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Storytelling and seduction: Jean Baudrillard

Jean Baudrillard brings out the similarities of persuasion to seduction when he notes that the seducer typically thinks he is the active party but in fact is in thrall to the seducee. The genuine seducer has to devote all his attentions to the seduction for a period to accomplish the seduction, and in the process, is effectively enslaved by the seducee until the seduction is successful. The seducer’s calling is related to the extermination of the seducee's natural power by an artificial power of the seducer. He will deliberately undertake to equal or surpass the natural power to which, in spite of all that makes him appear as the seducer, he has succumbed from the beginning.

In the same way, executives usually see and portray themselves as the active party in instigating change in their organizations, but often they are in thrall to the organization, and the "seduction" is in some ways about setting themselves free.

  • Baudrillard draws a distinction between genuine seduction which he sees as different from the insincere seducer (who pursues seduction for seduction's sake, which is not really seduction at all) i.e. someone who says “I do not want to love, cherish or even please you, but to seduce you – and my only concern is not that you love or please me, but that you are seduced.” This kind of insincere seduction is not only unattractive, but also very ineffective, since the seducee usually sees through it quickly, and then the seducer has an ugly situation on his hands.
  • The true seducer like Casanova is really a lover who genuinely wants only the happiness of the beloved, so that the beloved typically cherishes the relationship forever.
  • Baudrillard argues that every successful seduction ends with the murder of the object in that it creates a new identity for the beloved.
  • In this sense, seduction is always – and this is a variation on the same theme – an attempt to cast a spell over the seducee, hopefully a friendly spell, not merely seeking to avenge the spell that the other exercises over the seducer.
  • One inevitable result of successful organizational change is that the organization attains a new identity, and in this sense loses its old identity, which in the process dies. When the transformation is the result of a conscious act, the old self can be said to be murdered.
  • Baudrillard argues that seduction is about the creative use of weakness. To seduce is to appear weak to the seducee. To seduce is to render the seducee weak. We seduce through our own weakness, never with strong signs or powers. And we seduce through using the weakness of the seducee. In seduction, we exploit both dimensions of weakness, and this is what gives seduction its strength. People respond more easily to weakness than to the battering ram.
  • This is a difficult lesson for senior executives to learn. Having great power, they are tempted to try to use their power to get their staff to accept their ideas, not realizing that power is useful for getting attention, but not for generating enduring enthusiasm for new ideas. Genuine leadership shows vulnerability and hesitates shyly: in so doing, it gains privileged access to the backdoor of the mind.
  • To learn about the delicate relationship of power, seduction and leadership, read The Secret Language of Leadership.


    Stephen Denning, The Secret Language of Leadership: How Leader's Inspire Action Through Narrative (Jossey-Bass, October 2007): chapters 1 and 3.

    See Stephen Denning, The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations. Boston, London, Butterworth Heinemann, October 2000, chapters 4-7, 11-12.

    Jean Baudrillard, Seduction, (1979)

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