Shifting power dynamics require leaders willing to engage the crowd, said “New Power” authors Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans, kicking off #ASAE19 Sunday morning.
From associations to mass social movements to video games, the dynamics of power are at work virtually everywhere. But how power plays out is changing dramatically.
Kicking off the 2019 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition in Columbus Sunday morning, keynoters Henry Timms and Jeremy Heimans provided several examples of how power is shifting in the 21st century from a top-down to a bottom-up approach—or, in Timms’ and Heimans’ framing, old power to new power.
The authors of New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World—and How to Make It Work for You cited an example from the virtual world. In the mid-1980s and early-90s, one of the most popular video games was Tetris, played literally top to bottom, where the objective was to stack blocks that descended quickly.
Today, the bestselling video game in the world is Minecraft, another block-based game with an entirely different objective: to create virtual cities and communities as part of a team, building them block by block.
“People aren’t expecting to be part of a Tetris game anymore, they’re expecting to be a player in Minecraft,” says Timms, CEO of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. “It’s a new-power dynamic, where [people] believe in the wisdom of the crowd, transparency, and opening things up.”
Which Are You?
That shift has consequences for associations, says Heimans, CEO of the social advocacy organization Purpose.
“Think about people’s attitudes toward affiliation and loyalty,” he says. “The ability to count on people being members of associations—being loyal in an enduring and long-term way—is fleeting.”
Although more people are joining membership-based organizations, Heimans says, a new-power dynamic makes membership much more fluid, meaning not everyone will be a highly engaged, card-carrying member.
To examine whether your association features new- or old-power dynamics, ask: “Are you closed up or more open to the crowd?” Timms says. “A new-power model will help create space for more collaboration and participation.”
In a quick show of hands, attendees indicated a tendency toward operating primarily in old-power ways. That puts them in a category that Timms and Heimans refer to as “castles”— organizations with command-style leadership that tend to guard information, and where title and expertise are valued.
Under a new-power model, Timms and Heimans say associations can tap into the “power of the current.”
“It’s a distributed community where each owner genuinely feels like an owner,” Timms says. “The movement itself surges and flows with participation.”
That’s not to say new power is always a force for good. Timms cited the recent anti-vaccination movement as a prime example where new power can be co-opted in harmful ways. “Many experts are being left on the sidelines, and what we need is to reaffirm some old-power principles like expertise,” he says. “But equally, we need those experts to leap into this new-power world.”
The Role Leaders Play
Injecting new-power elements into an association often rests with the person at the top. “If you want to get new power right, you actually need leaders who take it seriously,” Timms says. “Our argument for associations is [that] any winning strategy is going to have a new-power element at its heart.”
He and Heimans say a project or strategy with new-power elements in place answers “yes” to four rudimentary questions:
- Do I need the involvement of the crowd to get things done?
- Do I have the legitimacy to engage, so I’m not ignored?
- Am I willing to cede control to the crowd, within certain parameters, even if the outcomes are unexpected?
- Can other parts of my organization strengthen and build its new-power muscles?
That last question is an important consideration for association executives as they build a pipeline of leadership talent for the future.
“That’s work I call structuring for participation,” Heimans says. “It’s the ability to get bright things out of people you engage with and spread their light around the world.”