Understanding “New Power”

Article by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms in Harvard Business Review: “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.

There are those who cherish giddy visions of a new techno-utopia in which increased connectivity yields instant democratization and prosperity. The corporate and bureaucratic giants will be felled and the crowds coronated, each of us wearing our own 3D-printed crown. There are also those who have seen this all before. Things aren’t really changing that much, they say. Twitter supposedly toppled a dictator in Egypt, but another simply popped up in his place. We gush over the latest sharing-economy start-up, but the most powerful companies and people seem only to get more powerful.

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.

The battle and the balancing between old and new power will be a defining feature of society and business in the coming years. In this article, we lay out a simple framework for understanding the underlying dynamics at work and how power is really shifting: who has it, how it is distributed, and where it is heading….”

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