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I see the term "high-powered people" quite a lot, and realise I don't know what it means.

  • A trivial gloss of it is "powerful" (but it's more useful as marker of a tendency toward power).
  • So another trivial one would be "having characteristics that bring success (in organisational life)".

What characteristics are those? Intelligence, motivation, charm and leadership spangles, tolerance of long hours, self-esteem, appetite for money or status or ascent. Or else sociopathy, narcissism, risk-taking, obsessiveness, 'the sterility that waits on practicality'.

Well, I don't have most of those things. Insofar as I know what I want from life, I want to know things, to make things more knowable, and to do good. (A lot of good, like 30,000 QALYs of good. That's not average: if we grant parents benevolent aims, then raising two kids is like 40 - 140 QALYs, if you and they are unusually lucky with genetics and peers. And that's about the sum of what many people aim to achieve.)

But if I want to do that much, then I'll need money, and to get money you have to look high-powered. And around we go.

What one wants is to be able to talk with a diverse club of smart people, arrange to do short one-off research projects and simulations, publish papers or capture intellectual property quickly and easily, and move on to another conversation. Quickly. Easily. For a living. Can't do that in industry. Can't do that in the Academy. Yet in my experience, [we] all want it.
― Bill Tozier