented the independence of their new nation. But now they needed a good logo for it. Of course, they didn’t call it a logo. They talked about a “Great Seal.” It would be a visual symbol of everything the US stood for: a constellation of 13 colonies with different perspectives, coming together as one nation.

    Lesser-known politician Charles Thomson took on the task of overseeing its design. First, he had his colleagues Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams come up with some ideas. But Thomson wasn’t satisfied with the results. He formed several committees and brought in a string of consultants to rework the ideas. Each new team ended up adding something to the design, until finally everyone agreed.

    Here’s the key message: The US was built as a constellation, but has come to embrace the pyramid structure of power.

    Six years later, on June 20th, 1782, the US Congress finally approved the design of the Great Seal of the United States. It prominently featured a bald eagle, a collection of 13 stars representing the 13 colonies, and a motto: “E Pluribus Unum” – “Out of many, one.” 

    The design echoed how the US and the Seal itself were created: through a constellation of independent actors who brought in different ideas and united them under one goal. 

    This constellation mindset almost represents the original spirit of the US. When Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville came to the US in the early nineteenth century, he was fascinated by the fact that “Americans of all ages, all conditions, all minds constantly unite.”

    But the Great Seal actually has two sides. The other side depicts a pyramid and a different motto: “Novus Ordo Seclorum” – the “new order of the ages.”

    This second side was designed alongside the first. But it wasn’t used until president Franklin D. Roosevelt rediscovered it in the 1930s. For FDR, the pyramid stood for a New America. It represented stability, authority, and the consolidation of power – even if it was a hierarchical kind of power. 

    FDR wanted to put the pyramid on the new one-dollar bill, right next to the constellation symbol. And he had a note for the design team: put the pyramid first. 

    This marked a significant change in the American mindset and in the next blink, we’ll see what that’s all about.

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    Who should read The Power of Giving Away Power

    • Leaders and future leaders tired of gridlocked organizational structures
    • Activists and organizers looking to amplify their efforts
    • Anyone who’s ever questioned our hierarchical idea of power

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