john powell Photo by Eric Arnold

john a. powell

Director, Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society

john powell on consciousness, living beyond the cognitive space and bringing love into the public discourse.

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Perspective Series

What did you eat for breakfast this morning? Tea

Where are you from? Detroit

Who are your heroes? My mother, my father, and Nelson Mandela.

What would be a perfect day for you? I like a mix of quiet and interaction. I also like a mix of urban and nature. On a perfect day I am fully aware, present, and engaged in loving connection with people and the earth.

What advice would you have for an emerging leader? I would advise emerging leaders to work outside their areas of interest and expertise. This allows for more opportunities for growth and mentorship. Finding a mentor is the next best advice I have for emerging leaders.

What compels you to do this work? We are here to do work and live out our interactions and relationships with others. I try not to separate vocation vs. living. I am not so much compelled to do this work, as I am intuiting and responding to the universe. I feel that I am here to provide caring. Play is also work because it is all a part of the human experience. I follow the needs of my mind and soul, which naturally change over time.

What do you wish you had known five years ago? Life cannot be contained in a conscious, cognitive level. So much of the emerging work on mind science shows that the vast majority of life and stimuli are processed subconsciously. Our brains respond to 11 billion bytes of information per second. We can only be consciously aware of 40 of these at best. Living beyond the cognitive space is living fully.

What is your greatest fear? To live a wasted life would be a real tragedy.

What is your current state of mind? It’s very hot where I am so I have heat on my mind.

What is your greatest achievement? Bringing a real discussion on love into the public discourse.

What is your greatest disappointment? There was a time when I was in my 20s and drifted away from a friend. I am not pleased with how I walked away from this.

What leadership challenge keeps you up at night? I’m a fairly good sleeper, so nothing keeps me up at night. Of course, there are many pressing challenges that worry me. For example, climate change. This is a huge leadership challenge and many of our existing structures are standing in the way of making real progress on climate change. Organizing leadership and rebuilding structures is no easy task.

john powell is the director of the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society and a Professor of Law, African American, and Ethnic Studies at U.C. Berkeley.