We’ve become passive consumers. Someone else has the power to decide what we can have and when we can have it. We either take it or leave it. We can have any colour, as Henry Ford so memorably said, as long as it’s black. This is a classic ‘old power’ situation, where power is a currency held by a few. Our role is to be grateful for what we are given. Until now.
The rise of digital technology has unleashed a wave of mass participation, in which people are driven increasingly not just to consume ideas and products, but to engage in their creation. And it’s having a profound impact on how we do things and on what will survive and what will thrive. Because this ‘new power’ is not held by a select few, but shared by the many.
In their bestselling book New Power, social entrepreneurs Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms chart the rise of this novel phenomenon and explore its impact on our society.
They explain what makes for a ‘sticky’ idea and why some campaigns spread across social media like wildfire while others fizzle out like a damp squib. And they provide plenty of examples along the way.
More importantly, though, the authors look beneath all of this to find out what it’s telling us about the changing nature of power itself.
They identify the values that lie at the heart of the ‘new power’ approach to doing things, from collaboration and networked self-organisation to radical transparency and short-term conditional affiliation.
They look at the actors in a new power community, including the ‘super-participants’ whose energy and contributions drive things forward and motivate others. And they consider how individuals and organisations can build their own new power ‘crowd’ by connecting with the right people, lowering barriers to participation and encouraging those who engage with the idea or campaign to move up the particpation scale.
The authors also provide sage advice on when a new power approach might be appropriate. It needs to have a clear need for crowd involvement, for example. And those initiating the campaign need to have a legitimacy with their audience and to be ready to cede control to the crowd and to follow its lead. All things, one might suspect, that the people who brought us Boaty McBoatface may wish they’d thought about sooner.
To be honest, I was a bit sceptical when I first started reading this book. So much nowadays seems to be measured in engagement, participation and ‘likes’, rather than in concrete action or outcomes. But in New Power, Heimans and Timms set out in a clear, engaging and well-illustrated way how we can bridge this gap. How we can use this new model of engagement to bring about real, positive and lasting change.
You can buy New Power from your local independent bookshop. If you don’t have a local independent bookshop, you can order it from Alistair and Chloe at Books on the Hill in Clevedon, Somerset, which is my local independent bookshop.