The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Own Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World by Nilofer Merchant
Innovation expert Nilofer Merchant's The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World is a book that dares you to take a risk on yourself, for yourself.
Based on the premise of 'onlyness' or the position that you alone occupy, a "function of your distinct history and experiences, visions and hopes." Beyond the typical organizational paradigms and hierarchies, there is new terrain where ideas can be liberated, new networks and team structures that allow people to equally unite behind a common purpose. The question is whether we can seize our onlyness to accomplish something with others who are ready to contribute their onlyness to the same cause. In so doing, it becomes possible to 'make a dent' on the world as it is today, for the sake of a different world tomorrow.
Merchant gives a number of examples in three parts: 1) Owning your own onlyness to make a dent, 2) Finding others who are interested in the same and willing to contribute and 3) Mobilizing those others meaningfully for impact. In each section, she also illustrates what doesn't work. For instance, she posited that Occupy Wall Street did not necessarily work, despite having gathered some momentum. Once they had a group of united people, it was not clear what it was they were uniting behind, and this diversion led to their division. Alternatively, Black Lives Matter was a group of people that did manage to define clear asks, and it is because of this that they have continued to build momentum.
Onlyness does, however, seem to centre on the individual, and a capitalist business model. To counter this impression, which is somewhat inherent it its very name - onlyness - Merchant does emphasize the importance of the individual being the smallest unit of a group, and the power to make a dent relies on the group, and on what can be co-created.
Dreamily, the concept grabs me. I wish my own work life reflected the models proposed here, where strategic and creative thinking was shared by all, and fewer roles required only the manual labour needed to execute the job. Logically, I struggle a bit to imagine how to realize that which she presents in nine examples here. They remain exceptions to a hard and fast rule I have encountered in every organization - decision-making and creative power is held by few, and the rest are simply meant to comply. I am tired of it, but, despite my onlyness, I feel powerless to change it.
Something from the book has gotten under my skin though. She asks, if there are five frogs on a log and one decides to jump, how many frogs are on the log? Five, because deciding to jump is not the same thing as jumping. For a long time, I have been the frog that has decided to jump. Whether because of my onlyness or something else, I hope I jump soon. How it has always been is certainly not how it should always be.