Power is the ability to make change. But it seems to me that actual exercise of power is more subtle than we first realize. A bulldozer has enormous power: it can push huge quantities of dirt. But in the end, it’s still just a matter of pushing dirt around; who cares? Power is not just the ability to make change, but the ability to make change that satisfies our desires.
Money is not power
Wealth is like a bulldozer; it is only the power to push money around. Scads of investors with more money than brains are pushing millions of dollars into silly multimedia extravaganzas that will never amount to anything. Their power is useless; it is no different from the power of a mighty bull charging the red cape that flutters away at the last moment. It makes for grand spectacle, but when the show is over and everybody goes home, the bull lies dead in the sand. So much for that kind of power.
Fame is not power
Back in the early 80s, I was lionized in the press as a kind of "Mr. Atari". My position at Atari, coupled with Atari’s dominant position in the games industry, gave me a kind of power. Then Atari collapsed and I was Mr. Nobody. *I* hadn’t changed, but my power had changed. What does this mean about the nature of power? I then decided to build my reputation on my own achievements rather than on any kind of reflected glory. But even reputation has an illusory aspect. Reputation is what other people think of you; it’s easy to fool people. Power that is based on something so fickle as group perception is insubstantial.
Let’s turn this around and look at it from the perspective of you, the person who is "powered upon". If other people have changed your life, what changes did they make and who exactly made those changes? For example, who is responsible for the computer on your desk?You might argue that Bill Gates made the largest individual contribution to that computer, but how about the Taiwanese assembler who actually put it together, or the Malaysian worker who made the chips, or the chip designer?What about the people who run the power plant that supplies the electricity for your computer?
Here’s another way of looking at it: if Bill Gates had never existed, would your computer be much different?I doubt it. Somebody else would have done the job, perhaps Gary Kildall. The label on the box might be different but the functions inside would be pretty much the same.
Creation is power
Now consider this counterexample: if Erasmus had never lived, you would never use the phrase "crocodile tears", or "the razor’s edge" or "add the final touch" or a hundred other such expressions. Erasmus alone was responsible for popularizing these ancient expressions. You would not have read Aesop’s fables as a child, for Erasmus was the man who resurrected those obscure tales.
As I said, power is the ability to make change, but this change must be meaningful and important. We must provide the values that make our labors meaningful. The direct transformation of values into change is the act of creation. Thus, it is only in creation that we exercise any real power. Those who make waves exercise power. Those who merely ride the wave and collect a toll have no power.