“Power, as philosopher Bertrand Russell puts it, is the ‘ability to produce intended effects,’” write Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms in New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World – and How to Make It Work for You (Doubleday, 2018).
Isn’t each of our organizations working toward power in that we seek to produce positive outcomes for our members, our communities, or our industries?
They state old power “works like currency. It is held by few.” Its characteristics are formal governance, competition, discretion, and long-term loyalty. The rules of old power involved grabbing the opportunity, guarding it fiercely, and keeping it confidential.
“The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it,” they state. “Like water or electricity, it’s most forceful when it surges.”
New power values of self-organization, open-sourcing, radical transparency, and overall participation go beyond consumption and move toward participation.
Their manifesto is not simply about technology; it’s about the people and organizations that are embracing it to create solutions. The authors understand this having founded Purpose, GetUp, Avaaz, and #GivingTuesday. Their experiences in affecting change by creating affiliations with like-minded individuals throughout the world is the practical basis for their book.
Technology has had a great impact on this change. But Heimans and Timms claim our behaviors, attitudes, and expectations are changing based on these new experiences. People do not trust authority any longer. Just look at the explosion of new social movements like Black Lives Matter, #MeToo, LGBT+ rights, anti-bullying, and others.
Again, our organizations exist to provide “power” to our members. Are we prepared to move from an old model toward the new experience?
The authors emphasize that the best organizations create a hybrid that blends old and new power structures. Heimans is quoted as saying, “Our argument is not: ‘Throw away these old power skills that you’ve learned, the expertise, the understanding of how to navigate traditional organizational structures.’ We all still need those skills. The key is learning how and when to use old and new.”
How do we incorporate it into our daily activities to advance our organization?
Embrace flexibility in your organization – when appropriate. We have heard that our organizations need to be adaptive. Shared interest groups and micro-focused programs may be the tool to embrace targeted audiences within your organization (e.g., young professionals, veterans, bilingual professionals).
Create a team environment between the board of directors, the CEO, and the organization’s employees and volunteers. Open conversation that includes feedback loops throughout creates co-ownership. Engaging and listening to the members also identifies opportunities for the organization to innovate.
Open the organization’s activities to the membership. Transparency is key to the new power paradigm. Social media has led to an increase in public discourse. The opportunity to share policy and information — and to communicate with members in a method they prefer — is available at minimal cost with a great return.
Some good news, according to the authors, is that new power is about affiliation. Today’s social movements are successful because they allow interested parties to affiliate. But that affiliation is loose and makes organizations vulnerable. Understanding the new power and employing it strategically can open your organization to greater opportunity. Continue to play to your strengths, but open the program to be more for your members.
The question remains: Will you and your organization control and shape your mission and vision? Is this your opportunity to break through the noise and create a new path for your future?