Do you have an idea that could change the world if only you could get your voice heard?
Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms book New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World- and How You Can Make It Work For You is a refreshing guidebook in how we can create change.
The mission of the book brings a clear message why scaling up and participation matter:
“The future will be a battle over mobilisation. The everyday people, leaders, and organisations who flourish will be those best able to channel the participatory energy of those around them – for the good, for the bad, and for the trivial” (p. 10).
In our hyperconnected world where we can reach someone on the other side of the globe in seconds, the possibilities for scaling change are enormous and the ways we can participate and contribute.
Many of us want genuine democracy and genuine connections where we are not removed worlds apart from the decision-making processes that impact our lives. And why would we not? Why would we not seek to be part of change especially when many of us feel disillusioned by the processes that are supposed to represent us?
The good news is that we are no longer locked in “old power”; those old ways of doing things, living inside hierarchies and traditions. But we need to understand what new power is and what new opportunities have arisen because of the way we now communicate and create movements.
What New Power means
New Power essentially is a new mindset in thinking about how the world works and where opportunities lie:
New Power is essentially a new mindset that includes new ways of thinking democracy, participation and well-being; new ways that allow us to see leadership in a new light through diversity and humour.
But the message is not that nothing with old power works. Rather, it is the skill of knowing when to use new power and new methods, when to blend new with old, and how to make these work.
Alas, enter the concept of “full-stack society” where all parts hum together to make it work and that embraces new power. Worth the long quote here:
“But a subtler challenge is in how we create more meaningful opportunities for people to actively shape their lives and connect with the institutions that shape them. People need to feel more like owners of their own destinies, rather than pawns of elites. If only meaningful expression of all this spent up energy is the occasional election or referendum, people will be naturally inclined to use their participation as a way to lash out. Platform strongmen and extremesists offer easy answers. But we need something different: a world where our participation is deep, constant, and multi-layered, not shallow and intermittent” (p. 253).
What if for example the Internet would use a “public interest algorithm” where users could have more of a say what social media posts they see and the information they receive?
What if organisations would delegate decision-making power to people on the frontline who actually do the work? What if political parties would function more like social networks that spur innovative approaches to citizen participation?
In fact, these are no longer theoretical ideas but already exist in practice. The Buurtzorg Nurse Network in The Netherlands for example is a 10,000 employee strong organization but where decision-making is in 10-12 people teams in what healthcare looks like. The frontline workers manage and make decisions in teams in how they deliver care and what genuine caring looks like.
The Podemos political party in Spain emerged from the dissatisfaction with politics and led to a landslide victory with ordinary people wanting to have a say in what decisions were being made for them. They used a variety of new power strategies: having Citizen Assemblies to allow direct participation in defining the party agenda, using online and offline discussions, public meetings and crowdsourcing leaders for the movement in the process. They gave people a direct voice and influence. They became a party but kept behaving like a social movement.
In the elections, Podemos received over 5 million votes and broke the long-standing two party system in Spain. This is what new power looks like and can look like if we are truly genuine about participation and new ways of thinking what genuine participation can look like.
5 steps for starting a movement
There are lots of key factors in how something becomes a movement and how ideas can scale up. The book is full of these but the five most important factors according to Heimans and Timms are:
- Connected connectors: you do not have to reach everyone but rather, you need to find those people who have a need and would support the idea. This means finding very specific people who will champion the movement; people who are passionate about the topic and passionate about creating better processes.
- New power brand: unlike many major brands, a successful new power brand is one that lends itself for adjustment, modification and is owned by unownership. Let people run with the idea or even with logo –> keep flexibility high in how the idea evolves and how people want to take it forward. There is nothing more powerful than people wanting to own your idea even if that means that they adjust and modify your logo.
- Lower the barrier, flatten the path: make it easy for people to join and champion the idea. If even the sign up process takes 20 min, you have already lost the ones that were sitting on the fence. Making it easy for people to engage and participate makes the movement.
- Move people up the participation scale: question to ask: what are the paths of hierarchy of participation? Who participates and at what level? Being clear on the opportunities and different roles will make it easier to know how passionate people can contribute the most and in which tasks and ideas.
- Harness the three storms: there are times when something happens and an opportunity opens to advocate for change. The 3 storms are: 1) storm creating (you create an event and use that to raise awareness); 2) storm chasing (an an event happens and you use that as your stepping stone); 3) storm embracing (events happen and you are ready in minutes to turn it to your advantage).
With all that said, people need to know why they are participating and what they get out in return. Heimans and Timms call this “the participation premium”, which is: (Something in Return + Higher Purpose) x Participation.
You need to have clear value proposition and be able to answer the question of what the participation premium is for your movement or idea. What do the supporters and members get out of donating their time or money?
If you do not have an answer, then you are stuck with old power and ways of thinking. New power is about “us”, about us delivering something together and for that you need a clear purpose and mission that inspires the masses, not just the ones who would buy into the idea anyway with a little nudge.
Steps for climate change adaptation
So what would climate adaptation look like if we adopted new power values and strategies?
We could for example develop new platforms where project beneficiaries could have a direct say in how projects are developed, based on what processes, and create more transparent mechanisms in checking “progress” and “success”.
As a global adaptation community, we could develop new ways of keeping in touch and sharing our learnings, both from theory and practice that could enrich both the ways we develop theories of adaptation and how it gets implemented in practice.
We could take the identity of a social movement where we could support, at the global level, the advocacy of doing adaptation well and making sure that the knowledge and options that are available reach the one most in need.
We could re-imagine the standards and priorities that we have for adaptation with a renewed focus on improved well-being in all its forms and nuances.
We could re-think what leadership means and see positions of power for just what they are: positions, and create a new understanding of leadership where anyone can lead if they are willing to help others to grow and flourish.
What if we saw adaptation as hope, as something supportive and joyful?
This does not mean that we pretend that adaptation is just positive and easy. Climate impacts bring trauma and chaos, and that is the space where we work in.
But we need to embrace conversations on adaptation and what it means.
Finding new ways, strategies and mechanisms to do so is what will and can result in a new way of thinking, and supporting also ourselves in the process.