How do we make sense of our chaotic, hyper-connected world?
From the out-of-nowhere victory of Donald Trump, to the insurgency of movements like #MeToo, to the growing power of platforms like Facebook to tweak our daily thoughts, feelings and habits.
Of course technology is changing, but we are also changing. To really understand what’s happening around us, we need to reckon not with changes in technology, but shifts in power.
Ours is a world increasingly defined by the battle and balance between two forces. We call them old power and new power. We explain the new power world in our book New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World – and How to Make it Work for You.
Most of us grew up in a world built on old power. We had relatively little agency. Institutions like schools or the factory floor set narrow terms of engagement. We complied. We consumed. We paid our dues and played our part. It was a world built largely on “download”.
But in the early 21st century our ubiquitous connectivity has handed us what we can think of the new “means of participation”. We are able – and increasingly expect – to be able to shape our world. Just look the example of the Parkland High School students. They intuitively understand how to harness the energy of the connected crowd. Their success was about much more than Snapchat savvy. They approached their work with a new power mindset: this wasn’t about one single charismatic figure taking up all the space and telling people what to do. Instead, #NeverAgain – relying on dynamics that also supercharged #MeToo – grew stronger as it surged and morphed around the US.
The Parkland kids expect to shape their world, and they’re not waiting for adults to dictate the terms on which they engage.
Take a look at this chart, which illustrates the difference between old power values and new power values. Two very different ways of approaching the world.
Think about the people you interact with. Your friends, colleagues, bosses. Are they old power or new power thinkers? What are the values that they put first?
Many who made their careers in the 20th century will feel most comfortable with an old power mindset. They expect long-term affiliation, trust experts most and rely on managerial processes. Of course, these values now often clash with those who come to the table with high expectations about their own agency.
Yet our argument here is not old power = bad/new power = good.
If you were having a root canal, for example, you would probably not choose to crowdsource the procedure and having some weekend-maker friends hack together a drill. More seriously, consider the old power value of expertise. In a world awash with fake news, truth and reason matter more than ever.
What the most successful leaders and organisations in the 21st century will understand is that not these dynamics are not a binary. You do not have to choose between Team Old Power or Team New Power.
Instead, we all need to develop the capacity to blend power, deploying old and new power models and values as our situation and strategy demands.
Most of us already understand how old power works. After all, it was the operating system for the world we grew up in. So the critical task now, whether you are a CEO, activist, entrepreneur (or even a dentist), is to master the methods and mindsets of new power.