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Research Report 79: What the Research Tells Us about Knowledge Power

People have long recognized that knowledge is power.  In his Meditationes Sacrae (1597), Sir Francis Bacon, inventor of the scientific method, wrote, “ipsa scientia potestas est,” which means “knowledge itself is power.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson, writing in 1870, said, “There is no knowledge that is not power.”  What you know and what you can do—what skills you have—are extraordinary sources of power and enable you to exert considerable influence if your knowledge power is high. 

Introduction to Power Sources

Influence effectiveness depends partly on the strength of your power sources. The more powerful you are, the more effective you are likely to be when you attempt to influence others.  Research shows that there are eleven sources of power, divided into two categories and one special source:

Personal Power

  • Knowledge–your knowledge and skills
  • Expressiveness–your communication skills; how articulate and expressive you are
  • Attraction–your attractiveness or charisma; the extent to which you can cause others to like you
  • History–the nature and extent of your relationship with the people you wish to influence
  • Character–people’s perception of your honesty, integrity, and courage

Organizational Power

  • Role–your position, title, and responsibilities in your organization
  • Resources–your control of valuable resources others need or want
  • Information–your access to information, especially private or privileged information
  • Network–the breadth and power of your network inside and outside your organization
  • Reputation–how you are thought of inside and outside your organizationWill Power–the desire to be more powerful coupled with your willingness to act

 

  •        Will Power–the desire to be more powerful coupled with your willingness to act

For a fuller explanation of these power sources, see www.thelementsofpower.com.

Findings

For this study, we compared the study data for subjects whose knowledge power scores ranked in the top and bottom of a normal bell curve distribution, that is, for those whose knowledge power scores were in the top one-sixth of the distribution and the bottom one-sixth.  Our purposes were to determine (1) what overall effect high knowledge power had on overall influence effectiveness and (2)which skill gaps were greatest for subjects with high knowledge power.

  • We discovered, first, that people who are rated highest on knowledge power are more than three times more influential than people rated lowest on knowledge power. This powerful correlation means that your ability to influence others is directly related to the power you derive from your knowledge and skills.  The more you know, the more you can do, the more influential you will be.  This substantiates the importance of education as well as the importance of lifelong learning and skill building.

 

  • People rated high on knowledge power are more than three times more likely to be viewed as role models than people low in knowledge power. They are also significantly more skilled at taking the initiative to show others how to do things and at supporting and encouraging others, which makes them more likely to act as coaches, mentors, and teachers and more likely to be attractive to others in those roles.  People want to emulate them.  They are inspiring because they are so knowledgeable and highly skilled.  People want to learn from them.  Being viewed as a role model increases the trust people have in you and the degree of respect they hold for you.

 

  • People rated high on knowledge power also rate high on having a logical and rational approach to leadership and influence. They lead from a base of knowledge or skill and have credibility as leaders based on their superior knowledge.  Credibility is an important element in leadership effectiveness because people are less likely to follow someone who knows less than they do and whose decisions could therefore be prone to mistakes.  In short, people want leaders who know what they’re doing, whose judgments they can trust, and who operate from a base of assurance.

 

  • They excel at engaging others, at making connections—and at asking provocative questions. Their knowledge and skill give them insights that enable them to ask the right questions and engage others in a dialogue.

 

  • They are nearly three times more likely to form alliances with others, to work together as a means of having greater impact within organizations. Their knowledge and skill make them attractive alliance partners.  Consequently, they are also better at building and using networks to extend their influence.

 

  • People rated high in knowledge power also tend to be rated significantly higher in finding creative alternatives, analyzing and displaying data visually, and asking insightful questions. In short, they excel at cognitive and analytical skills.  What’s unexpected is that they are also significantly higher rated at having insight into what others value and building consensus.  Their knowledge advantage appears to translate into insights about people and effectiveness at bringing disparate points of view together to build agreement.

 

Other Power Source Correlations with Knowledge Power

High knowledge power is correlated with the other sources of power as shown in Table 1:

Table 1. Power Source Correlations for People with High Knowledge Power

wdt_ID Strongest Correlations Moderate Correlations Weakest Correlations
1 Character Attraction Role
2 Reputation Expressiveness Resources
3 History Network
4 Information
Strongest Correlations Moderate Correlations Weakest Correlations

The strong correlations with character and reputation are especially noteworthy.  Being highly knowledgeable and skilled may actually enhance your character, making you more honest and courageous, or it may enhance others’ perceptions of your integrity and courage.  Moreover, having high knowledge power goes hand in hand with having a stronger reputation.  The more you know, the more highly others think of you.  The high correlation with history power reflects the psychological principles of liking and similarity.  People typically attribute more positive characteristics to others they like and feel similar to; conversely, people attribute less positive characteristics to those they don’t like and feel dissimilar to.  So we tend to believe that people we like are smarter and more knowledgeable than people we don’t like, whom we might consider average or even below average in knowledge and intelligence.

Knowledge Power Correlations with Influencing Skills

Table 2a, 2b, and 2c show the correlations between knowledge power and twenty-eight skills people use when they attempt to influence others.  These skills are directly related to how effective they are at their influence attempts.  In addition to identifying the strongest, moderate, and weakest correlations between knowledge power and these skills, these tables also indicate whether the gap between those highest and lowest on knowledge power ratings is significant.  The skills with the highest correlations and significant gaps are the ones with the greatest contributions to high knowledge power.  In short, if you want to build your knowledge power, focus on those skills.

Table 2a. Strongest Correlations between Knowledge Power and Influencing Skills

wdt_ID Influencing Skill Type of Skill Significant Gap?
1 Logical reasoning Communications and reasoning Yes
2 Supporting and encouraging others Interpersonal Yes
3 Finding creative alternatives Communication and reasoning Yes
4 Using a compelling tone of voice Assertiveness Yes
5 Behaving self-confidently Assertiveness No
6 Building rapport and trust Interpersonal No
7 Speaking conversationally Communication and reasoning No
8 Listening Communication and reasoning No
9 Persisting Assertiveness No
Influencing Skill Type of Skill Significant Gap?

Table 2b. Moderate Correlations between Knowledge Power and Influencing Skills

wdt_ID Influencing Skill Type of Skill Significant Gap?
1 Analyzing and displaying data Communication and reasoning Yes
2 Taking the initiative to show others how to do things Communication and reasoning Yes
3 Probing: Asking insightful questions Communication and reasoning Yes
4 Building consensus Interaction Yes
5 Having insight into what others value Interpersonal Yes
6 Conveying energy and enthusiasm Communication and reasoning No
7 Showing genuine interest in others Interpersonal No
8 Asserting Assertiveness No
9 Willingness to do favors for others Interaction No
10 Being friendly and sociable with strangers Interpersonal No
Influencing Skill Type of Skill Significant Gap?

Table 2c. Weakest Correlations between Knowledge Power and Influencing Skills

wdt_ID Influencing Skill Type of Skill Significant Gap?
1 Using authority without appearing heavy handed Assertiveness Yes
2 Building close relationships Interpersonal No
3 Sensitivity to others' feelings and needs Interpersonal No
4 Bargaining or negotiating Interaction No
5 Resolving conflicts and disagreements among others Interaction No
6 Using assertive non-verbals Assertiveness No
7 Convincing people to help you influence others Interaction No
8 Behaving authoritatively Assertiveness No
9 Willingness to ask others for favors Interaction No
Influencing Skill Type of Skill Significant Gap?

It is no surprise that logical reasoning is the strongest correlated skill with knowledge power nor that a significant gap exists between those scoring highest and lowest on knowledge power.  Reasoning skills are fundamental to knowledge, as is finding creative alternatives.  Underlying creativity is the ability to find connections between seemingly disparate things, thereby creating something new.  But the strong correlation between knowledge power and “supporting and encouraging others” is unexpected.  When we recall that power is something granted to us by others, then perhaps this strong correlation makes more sense.  When we support and encourage others, they may grant us more knowledge power than they would otherwise with someone who is not supportive or encouraging.  Another curious strong correlation is between knowledge power and listening skill.  On the one hand, good listeners tend to be good learners, so they are better at acquiring new information than poor listeners; on the other hand, good listeners tend to give their opinions at moments when those opinions add to the conversation.  Poor listeners, who are often also unrestrained talkers, often speak much and say little, which would inhibit the perception that they are knowledgeable.

Among the other notable findings from these tables is that knowledge power is correlated most with communication and reasoning skills and then assertiveness skills.  There are weaker correlations with interpersonal skills and especially interaction skills.  People who rated highly in knowledge skills are more logical and better communicators.  Moreover, they are more effective at asserting themselves, in particular at behaving self-confidently and persisting.

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