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What’s Power Like in 2020?

Back in the day, the rules of power were clear: it was something to be seized and jealously guarded. This old power was out of reach for the vas majority of people. Today, power is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. This is what Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms call New Power. Let’s dig in this concept and explore how design and tech companies can benefit from it.

Back in the day, the rules of power were clear: it was something to be seized and jealously guarded. This old power was out of reach for the vas majority of people. Today, power is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. This is what Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms call New Power. Let’s dig in this concept and explore how design and tech companies can benefit from it.


The battle between the old and the new can make or break governments, companies and every institution. Today we have the capacity to make almost anything. This is because technology has changed and because *we* are changing. Heimans and Timms portray old power as a currency and new power as a current. This is because while the first one is held by a few and is closed, inaccessible and leader-driven, new power is made by many and the goal is not to hoard it but to channel it.


It’s a top-down/bottom-up kind of dichotomy. Zygmunt Bauman’s solid vs liquid theory also applies in a way. We’ve moved away from a heavy and solid hardware-focused modernity to a light and liquid software-based modernity. And so has the power.


New power is fluid and this shift is thanks to today’s ubiquitous connectivity. We can come together and organize ourselves in ways that are geographically boundless and highly distributed with unprecedented velocity and reach. Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms state: “the hyperconnectedness has given birth to new models and mindset that are shaping our age”. New power models are enabled by the activity of the crowd. Just think about Facebook, Uber or Airbnb. They demand we share our ideas, create new content or assets or even shape a community. In the right hands, new power is doing wonders, in the wrong hands these same skills are destructive and precarious.


Today’s leaders will be those best able to channel the participatory energy of those around them. Forms of leadership that aspire to bring together new power tools and new power values are the ones who will flourish.


Excerpt of New Power by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms

The twentieth century was built from the top down. The rise of new power shifts people’s norms and beliefs about how the world should work and what their role is. What is emerging is a new expectation: we have a role, we have a right to participate. This is not the case of new power values=good and old power values=bad. There are many times we might choose old power values. We must not think of them as binary but as a spectrum we are living in and that allows different types of leaders to emerge.


Heimans and Timms categorize them as Castles, Co-Opters, Crowds and Cheerleaders:


Exerpt of New Power by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms.


Whether headed to the top-right quadrant or working in the Castle quadrant, we all need to understand there’s a fresh set of new power skills out there. Those new capabilities and their implications for our everyday lives at work, at play and as a society are what Heimans and Timms want us to understand when they make a distinction between old and new power.

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