Friday, January 30, 2015

Fixing Political and Organizing Grids to Manage New Power and Old Power

Lately, there has been a really interesting and smart discussion around emerging trends and shifts in the economy being driven by changes in the flow of power. This chart from one such article, “Understanding New Power” by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms, explains the discussion and differences between “new power values” and “old power values” in a nutshell.

That article and another from Michael Silberman that picks up on the conversation with Jeremy are well worth a read about how climate campaigners are connecting new and old power. These are good thought provoking pieces and worthy of continued discussion.

The work and thinking behind these articles is significant in the way they tease out the differences in power and the way power’s increased mobility shapes our economy and organizing. I want to add to that discussion, by focusing a bit on the “grids” that allow the new models to function and to think about the stability and instability that the new power and old power shifts create.  

The most interesting discussions for organizers and campaigners are not just around the nature of power (new vs. old) or the ways that new value is produced by companies. Rather, this new analysis should help us focus on the shifting sense and distribution of ownership and rights. Any models that are “out of sync” between independent value creators and the influence those same people have on governance are going to be exposed to increased instability and systemic risks. 

The very producers of the value the model depends on will ultimately revolt. While there are high profile models today exploiting that gap between producers and the power they have (like Uber), the new dynamics suggest that in the long run the producers will take an increasing portion of control over the value they produce (Taylor Swift, YouTube Artist or Dr. Dre). We are at the beginning of the beginning of this trend in the context of a new globally networked world.   

Collaboration, distributed production, crowd sharing and packetizing work are creating new micro-contributed aggregate and assembly models are competing against an increased number of centralized service and manufacturing models. But by design and definition, they are also bringing many more people into a process that helps them be increasingly capable of collaborating to fight for agency and collective ownership rights.  

The networking that is the very means of production and assembly is also the pipeline for organizing. The saturation of technology and communication capability that make models like Uber possible also are leveraged to coordinate Uber worker collective action and more quickly daylight exploitative behaviors of leadership. Models that work with new power accelerate the production of value and also the demand to bring the models of ownership rights into alignment. The reality for new and old power is that once any model begins to leverage new power it must also make changes in governance or invest more to protect stability.

The new grid for for both new and old power is changing. New power is interdependent. Interdependence is complex. Complexity is often less stable. Misalignment of agency, ownership benefits and rights add to the risk in a model. The trend is easy to observe―from Occupy, to Uber, to rolling global political revolutions and unrest. People are becoming increasingly effective at demanding agency. Unfortunately, demanding agency is not the same as actually getting what is demandedbut challengers are learning and adapting quickly. Ultimately, aggregated power and aggregated contributions also mean interest in aggregated leadership and aggregated ownership.

Organizers and campaigners need to build systems that validate the value providers’ role in the new business and organizing models. If you contribute to Wikipedia, you have a pathway to governance, if you live over a gas field or breathe air in the region where companies are making money from gas extraction, you are supposed to be part of the governance on if and how it works. Pulling value from under people for private gain and at others’ control is a model that becomes increasingly unstable as the population becomes networked.    

The combination of articles and trend analyses make it more clear that the age of connectivity is also the age of revolution. The brokers of new power or old will continue to find ways to reap value and horde agency. Fortunately, increasing numbers of people are getting networked and have new tools at their disposal to right that balance.

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