New Power – How it’s changing the 21st Century – and why you need to know

Well received by critics last year, this important book is about how our capacity to influence – and now on a large scale – has changed and how people are organising themselves online with an increasing desire to share ideas, participate and build communities. Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms bring their start-up know-how to this work about “how to navigate and thrive in a world defined by the battle and balancing of two big forces. We call them old power and new power”.

As explained, old power works like a currency that’s held by a few, is jealously guarded and is leader-driven. It’s about what is owned, known and controlled – an old model that asks us to comply and consume. New power, on the other hand, works like a current, is open, participatory and peer-driven. It invites us to create content and shape democratic communities.

The rigour of this fascinating book lies not only in the analysis of these clashing values, but in the detailed examples and success stories of how new power is having an impact. One case highlights how NASA invited the crowd to come up with an innovative solution to a problem, rather than relying on their own in-house experts. A retired telecommunications engineer helped them out. More concerning are the stories of how new tools are being misused destructively, as with ISIS.

There is practical advice for those aiming to build an online community or start a grassroots movement, including tips on developing strategy and generating funding. For those trying to integrate new power models and values with their old model, you will find exploratory questions around leadership, control and commitment. For example, it took Lego a decade to transform from its sales crisis to leveraging a user-driven community.

To guarantee success, as the authors wisely conclude, we need to combine old with new, shifting between the two as the situation and strategy require. But this demands a capacity and willingness to be flexible – as well as to relinquish power and control – big challenges for some leaders. The authors’ last comment certainly has urgency – about our need to integrate profit with a higher social purpose – one that promotes deeper connection, civic engagement and democracy.

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