Influence, Not Control

by Luke Wroblewski June 8, 2009

Leadership is influence not control. It took me a while to really appreciate the implications of this philosophy but now I weave it into just about everything I do in product ideation and strategy.

In a nutshell, many managers believe control is the answer to getting things done. "If the engineering team reported to me, I could ship better products." In truth, you can't control almost anyone, but you can influence almost everyone. This is illustrated in the control vs. influence model shown below.

influence control

"Influence is the area that is affected by a person’s actions but is not 100% under their control. Beyond our sphere of control is our sphere of influence, which is typically larger than our sphere of control but is smaller than the final sphere, representing what we can’t control or influence. ...the larger the sphere of influence, the greater [a manager's] ability to achieve desired results." -John Ryan & Associates

Its interesting to think about the implications of this philosophy on digital product design. How many times do designers think they need to control an experience when instead they should focus on how to influence it? What interaction design or information architecture solutions maximize the sphere of influence to promote value creation, positive social norms, and more in software applications?