NANCY’S BLOG: Understanding “New Power”.

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We intended to take this week off for rest and connection, but I came across a Harvard Business Review story entitled Understanding “New Power” on Friday and am eager to share it.

It’s a thoughtful and well-analyzed piece written by two folks well versed in creating social movements and stoking new ideas, Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms. And it helps illuminate a fundamental shift many corporate leaders we meet are still challenged to either see or embrace.

Heads up: it’s long! While all is worth reading, here are the highlights…and why I think they are worth paying attention to. The article begins where many of these stories do….

“We all sense that power is shifting in the world. We see increasing political protest, a crisis in representation and governance, and upstart businesses upending traditional industries. But the nature of this shift tends to be either wildly romanticized or dangerously underestimated.

…Both views are wrong. They confine us to a narrow debate about technology in which either everything is changing or nothing is. In reality, a much more interesting and complex transformation is just beginning, one driven by a growing tension between two distinct forces: old power and new power. 

Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures. 

New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

Importantly, these authors point to the genesis of old power versus new power:

Power, as British philosopher Bertrand Russell defined it, is simply “the ability to produce intended effects.” Old power and new power produce these effects differently. 

Old power models tend to require little more than consumption and are enabled by what people or organizations own, know, or control that nobody else does—once old power models lose that, they lose their advantage.

New power taps into people’s growing capacity—and desire—to participate in ways that go beyond consumption. They are enabled by peer coordination and the agency of the crowd—without participation, they are just empty vessels. 

This is a thesis that my colleagues and I continue to advance as a part of REX and as John Hagel and others have been talking about for several years.

Jeremy and Henry advance the conversation by laying out a Participation Scale that ranges from Sharing and Shaping to Funding and then on to Producing and potentially Co-owning.

What’s distinctive about these participatory behaviors is that they effectively “upload” power from a source that is diffuse but enormous—the passions and energies of the many. Technology underpins these models, but what drives them is a heightened sense of human agency.

 Amen! This concept of “agency” is huge and one you will hear more and more about. It is looming ever more present in the work we do, as it is emerging as a powerful leadership fuel cell (more on this to come…).

Back to the article, the authors continue that new power also creates an emerging set of values and expectations:

“Power is not just flowing differently; people are feeling and thinking differently about it… Today, people increasingly expect to actively shape or create many aspects of their lives. These expectations are giving rise to a new set of values in a number of realms

They again go into detail describing the ascending values of Governance, Collaboration, ‘DIO’ (do it ourselves/”making”), Transparency and Affiliation.

What is especially fascinating to me is the way these guys map power models and values together to produce a framework for better understanding current organizations. Yes, I’m a sucker for a great quadrant analysis, and here they name each provocatively as:

Castles:  in the bottom-left quadrant are organizations that use old power models and have old power values. E.g, Apple

Connectors:  in the top-left quadrant are organizations with a new power model—for example, a network connecting many users or makers—but old power sensibilities. E.g, Facebook 

Cheerleaders:  in the bottom-right quadrant are organizations that use old power models but embrace new power values. E.g., Patagonia,  

Crowds: in the top-right quadrant are the “purest” new power actors. Their core operating models are peer-driven, and their values celebrate the power of the crowd. E.g, Wikipedia, Etsy, Bitcoin, Lyft.

I encourage all to spend more time thinking about this — is it true? And what does it mean that one of the most successful companies in the world is a Castle?

As they point out, some have moved between quadrants and here one our favorite brands, TED, gets a big shout-out for the launch and cultivation of TEDx (independently organized events around the world, enthusiastically created by thousands of volunteers under license from TED) which has completely transformed the way in which the organization stays zealously focused on the mission to “share ideas worth spreading”.

As all good HBR authors do, Jeremy and Henry offer tangible ways traditional organizations can develop new power capacity:  

Audit your power.

A telling exercise is to plot your organization on the new power compass—both where you are today and where you want to be in five years. Plot your competitors on the same grid. Ask yourself framing questions: How are we/they employing new power models? And how are we/they embracing new power values? To understand how your organization is deploying new power, consider which participation behaviors you are enabling. This process starts a conversation about new realities and how your organization needs to respond. It doesn’t always lead to a resolute determination to deploy new power—in fact, it can help organizations identify the aspects of their core models and values that they don’t want to change.

Occupy yourself.

What if there were an Occupy-style movement directed at you? Imagine a large group of aggrieved people, camped in the heart of your organization, able to observe everything that you do. What would they think of the distribution of power in your organization and its legitimacy? What would they resent and try to subvert? Figure it out, and then Occupy yourself. This level of introspection has to precede any investment in new power mechanisms. (Companies should be especially careful about building engagement platforms without developing engagement cultures, a recipe for failure.) 

Develop a movement mindset.

Old power organizations need to do more than just look inward; they also need to think differently about how they reach out. Organizations that have built their business models on consumption or other minimal participation behaviors will find this challenging but increasingly important.

I am grateful to these guys (who I don’t know personally) for taking the time to share what they have seen and are actively building through their work. We agree.

There is, however, one piece of this that is still missing for me: the power of heart. 

There is a shift in power taking place. But it is not simply about embracing advancing technologies or authentically becoming comfortable with crowd sourced collaboration or even new demographics. These are all mechanisms that empower us to step back and reclaim our humanity.

As we continue to see in all the corporate growth work we do, our strength lies squarely in developing two critical companions to this thinking laid out here:

  • Our ability to accept vulnerability in ourselves and each other. Brené Brown has encouraged via her brilliant TED(x) talk (seen over 17 million times!) and she’s even handed us a manual in her subsequent book, Daring Greatly.
  • And most importantly our capacity to honestly and whole-heartedly demonstrate love, compassion and empathy (vs merely promise it).

We contend that the this shift to new power can be seen in the forms it takes, the values it cultivates, the leadership capacities it generates….and intent that fuels it.  

Wishing you a bold week ahead as we all strive to make the last 30 days of 2014 really count!



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