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What Westworld teaches us about unchecked power

Unchecked power fosters an atmosphere of mistrust

Ford’s extreme levels of unchecked power create a disconnected atmosphere within the company; one where a senior member of management is not trusted by his colleagues. The result is a significant amount of espionage-like activity within Delos.

Transparency in modern business serves great importance. It produces an environment of stronger communication, allows more dynamic ideas to flow and a clearer picture of the company’s current status to form. Without transparency, there is instability; another trait businesses want to avoid.

Creating stability through transparency is all about trust in the idea that information can and will flow freely. But in a situation where somebody has power like Ford’s, information cannot flow freely because there is a member of the team capable of taking inappropriate control whenever they decide.

Avoidance of unchecked power in business

Ford makes a poignant observation about how he managed to attain such power within Westworld, talking about how the representatives (and investors) of Delos were merely guests within a place where he was a god.

He was not wrong. Ford was careful to ensure he maintained control over the park. Blinded by the opportunity for financial success, other representatives allowed him to keep the power he demanded, which ultimately led to him having many of them killed, his park broken free of their grip and presumably the end of Delos as a brand.

For somebody to have such unchecked powers, there often have to be enablers. Our earlier example, Mayer was not a founder or significant part of Yahoo! until 2012, but given her previous experience, she was offered unbridled power that resulted in the company’s undoing. So how can we take the lessons from Westworld and ensure businesses in the real world don’t suffer the fate of Delos?

Don?t give any one person full control: Ford cannot be replaced because he has a level of control over the park that nobody else does, because he built it himself. Giving one person complete power over a product or service means they become indispensable. Knowledge of indispensability creates leverage which can be used against your business. Ensuring that no one person holds all the keys to a particular business asset is vital.

Never allow a director to maintain majority control: This idea doesn’t directly relate to Ford, but still holds relevance. Business control can often come down to majority shares, which means if one person controls 51 per cent or more, it becomes almost impossible to enforce change without their approval. If they are the problem you want to fight back against, you have little power to do so.

Walk away if you have to: In his confrontation with Cullen, Ford remarks that there were others before her. This is not the first time the company and Ford have come to blows. However, it seems they capitulated time and time again, allowing him to continue his behaviour. The longer they?ve carried on down this road, the more trapped they?ve become. Don?t facilitate such practices if you can avoid it. If there is no changing how somebody operates, walk away while you can.

Russell Smith is the founder of RS Chartered Accountants

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