What motivates powerful people?

Researchers at University of Southern California recently performed four experiments to back up their hypothesis that powerful people feel more connected to their future selves. These experiments showed that people who feel powerful are more likely to wait for larger rewards and more likely to accumulate a greater lifetime financial savings. The researchers believe people who feel powerful tend to see the big picture and deal with less uncertainty about their future. Click here to see more about the experiments.

However, the researchers say the balancing factor is that people who feel powerful also have a greater tendency to arrogantly make risky decisions.

“It is important to foster awareness of all of power’s effects,” the researchers conclude, “otherwise, the power holder may make overly risky — albeit well-intentioned — decisions on behalf of their future self.”

Powerful people likely feel a greater urgency for long term strategic foresight to visualize their larger potential reward and to better inform their decision making. Perhaps this is why strategic foresight experts are sought more often by larger governments and global organizations than by smaller countries and SMEs.

And at the same time, these larger organizations see the benefit of visualizing contingencies because of the savings (i.e. a larger reward) in lives, money, and resources that can be gained by preparing for a variety of potential hazards. For example, the UN head of peacekeeping and field support departments recently told a special review committee that the UN must prepare for future peacekeeping emergencies. By preparing for potential areas of concern like Syria and Mali, the UN could help avert escalation.


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