New Power v. Old Power

Beth Comstock (@bethcomstock) (Vice Chair at GE)

August 2, 2016


Power is increasingly more distributed and decentralized both the power that electrifies our lives and the power that governs our countries and organizations  brought on by rapid shifts in technology, information flow and globalization. Ive been thinking about the notion of decentralized power a lot these days  from the growth of new sources of energy like solar to the shift in governing power were seeing in situations like Brexit and the US election.

I had the chance to catch up recently with Henry Timms of the 92nd Street Y and Jeremy Heimans of the Purpose Agency and co-authors of the forthcoming book based on a provocative concept: New Power vs Old Power. (And featured in HBR several years ago).

They write: "Old power works like a currency. It is held by few. Once gained, it is jealously guarded, and the powerful have a substantial store of it to spend. It is closed, inaccessible, and leader-driven. It downloads, and it captures. New power operates differently, like a current. It is made by many. It is open, participatory, and peer-driven. It uploads, and it distributes. Like water or electricity, its most forceful when it surges. The goal with new power is not to hoard it but to channel it.

So here we are, caught between old systems, based on hierarchies, and new systems, based on networks. So hows a leader to adapt? Henry and Jeremy talk about the blending of the old and the new, combining more distribution and transparency with the need for some kind of structured mechanisms that allow for action and accountability.

Im a big believer that the future is even more distributed in how we govern and work. Its less about hierarchies and more about networks. Success will be come to those leaders who can see patterns and keep information flowing openly among key stakeholders.

What do you think?