Book Review: 'The Power of Onlyness' by Nilofer Merchant
The Power of Onlyness: Make Your Wild Ideas Mighty Enough to Dent the World Nilofer Merchant Viking/An imprint of Penguin Random House (August 2017)
“Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” Margaret Mead
To what does the title of this book refer? Nilofer Merchant explains: “No one doubts that ideas are central to this economy, that creativity is needed to solve the many problems at hand. Yet, far too often, people are told that being the ‘only one’ makes their ideas marginal instead of meaningful. Onlyness is about reclaiming the idea of each person’s ‘only’ as a strength. It braids together the two key elements. First: You stand in a spot in the world that ONLY you stand in, a function of your history, and experiences, visions, and hopes. Second: Now, you can scale that by shared connectedNESS, so the capacity to add value is widely dispersed. S in 2012, I coined a new term…ONLYNESS. Through the power of onlyness, an individual conceives an idea, nurtures it with the help of a community, and makes that idea powerful enough to dent the world.”
In this context, I am again reminded of an observation by Howard Aiken: “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” Of course, if the person with a “wild idea” lacks sufficient faith in it, perhaps assuming that someone else has already thought of it, there will be little (if any) effort to advance it.
Merchant suggests that the problem is that many (if not most) people do not accept, indeed embrace their own onlyness, whatever the given idea, insight, vision, or dream may be. That is among the main reasons why so many (most?) people are unable to accept another person’s onlyness.
In this book, these are among the objectives that Merchant achieves:
o She explains why a person’s “only” matters and how it is not “a path to loneliness but instead a way to be powerfully connected” with one’s self as well as with others.
o She describes the power of us, “not only how to find one’s co-denters but why having this tribe to belong to is crucially important,” for any idea to have a chance to succeed.
o She explores how many people can act as one to achieve productive, perhaps breakthrough high-impact results “without sacrificing the individual meaning that initiated the journey.”
It is no coincidence that most of the companies annually ranked among those that are most highly admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable with the greatest cap value in their competitive marketplace. However different these companies may be in most respects, all of them have a workplace culture within which most of their people think and behave in terms of first-person plural pronouns.
This is precisely what Nilofer Merchant has in mind when referring to “shared connectedNESS.”
Editor's note: This review was written by Robert Morris and has been published with his permission.Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.