Channeling New Power

May 8, 2018 4:00 PM ET
Blog

Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms have written a new book entitled New Power: How Power Works in our Hyperconnected World and How to Make it Work for You, which builds off a Harvard Business Review article, Understanding New Power, written by these authors in 2014.

Jeremy Heimans is a co-founder and CEO of Purpose, a social business that builds movements, and Henry Timms is executive director of the 92nd Street Y and one of the co-founders of Giving Tuesday in 2012. Together, they have summarized what we’ve been hearing about for years: how the Internet and technology have changed the game for all of us – moving the world from “old power” institutions like governments and traditional corporations to “new power” movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo and companies like Airbnb and Lyft.

Heimans and Timms equate “old power” with currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it’s jealously guarded. It’s closed, inaccessible and leader-driven. On the other hand, “new power” is like a current. It is made by many. It’s open, participatory and peer-driven. The goal of new power is not to guard it, but to channel it.

Old power values such well-worn concepts as:

  • Managerialism, institutionalism, and representative governance
  • Exclusivity, competition, authority, and resource consolidation
  • Discretion, confidentiality, and separation between private and public spheres
  • Professionalism and specialization
  • Long-term affiliation and loyalty and less overall participation.

While new power values:

  • Informal, opt-in decision making, self-organization, and networked governance
  • Open source collaboration, crowd wisdom, and sharing
  • Radical transparency
  • Do-it-yourself, maker culture
  • Short-term, conditional affiliations, and more overall participation.

The authors divide the players into the following groups:

  • Castles: those organizations that use old power models and have old power values. Apple falls into this category because of the closed nature of it product design and aggressive protection of its intellectual property.
  • Connectors: those organizations that have a new power model, but old power sensibilities. This quadrant includes entities like Facebook, whose decisions are centralized but whose model depends on active participation of its followers.
  • Cheerleaders: organizations that use old power models, but embrace new power values like Patagonia, which has a traditional business model, but embraces transparency.
  • Crowds: these organizations are peer-driven and celebrate the power of the crowd. Wikipedia, Bitcoin, Kickstarter, Lyft and the Huffington Post are all examples of these types of organizations.

For many companies and corporate social responsibility programs, the real trick is in combining these old power and new power ideas into programs and products that help to enhance traditional commercial enterprises and competition while taking advantage of user participation and ideas to generate movements rather than closed customer segments.

One such example would be the Small Business Saturday movement. First introduced by American Express during the height of the financial crisis in 2010, this “new power” initiative sought to encourage shoppers to shop at their local small businesses on the Saturday between Black Friday and Cyber Monday after the traditional Thanksgiving holiday. The idea was a direct response to our small business customers who told us that their biggest challenge was getting people in their stores – especially during this highly critical shopping period.

From the beginning, Small Business Saturday was conceived as a movement that American Express would not “own.” While we were the founder and initial supporter, our hope was that the idea would be embraced by other companies and governments, and that any payment method (not just the American Express Card) would be used to purchase goods from small businesses that day – the thinking being that if small merchants thrived, we would thrive too. We didn’t necessarily want to “disappear” as the organizer, but we definitely wanted to be in the background.

This movement has been widely embraced by communities around the world. Now observed in places like Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom as well, the “shop small” movement regularly attracts millions of shoppers and participants and has demonstrated results in increasing spending during these periods. So, after eight years, Small Business Saturday is still going strong, and it will continue with or without us.

While trust in “old power” institutions like governments and corporations is reportedly on the wane, millions of people are actively participating in “new power” movements such as #MeToo and March for Our Lives. It behooves companies – and CSR professionals – to find ways of embracing the new without sacrificing the old. Or, as IKEA might say, people value what they help build.

If you have a question or comment, please follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and start a conversation there. Thanks for reading and sharing this blog posting with friends and colleagues.

CSR NOW! IS A WEEKLY BLOG BY TIMOTHY J. MCCLIMON, PRESIDENT OF THE AMERICAN EXPRESS FOUNDATION, DESIGNED TO GET AT WHAT'S HAPPENING IN CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY TODAY -- FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF A CORPORATE PRACTITIONER.