Shaping Our Influences, as They Shape Us

Part 3

Any influence both shapes and limits. The sculptor Giacometti described how hard it is to stop seeing reality in the way our strongest predecessors have seen it:

It’s true that people see things very much in terms of what others have seen. It’s simply a question of the originality of a person’s vision, which is to see, for example, and really to see, a landscape instead of seeing a Pissarro. That’s not as easy as it sounds, either. [i]

Harold Bloom captures the way influences are both encompassed and surpassed as a hallmark of creative endeavor:

That depth of inwardness in a strong writer constitutes the strength that wards off the massive weight of past achievement, lest every originality be crushed before it becomes manifest. Great writing is always rewriting or revisionism and is founded upon a reading that clears space for the self, or that so works as to reopen old works to our fresh sufferings. [ii]

To a degree, we choose our influences, and then they shape our choices. What influences are worth choosing, and how do we absorb them without being consumed by them? How do we place disparate influences in counterpoint, so as to be able to achieve a synthesis? How do we as leaders become influences that bring out the potential of others – strong enough to shape, but not smother? What people will make the most of that influence, and how will we know them?

[i] Alberto Giacometti, quoted by James Lord in A Giacometti Portrait
[ii] Harold Bloom, The Western Canon, 11.

Image by Tiffany Franke –

Niko Canner Profile Cropped
Niko Canner

Niko Canner founded Incandescent in 2013. His work spans the firm’s three major areas of focus: serving as a thought partner to leaders of large enterprises on strategy, organization and innovation; advising founders on the development of their ventures; and partnering with foundations and non-profits engaged in systems change.

View Niko's profile


On and Against Striving


Three Lines to a Bird: Reflections on My Own Priorities for Professional Development