ARTICLE: "New Power" & Social Good: Thoughts from Jeremy Heimans

November 1, 2018 Christine Newman

Have you been hearing the term “new power” and wondering what it means exactly, and how it applies to your social good organization? And if there is now “new power,” then what is “old power” and how do the two differ (and can they work together)?

Jeremy Heimans, co-author with Henry Timms of the best-selling book “New Power,” recently spoke with Blackbaud’s Rachel Hutchisson at bbcon 2018 for a recording of The sgENGAGE Podcast. Read through the condensed excerpt below for Jeremy’s insight into new power versus old power, how it’s used as a currency, and how it affects the world around us:

Rachel: We are going to start today, Jeremy, by having you explain, because we are working with a live audience here who weren’t all necessarily in his keynote – What is new power and how is it different from old power?

Jeremy: Well first, Rachel, it’s great to be here and great to be with this amazing group here in person and around the world. So you know, we think of new power as kind of the essential skill of our age, which is how do you learn to harness the energy of these connected crowds that have become such an important part of our lives? Of business, of politics. So one really easy way to think of that difference between old and new power is the difference between power as currency. That’s all power. The kind of power you hold up and power as a current. It’s not power you can hoard, but it is power you can learn to channel and harness the energy of, but it’s a different set of skills and that’s what the book’s about.

Rachel: I’d love for you to make that real to everyone. So what are some examples of new power?

Jeremy: So you know, what’s so striking about these principles is you see them across society, right? So you see it in social movements like me too, which don’t look like institutions which have many leaders. You see them in business models like Airbnb, right? Think about what Airbnb’s managed to do. In about 10 years, it’s become the dominant source of temporary accommodation in the world without owning a single square foot of real estate to that end. Right? So that’s an extraordinary model and the reason it’s been able to scale so quickly is because of new power. So you know, if you, if you want to understand the difference between this era and the previous one, you know, 20 years ago there were these little, these little brochures that were circulated every season in a particular place saying here’s a house swap that you could do, right? And so sure, some people swapped their houses using the magazine that they got in the mail, but the scale of that was absolutely minimal. Now you think about the density, the scale, the speed of what Airbnb can do, and suddenly for better and worse, you have whole communities transform. You have housing, markets change, you have rental markets all too and so it’s these models that are able to do that so quickly.

Rachel: Giving Tuesday is coming up, and I actually met your coauthor, Henry Timms back right when he launched Giving Tuesday as founding father, called him up and I said, Henry, you don’t know me, but this is really interesting. I’m in, what do we do? And so we at Blackbaud have a lot of fun on Giving Tuesday. We’re a Nasdaq company. So we go to the Nasdaq Tower, we ring the Bell, we put pictures up, we bring customers in. We have a lot of fun. And we also really focus on making sure our customers can process all this incredible generosity that’s coming in on that day. So, talk about Giving Tuesday as an example of new power. I mean, it’s amazing and some of the things that are happening are not about money. They’re about people just showing who they are. Showing voice.

Jeremy: It was my admiration for giving Tuesday and what it represented that led me to Henry and led us to this idea. And, so Henry runs a big institution in New York, as you know, with I think something like a thousand staff, very old power. It’s been around for more than a hundred years. They had this idea for Giving Tuesday and there was an important decision that they have to make at the very beginning of that arc and that was is Giving Tuesday going to be branded by Henry’s organization. His organization is called the 92y. Was it going to be called the 92y’s Giving Tuesday, or was it going to be open? Was it going to be ownerless? Right? And they made the decision and there’s a story we tell in the book of there’s a conversation Henry has with his board and his board goes, okay, we liked this idea, but where does the logo go? Right. And you know, we all know that if they’d done that, if they’d try to make it just theirs, the Giving Tuesday would never have become the phenomenon that it did. And so the insight that sometimes you need to go beyond the brand that you, your organizations and institutions represent. But go to mission, mission over brand. What does that look like? And so that’s what Henry did here and in the end of course it rebounded very positively for his institution. Because that institution now has a reputation for innovation and it’s raised millions of dollars of new funding, but not because they tried to capture it, but actually because they released it to the world.

Rachel: They put it in the hands of the people. And I love how everything is open source and they say here’s the logo and no, there aren’t rules for how you can use it. Change it, change it, do whatever you want with it, mess with the name, have fun. Which I think is really important because you know, we deal with so many important causes in the sector that sometimes people forget that having fun as a part of it is a really compelling way to engage people. So you were just on mainstage and you shared a lot of great things. What are some of the things that you didn’t get to say up there that you might want to share with people?

Jeremy: Yeah, well look, we think a lot about fundraising, which I know is something that many organizations here are thinking about. What’s different about fundraising in a new power world, right? And we tell a story in the book of a video game called Star Citizen and it’s really an allegory for our time. So this is a video game that is a PC simulated universe game that a guy called Chris Robinson announced about five years ago. He got up and made a talk at a conference like this and he said, I need a $150,000 to get my game going. Here’s my crowdfunding campaign. Within a couple of hours his website had crashed. And fast forward to the story now, this is the largest crowd funding campaign in the history of the world. It’s raised almost $200,000,000. But the game still doesn’t exist. So, it’s fascinating in a bunch of ways. But what happened is this idea of this new kind of video game inspired so many people that this whole world of participation grew up around the game. There are blogs, there are web casts, and there are communities devoted to helping to design what’s in the game. People are buying ships in this imaginary universe. They’re buying insurance on the ships in the imaginary universe. There’s a whole world that’s been created.

Now, this might seem absurd and on some level it is, but what they succeeded in doing here was creating an experience that was so richly participatory that actually the experience of imagining the game was more important than the game itself. So when we interviewed people who’d given upwards of a thousand dollars of their own money in small contributions to this grant funding campaign and we said, hey, aren’t you frustrated? The game is incredibly late. You’ve put all this money in. And one of the people we interviewed said, you know what? I’ve learned so much about this. I’ve met so many amazing people. He said, I pay to dream. And I think the implication of that is there is a premium you can get as an organization, if you can really energize that participation. We call it the participation premium, which is where you need, you need something really good, you need a good product, you need something that people are excited by, you need a good value proposition. You need that sense of higher purpose where people feel like they’re doing it for more than just transactional reasons. But the multiplier effect in that equation is participation, so when you can combine product or something in return with purpose and you multiply that by participation, where you make people feel invested in that thing, where it’s more than just something that they can look at and admire. That’s where you’ll get these extraordinary outcomes. Like a $200,000,000 video game that’s built on donations of $20, $30, $40 by literally more than 2 million people around the world. So there’s something we can all learn from these new models, but it requires a different mindset because you know, as nonprofit social sector people, we often, we’re taught to learn how to impress the big funder, right? How to navigate the complex bureaucracy, how to apply for funding. Now these skills, of course still matter. But there’s a new set of skills, if you’re trying to do something like Star Citizen, you’ve got to be good at telling a story that can inspire people. You’ve got to be good at creating real ways people can actually build your model with you. You’ve got to be able to find a way of not just appealing to elites but appealing to everybody. And I think sometimes nonprofits struggle with that and that’s a lot of what we do at Purpose, the agency that I run, which is that how do you help people make that transition from old power to new power when the instincts required are just so different.

 

To hear what Jeremy had to say about the role of new power in healthcare, how funders can be more effective, and leveraging moral power in any sector, listen to the full podcast here: Episode 72: New Power & Social Good

 

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