Home » Blog » ‘New Power’ Book of the month review – August 2019

By Jeremy Heimens and Henry Timms

Effective leadership in our new emerging world requires understanding it’s latest evolving power dynamics. This book provides a wonderfully insightful summary of the exponential transformation in how people are influenced to think, act and behave as our world becomes ever more hyperconnected. 

The tone of the book is set when it begins by referencing Bertrand Russel’s definition of ‘power’. 
Power = ‘The ability to produce intended effects’ (Bertrand Russel)

How people ‘produce intended results’ has radically changed over the last 20 years. ‘Old Power models’ are being replaced by ‘New Power models’. Shifts in sociology fuelled by advances in technology including, in particular, the birth and evolution of internet  …
The 2 aspects of this book that I most love are:

  • The many practical examples they give of ‘Old Power v New Power’
  • The authors spell out that New Power whilst growing and evolving it often but not always more effective than Old Power. The authors take care not to label new or old power models as good or bad, but simply to explore how and why they work or don’t work and the emergence of New Power models.

The 2 authors illustrate a whole range of different flavours of the evolving New Power models using fascinating real-life examples:

  • The widespread growth of crowdfunding
  • The evolution of TED Talks. 
  • Pope Francis’ more engaging radically different approach to previous Popes.
  • How Obama and more recently Trump got elected using Social Media driven New Power models.
  • Doctor v the patient.  The patient gets fired by the doctor because she learned about her unusual condition from other sufferers around the world. A patient who found out how to cure her epilepsy then fired her doctor she now works actively helping others on-line on ‘Patients like me’ Doctors have lost control – the genie can’t be put back in the bottle. Some patients have even collaborated to crowdfund their own drug testing.
  • ISIS recruiting
    A well-educated middle class teenage Scottish girl was recruited into ISIS who then recruited other Jihadi girls by social media tools encouraging engagement to participate using the ‘#metoo’ approach life tips like ‘when traveling you can use organic coconut oil as skin cream, hair conditioner and to cook with’. Old power fear-based methods of the US Army ‘to command’ potential ISIS recruits not to join ISIS may have worked 100 years ago, but today this ‘old power’ approach has proved to be completely ineffective compared to the New Power methods of recruitment.  Old power models demand compliance ‘do this’ ‘pay your taxes’ etc. New power models are about people wanting to become part of a cause and a crowd.
  • Video game metaphor
    Here is a great Video game metaphor the authors use to illustrate the difference between ‘Old Power’ and ‘New Power’. They use the illustration that compares the video game Tetris (Old Power) with the video game Minecraft (New Power). Tetris is literally a ‘top-down’ game where every aspect of the game is dictated by a central designer. On the other hand, Minecraft was initially designed by a small group of developers to grow and be further designed and even redesigned by the people who play the game. There are entire worlds within Minecraft that have been completely designed by thousands of Minecraft gamers from around the world., there is no centralised control of the design and development of Minecraft as there is with all traditional video games such as Tetris.
  • Other examples include a car company where the users help design the cars and media company shaped by it’s readers.

Intensity based New Power models

The authors point out some interesting ‘Intensity based New Power models’ where a minority of the population who still have significant numbers form new power groups that ensure that their will prevails over the majority of people.  

2 examples used are the National Rifle Association (NRA) who have a highly effective crowd engaging strategy to ensure that even the president of the USA (Obama) backed by more than 50% of US citizens is not able to pass more restrictive gun laws. The book explains how every Politian is given an NRA rating and if your rating drops below a certain number NRA members will not vote for you, when in most states of a 2 party system a 5% swing is the difference between winning an loosing most politicians do not want to get an adverse NRA rating.  So even in the face of ever-growing mass shootings any proposals to restrict gun purchase is rebuked. Obama’s gun reform law proposals failing to get the necessary political support to become law.  Indeed, the NRA’s strategy ensures that there is an increase in demand for guns following a mass shooting rather than the decrease in demand you might expect. 

Another example of this ‘intensity based New Power’ provided in the book is that of the UK’s Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. Mr Corbyn was elected as leader by ‘members of the Labour party’ who are on the whole what could be described as a hardcore group of raving idealistic Labour fans. The votes of this hard core has kept him as leader of their party despite the fact that despite an opposition main party with weakening support he has still proved so far to be unelectable! Not enough people in the UK’s wider voting population who traditionally have often voted Labour want to vote for Mr Corbyn as (ironically) they perceive him as being too idealistic.

NASA Transformational case study (Old to New Power) 

Of the many practical examples of New Power v Old Power my favourite in this book is that of the Space Agency NASA. A few year ago NASA started using ‘open innovation platforms’ this creative collaboration generated results in 3 to 6 months rather than 3 to 5 years. NASA provides a wonderful illustration of the challenges faced in making a cultural transformation moving from ‘Old Power Thinking’ to ‘New Power Thinking’.

During an open innovation initiative at NASA a member of the public Bruce Hagen a retired telecom engineer and not a scientist submitted an algorithm than transformed the ability to accurately predict solar storms critical to many aspects of space travel. This algorithm was something hundreds of scientists at NASA had been unable to come up with over many years. Whilst this new power open innovation model was resisted by some of the old power people in NASA others embraced this fundamental change. Some of space explorations trickiest challenges are now being solved by ‘open innovation’. 

Many established NASA scientists resisted this change of allowing ‘outside amateurs’ contribute to solving their problems. Their resistance to this change was nothing to do with people ‘fearing technology’ (a reason often presented in the corporate world) as nearly all of the people at NASA are ‘rocket scientists’ and highly tech savvy.

A consultant hired by NASA to investigate the implementation of ‘open innovation’ observed that the ‘Old Power thinking’ NASA scientists were easy to identify because when she asked them about ‘open innovation’ they would immediately start talking how well qualified they were and the hard fought status they had achieved within the scientific community. These old thinkers within NASA had a mindset of ‘The lab is my world’

On the other hand she observed that the mindset of new power thinking scientists within NASA is ‘my lab is the world’!

The perception of co-ownership is a key component in the new power dynamic, when a crowd of people feel that they are co-owners they are more engaged and more committed to the cause.

There are many other great cultural examples of ‘New Power’ illustrated in this book. One of my favourites is to consider the satisfying feedback loops you get from a Facebook or Instagram post. When you post an experience or achievement (e.g. you have just completed a sponsored cycle ride) you may get tens or hundreds of likes and comments from people acknowledging your achievement stoking your satisfaction and enthusiasm levels.

However, you might work tirelessly on a project at work for weeks send off a report on what you had achieved and ultimately receive little or no acknowledgement from anyone else. This lack of acknowledgement reduces your job satisfaction levels, it will make you more likely to leave this position in the future and less enthusiastic about completing similar projects in the future. Businesses not harnessing this form of ‘New Power’ are without doubt falling behind those who are harnessing it! 

There are numerous other examples I have not even mentioned in this book review, I would recommend anyone interested in Thought Leadership to read this book or listen to it on audiobook.

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