I am you and you are me

Influence: the Flip Side of Permeability

I am you and you are me

Part 3 of 4:

Doing effective influence mapping isn’t easy, just as creating effective geographic maps isn’t easy.

To be useful, the map needs to describe the actual terrain – and for that, you need people who understand how the decisions that impact your desired outcome actually get made. Not how you wish they get made, mind you, but how they actually get made.

The reality of how decisions get influenced usually depends a great deal on context. A senator might lean heavily on a small handful of business leaders to decide on innovation policy, but be heavily influenced by her brother who happens to be a school principal when it comes to education policies.

Understanding these nuances doesn’t happen through research on the web; you need to talk to people who actually know the decision makers and their influencers.

Often, that’s not easy because the institutions we seek to influence are opaque and impenetrable by outsiders. This is one of the reasons lobbyists earn so much and why so many of them have former affiliations with the very institutions they now seek to influence. Within private sector organizations, it also explains why “old boys” networks have disproportional influence on how decisions are made.

This kind of opaque decision making can be a real problem for organizations; when left unchecked, it can lead to the kind of groupthink the United States government famously experienced with the Bay of Pigs. When decision makers are surrounded by influencers who are too homogenous, their institutions become vulnerable to environmental factors that fall outside of their influencers’ awareness. This is a very dangerous place for organizations; one that often leads to insularity, failed alignment with the outside world, and eventual obsolescence.

So, while each of us has different reasons for wanting to be able to influence institutions, it truly is in the interest of these organizations to be influenceable. When people on the outside can’t find ways to provide signals to an organization, it slowly but surely loses its grip on reality.

Permeability and transparency are important tools for reducing that kind of institutional risk because they expand the range of influences on an organization. By opening the door to Jib Ellison, Walmart lessened the likelihood of getting thumped down the road by the future consequences of its unsustainable business practices.

Influence truly is the flip side of permeability.


Up next…(June 24) Part 4 of 4 - How to Strengthen Your Organization’s Influence Mapping

Part 1:   Change Happens Through People – Even at Walmart
Part 2:   5 Steps to Influence Mapping
Part 3:   Influence: the Flip Side of Permeability
Part 4:   How to Strengthen Your Organization’s  Influence Mapping (June 24)


  1. Ah, now you are starting to get to the meat of your point.

    FYI, the senator’s brother is a school principal, not a school principle. Although I’m sure he is a very moral guy.