As we look at the spectacular disruptive power of social movements these past few years, from Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring uprisings to citizen movements that blocked major resource projects, there is a temptation to write them off as novelties, edge cases or the beginner’s luck of techno savvy upstarts.
Defense analysts, however, have warned of the rising power of such forces for decades. Already back in ’93, Rand Corporation analysts released “Cyberwar is Coming” which essentially foretold how the networked world, with its growing store of information, links between interest groups and rapidly evolving technological platforms, would come to de-stabilize established power and politics.
Recently, the Harvard Business Review published an article titled “Understanding New Power”. One of its authors, Jeremy Heimans, is the also co-founder of Avaaz.org, an online petition network that now counts over 40 million members. Despite these tech roots, the article’s analysis eschews crediting the Internet and new technologies for the rise of new movements. Instead, it provides a fascinating look at the confrontation of “old power” and “new power”.
Essentially, new power is the reflection of a set of rising cultural norms and expectations most widely shared by those under 30 which, the authors point out to us, currently comprise more than half the world’s population. This cohort’s new way of being in the world, which drives everything from networked social movements to the sharing economy, is characterized by shared values such as transparency, collaboration and collective creation.
New power inevitably confronts old power and chafes at the disconnect between the two. This is the stuff that ‘social media fails’ are mostly made of as old school corporations awkwardly try to engage with ‘the crowd’. Given demographics and the startling rise of new power models in both activism and business, it would make a lot of sense for old powers to think about how they can embrace new power and chart a path for productive coexistence.
On this, Heimans and Timms, authors of the HBR article, offer a three step guide for old powers wanting to cultivate new power relationships. Such old schoolers should (1) assess their place in a shifting power environment, (2) channel their harshest critic, and (3) develop a mobilization capacity. I’ll let them explain it to you fully in their article: Understanding “New Power”.
For visual thinkers, below is an excellent Ted talk by Jeremy Heimans that summarizes what has been discussed above: