Monday, December 01, 2008

The Importance and Value of Understanding Politics

In my opinion, politics is the result of combining of social dynamics and power and the ensuing consequences. Social dynamics arise from the interaction of individuals and groups with each other. In most social environments, including work situations, such groups and individuals try to consciously or unconsciously acquire the power to achieve certain desired results.

The "importance" of politics is comparable to the importance of increasing leverage or range of ability to get what you want, whether that is through personal power or by acting through others. Due to the growing size of organizations and the rising dependence on teams, the likelihood of a person being able to meet ambitious organizational goals in isolation is miniscule. Thus, the need for any individual to increase her/his power in order to influence the course of projects and the behavior of larger and larger groups of people is a skill that cannot be denied. The way that physicists study the laws of the universe in order to harness its materials and energies to benefit mankind (we hope, e.g. nuclear bombs) is similar to the way that an organizational politician may study the nature of human beings in order to marshall available psychological energy and physical resources to achieve some end.

The "value" of understanding politics is threefold. First, it is the value of increasing the probability that one gets what one wants. Second, it is the value of being able to have an impact on an increasingly larger scale as the number of people influenced by you grows. For example, take the cause of recycling and protecting the environment. In our culture, it is fairly well understood that celebrities can have as much impact on the individual American's behavior as the government, sometimes more where consumerism is concerned. Therefore, it is as effective a political move to advertise a celebrity endorsing the cause of recycling and protecting the environment as it is to pass bills supporting organizations who have "greener" practices. The goal is the same - to get large groups of people to change their behavior to achieve the desired result, though the types of influence may differ. However, without the use of politics, this scenario might simply have been isolated individuals and companies trying to enact change with little result. Influencing on a larger scale can mean more widespread and longer-lasting results. Finally, the value of understanding politics is the value of having more options and control over "how" things get done. Wise politicians value politics because they realize that the manner in which a goal is reached can affect how they feel about themselves and the goal itself. Ultimately, politics is a means to an end in which how one gets to the end is as important as what the end looks like.



Blogger Erika W. said...

Great insight, Raushanna. I appreciated your analogy between physicists and organizational politicians as I never before saw the similarities between the two forms of study. Your point about politics being a means to an end is well taken. Unfortunately for many people it seems the sense of importance surrounding the result too often encourages negative politics and a "winning at all costs" mentality.

10:54 PM  

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