My friend Henry Timms, who runs the 92nd Street Y and founded #GivingTuesday, has just co-authored a “must-read” book with Jeremy Heimans, co-founder and CEO of Purpose, a social action consultancy, entitled "New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World – and How to Make It Work for You." Their thesis is that the power equation is shifting in a fundamental way, from Old Power, which is held by the few and is leader-driven, to New Power, made by many in a way that is open and participatory. There are profound implications for our industry. The key points made by the authors:
1. The Future Will Be a Battle over Mobilization — The best leaders will be those who can “channel the participatory energy of those around them.” We increasingly see companies and CEOs ending up on the wrong side – and the right side – of these surges of new power.
2. New Power Business Models Are Fueled by Participation — Some of the most impressive new businesses, such as Airbnb, work so well because they facilitate participation and heighten the agency of their communities. But this capacity isn’t just critical for platforms. All businesses need to consider how they contend with a world where people increasingly believe in their “inalienable right to participate.”
3. Businesses Need to “Occupy Themselves” — There has long been a debate between the lawyers and PR people around what information should be shared. Timms and Heimans characterize it as a tussle between the Need to Know mindset and the Right to Know mindset. But the reality of a WikiLeaks-era is that institutions must get ahead of the story, to reveal all at once instead of dribbling out the truth. Timms and Heimans encourage organizations to “Occupy Themselves,” embracing radical transparency and surfacing difficult issues on their terms.
4. For Ideas to Spread, They Need to Be A.C.E. — The authors suggest that for ideas to take off in a New Power world they need three qualities. Ideas must be: Actionable, they ask people to take an action; Connected, they create “a peer connection to set off a network effect”; Extensible, they “can be customized, remixed and shaped by the participant.” Timms’ #GivingTuesday is a perfect example of such a concept.
5. Super-Participants Matter Most — The energy of a New Power community is derived primarily from its super-users, the most active contributors. The authors cite Reddit, where super-participants are the moderators who shape conversations and content. Managing these highly involved users is the key to “platform culture...the shared norms, capabilities and values among the providers.”
6. We Need to Build a “Full-Stack Society” — The authors argue that one of the main reasons that “people don’t trust institutions is because institutions don’t trust people.” They lay out a vision for a society where people enjoy much more meaningful and frequent interactions with healthcare, government, media and beyond.
Timms and Heimans have given us a precious handbook for the triumph of earned communications over the classic paid model. It is up to us to change our approach, to invest in an educated debate instead of selling a proposition through simple images. As Timms recently told me: “In the Old Power world we would all measure ‘impressions,’ how many people we have reached. The New Power world, instead, should measure ‘expressions,’ the ways we have encouraged people to participate.”
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.