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TEDSalon Berlin 2014

Jeremy Heimans: What new power looks like

June 23, 2014

We can see the power of distributed, crowd-sourced business models every day — witness Uber, Kickstarter, Airbnb. But veteran online activist Jeremy Heimans asks: When does that kind of "new power" start to work in politics? His surprising answer: Sooner than you think. It’s a bold argument about the future of politics and power; watch and see if you agree.

Jeremy Heimans - Activist
At Purpose, Jeremy Heimans strategizes how to harness new social, economic and technological models to build movements with impact. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
So this is Anna Hazare,
00:12
and Anna Hazare may well be
the most cutting-edge
00:15
digital activist in the world today.
00:19
And you wouldn't know it by looking at him.
00:22
Hazare is a 77-year-old Indian
anticorruption and social justice activist.
00:24
And in 2011, he was running a big campaign
00:30
to address everyday corruption in India,
00:33
a topic that Indian elites love to ignore.
00:36
So as part of this campaign,
00:39
he was using all of the traditional tactics
00:41
that a good Gandhian organizer would use.
00:43
So he was on a hunger strike,
00:45
and Hazare realized through his hunger
00:47
that actually maybe this time,
00:49
in the 21st century,
00:51
a hunger strike wouldn't be enough.
00:53
So he started playing around
with mobile activism.
00:54
So the first thing he did
is he said to people,
00:59
"Okay, why don't you send me
01:01
a text message if you support
01:03
my campaign against corruption?"
01:04
So he does this, he
gives people a short code,
01:06
and about 80,000 people do it.
01:08
Okay, that's pretty respectable.
01:11
But then he decides,
01:13
"Let me tweak my tactics a little bit."
01:14
He says, "Why don't you leave
me a missed call?"
01:16
Now, for those of you who have
lived in the global South,
01:20
you'll know that missed calls
01:24
are a really critical part
of global mobile culture.
01:25
I see people nodding.
01:29
People leave missed calls all the time:
01:30
If you're running late for a meeting
01:32
and you just want to let them
know that you're on the way,
01:34
you leave them a missed call.
01:36
If you're dating someone and
you just want to say "I miss you"
01:38
you leave them a missed call.
01:40
So a note for a dating tip here,
01:41
in some cultures,
01:44
if you want to please your lover,
01:45
you call them and hang up.
(Laughter)
01:46
So why do people leave missed calls?
01:51
Well, the reason of course is that
01:54
they're trying to avoid charges
01:56
associated with making calls
and sending texts.
01:58
So when Hazare asked people
to leave him a missed call,
02:02
let's have a little guess how
many people actually did this?
02:06
Thirty-five million.
02:11
So this is one of the largest coordinated
actions in human history.
02:15
It's remarkable.
02:19
And this reflects the extraordinary strength
of the emerging Indian middle class
02:21
and the power that their
mobile phones bring.
02:25
But he used that,
02:28
Hazare ended up with this massive
CSV file of mobile phone numbers,
02:30
and he used that to deploy
02:34
real people power on the ground
02:36
to get hundreds of thousands of
people out on the streets in Delhi
02:38
to make a national point of
everyday corruption in India.
02:41
It's a really striking story.
02:46
So this is me when I was 12 years old.
02:48
I hope you see the resemblance.
02:50
And I was also an activist,
02:52
and I have been an activist all my life.
02:54
I had this really funny childhood
02:56
where I traipsed around the world
02:57
meeting world leaders and
Noble prize winners,
02:59
talking about Third World debt,
03:02
as it was then called,
03:04
and demilitarization.
03:06
I was a very, very serious child.
(Laughter)
03:07
And back then,
03:12
in the early '90s,
03:13
I had a very cutting-edge
tech tool of my own:
03:15
the fax.
03:19
And the fax was the
tool of my activism.
03:21
And at that time, it was the best way
03:23
to get a message to a lot of people
03:25
all at once.
03:27
I'll give you one example of a fax
campaign that I ran.
03:29
It was the eve of the Gulf War
03:31
and I organized a global campaign
to flood the hotel,
03:34
the Intercontinental in Geneva,
03:37
where James Baker and Tariq Aziz
03:39
were meeting on the eve of the war,
03:40
and I thought if I could
flood them with faxes,
03:42
we'll stop the war.
03:44
Well, unsurprisingly,
03:46
that campaign was wholly unsuccessful.
03:48
There are lots of reasons for that,
03:51
but there's no doubt that
one sputtering fax machine
03:53
in Geneva was a little bit
of a bandwidth constraint
03:55
in terms of the ability to
get a message to lots of people.
03:59
And so, I went on to
discover some better tools.
04:02
I cofounded Avaaz, which uses the
Internet to mobilize people
04:06
and now has almost
40 million members,
04:08
and I now run Purpose, which
is a home for these kinds of
04:11
technology-powered movements.
04:13
So what's the moral of this story?
04:16
Is the moral of this story,
04:18
you know what, the fax is kind of
eclipsed by the mobile phone?
04:19
This is another story of
tech-determinism?
04:24
Well, I would argue that there's
actually more to it than that.
04:26
I'd argue that in the last 20 years,
04:30
something more fundamental has changed
04:32
than just new tech.
04:35
I would argue that there has
been a fundamental shift
04:36
in the balance of power
04:39
in the world.
04:41
You ask any activist how
to understand the world,
04:43
and they'll say,
"Look at where the power is,
04:45
who has it, how it's shifting."
04:47
And I think we all sense that
something big is happening.
04:50
So Henry Timms and I —
04:53
Henry's a fellow movement builder —
04:55
got talking one day and
we started to think,
04:57
how can we make sense of this new world?
04:59
How can we describe it and give
05:01
it a framework that makes it more useful?
05:02
Because we realized that many
05:04
of the lessons that we were
discovering in movements
05:06
actually applied all over the world
05:08
in many sectors of our society.
05:11
So I want to introduce you to
this framework:
05:13
Old power, meet new power.
05:15
And I want to talk to you about
what new power is today.
05:17
New power is the deployment
05:21
of mass participation
and peer coordination —
05:23
these are the two key elements —
05:26
to create change and shift outcomes.
05:28
And we see new power all around us.
05:30
This is Beppe Grillo
05:33
he was a populist Italian blogger
05:34
who, with a minimal political apparatus
and only some online tools,
05:37
won more than 25 percent of the vote
05:40
in recent Italian elections.
05:43
This is Airbnb,
05:45
which in just a few years
05:46
has radically disrupted the hotel industry
05:48
without owning a single
square foot of real estate.
05:50
This is Kickstarter,
05:53
which we know has raised over a billion dollars
05:55
from more than five million people.
05:57
Now, we're familiar with all of these models.
06:00
But what's striking is the commonalities,
06:02
the structural features of
these new models
06:05
and how they differ from old power.
06:07
Let's look a little bit at this.
06:09
Old power is held like a currency.
06:11
New power works like a current.
06:14
Old power is held by a few.
06:16
New power isn't held by a few,
it's made by many.
06:19
Old power is all about download,
06:22
and new power uploads.
06:24
And you see a whole set of
characteristics that you can trace,
06:26
whether it's in media or
politics or education.
06:29
So we've talked a little bit
about what new power is.
06:32
Let's, for a second, talk about
what new power isn't.
06:34
New power is not your Facebook page.
06:37
I assure you that having a
social media strategy
06:41
can enable you to do just as much download
06:44
as you used to do when you had the radio.
06:46
Just ask Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad,
06:49
I assure you that his Facebook page
06:53
has not embraced the power
of participation.
06:54
New power is not inherently positive.
06:59
In fact, this isn't an normative
argument that we're making,
07:02
there are many good things
about new power,
07:04
but it can produce bad outcomes.
07:06
More participation, more peer coordination,
07:08
sometimes distorts outcomes
07:10
and there are some things,
07:12
like things, for example,
in the medical profession
07:13
that we want new power
to get nowhere near.
07:15
And thirdly, new power is not
the inevitable victor.
07:18
In fact, unsurprisingly,
07:21
as many of these new power
models get to scale,
07:22
what you see is this massive pushback
07:25
from the forces of old power.
07:28
Just look at this really
interesting epic struggle
07:30
going on right now between
Edward Snowden and the NSA.
07:32
You'll note that only one of
the two people on this slide
07:36
is currently in exile.
07:39
And so, it's not at all clear
07:41
that new power will be
the inevitable victor.
07:42
That said, keep one thing in mind:
07:44
We're at the beginning of a
very steep curve.
07:47
So you think about some of
these new power models, right?
07:50
These were just like someone's
07:52
garage idea a few years ago,
07:54
and now they're disrupting
entire industries.
07:56
And so, what's interesting
about new power,
08:00
is the way it feeds
on itself.
08:02
Once you have an experience of new power,
08:04
you tend to expect and
want more of it.
08:06
So let's say you've used a
peer-to-peer lending platform
08:08
like Lending Tree or Prosper,
08:11
then you've figured out that
you don't need the bank,
08:14
and who wants the bank, right?
08:16
And so, that experience tends
to embolden you
08:18
it tends to make you want
more participation
08:20
across more aspects of your life.
08:23
And what this gives rise to is
08:26
a set of values.
08:27
We talked about the models
08:29
that new power has engendered —
08:30
the Airbnbs, the Kickstarters.
08:32
What about the values?
08:34
And this is an early sketch
08:35
at what new power values look like.
08:37
New power values prize
transparency above all else.
08:39
It's almost a religious
belief in transparency,
08:43
a belief that if you shine
a light on something,
08:45
it will be better.
08:47
And remember that in the 20th
century, this was not at all true.
08:48
People thought that gentlemen
should sit behind closed doors
08:51
and make comfortable agreements.
08:54
New power values of informal,
networked governance.
08:56
New power folks would never
have invented the U.N. today,
09:00
for better or worse.
09:02
New power values participation,
09:04
and new power is all about do-it-yourself.
09:06
In fact, what's interesting
about new power
09:09
is that it eschews some of
the professionalization
09:10
and specialization that was
09:14
all the rage in the 20th century.
09:15
So what's interesting about these
09:18
new power values and these
new power models
09:20
is what they mean for organizations.
09:22
So we've spent a bit of time thinking,
09:24
how can we plot organizations
09:26
on a two-by-two where, essentially,
09:29
we look at new power values
09:31
and new power models
09:33
and see where different people sit?
09:34
We started with a U.S. analysis,
09:36
and let me show you
some interesting findings.
09:38
So the first is Apple.
09:40
In this framework, we actually
described Apple
09:42
as an old power company.
09:45
That's because the ideology,
09:47
the governing ideology of Apple
09:49
is the ideology of the perfectionist
09:51
product designer in Cupertino.
09:54
It's absolutely about that beautiful,
perfect thing descending upon us
09:56
in perfection.
10:00
And it does not value, as a
company, transparency.
10:01
In fact, it's very secretive.
10:04
Now, Apple is one of the most
succesful companies in the world.
10:06
So this shows that you can
10:08
still pursue a successful
old power strategy.
10:10
But one can argue that there's
real vulnerabilites in that model.
10:12
I think another interesting comparison
10:15
is that of the Obama campaign
10:17
versus the Obama presidency.
10:20
(Applause)
10:23
Now, I like President Obama,
10:30
but he ran with new
power at his back, right?
10:32
And he said to people,
10:36
we are the ones we've
been waiting for.
10:38
And he used crowdfunding
10:40
to power a campaign.
10:41
But when he got into office,
10:42
he governed like more or less
all the other presidents did.
10:44
And this is a really interesting trend,
10:47
is when new power gets powerful,
10:49
what happens?
10:51
So this is a framework you
should look at
10:53
and think about where your
own organization
10:55
sits on it.
10:56
And think about where it
should be
10:57
in five or 10 years.
10:59
So what do you do if you're old power?
11:00
Well, if you're there
thinking, in old power,
11:03
this won't happen to us.
11:06
Then just look at the Wikipedia
entry for Encyclopædia Britannica.
11:08
Let me tell you, it's a very sad read.
11:13
But if you are old power,
11:15
the most important thing you
can do is to occupy yourself
11:17
before others occupy you,
11:20
before you are occupied.
11:23
Imagine that a group
of your biggest skeptics
11:24
are camped in the heart
of your organization
11:27
asking the toughest questions
11:29
and they can see everything
inside of your organization.
11:31
And ask them, would they
like what they see
11:34
and should our model change?
11:37
What about if you're new power?
11:39
Is new power kind of just
riding the wave to glory?
11:41
I would argue no.
11:44
I would argue that there
are some very real challenges
11:45
to new power in this nascent phase.
11:47
Let's stick with the Occupy Wall Street
example for a moment.
11:49
Occupy was this incredible example
of new power,
11:52
the purest example of new power.
11:55
And yet, it failed to consolidate.
11:57
So the energy that it created
12:00
was great for the meme phase,
12:02
but they were so committed to participation,
12:03
that they never got anything done.
12:06
And in fact that model
12:08
means that the challenge for new power is:
12:09
how do you use institutional power
12:12
without being institutionalized?
12:15
One the other end of the spectra is Uber.
12:17
Uber is an amazing,
12:19
highly scalable new power model.
12:21
That network is getting denser and denser
12:23
by the day.
12:25
But what's really interesting
about Uber is
12:26
it hasn't really adopted new power values.
12:28
This is a real quote from
the Uber CEO recently:
12:32
He says, "Once we get rid of the dude
in the car" — he means drivers —
12:36
"Uber will be cheaper."
12:41
Now, new power models
live and die
12:44
by the strength of their networks.
12:47
By whether the drivers and the consumers
12:50
who use the service actually believe in it.
12:51
Because they're not an exercise
of top-down perfectionism,
12:54
they are about the network.
12:57
And so, the challenge,
12:59
and this is why it's in
no way surprising,
13:01
is that Uber's drivers
are now unionizing.
13:03
It's extraordinary.
13:07
Uber's drivers are turning on Uber.
13:09
And the challenge for Uber —
13:11
this isn't an easy situation for them —
13:13
is that they are locked into
a broader superstrcuture
13:15
that is really old power.
13:18
They've raised more than a billion
dollars in the capital markets.
13:20
Those markets expect a financial return,
13:23
and they way you get a financial return
13:25
is by squeezing and squeezing
13:27
your users and your drivers
13:29
for more and more value
13:32
and giving that value to your investors.
13:33
So the big question about the future
of new power, in my view, is:
13:35
Will that old power just emerge?
13:39
So will new power elites just become
13:42
old power and squeeze?
13:43
Or will that new power
base bite back?
13:45
Will the next big Uber
13:48
be co-owned by Uber drivers?
13:50
And I think this going
to be a very interesting
13:52
structural question.
13:55
Finally, think about new power
13:57
being more than just an
14:00
entity that scales things
14:02
that make us have slightly
better consumer experiences.
14:04
My call to action for new power
14:08
is to not be an island.
14:10
We have major structural
problems in the world today
14:12
that could benefit enormously
14:15
from the kinds of mass participation
14:18
and peer coordination
14:20
that these new power players
14:21
know so well how to generate.
14:23
And we badly need them to
turn their energies and their power
14:25
to big, what economists might call
14:29
public goods problems,
14:32
that are often beyond markets
14:34
where investors can easily be found.
14:36
And I think if we can do that,
14:38
we might be able to fundamentally change
14:40
not only human beings' sense of
their own agency and power —
14:43
because I think that's the most
wonderful thing about new power,
14:46
is that people feel more powerful —
14:49
but we might also be able to change
14:52
the way we relate to each other
14:54
and the way we relate to
authority and institutions.
14:55
And to me, that's absolutely
14:59
worth trying for.
15:01
Thank you very much.
15:02
(Applause)
15:03

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Jeremy Heimans - Activist
At Purpose, Jeremy Heimans strategizes how to harness new social, economic and technological models to build movements with impact.

Why you should listen

Jeremy Heimans has been building movements since childhood, when he ran precocious fax campaigns on issues such as environmental conservation and third world debt in his native Australia. A former McKinsey strategy consultant, he has co-founded several online campaign groups and citizen activism initiatives, including GetUp (an Australian political movement with more members than Australia's political parties combined), Avaaz (an online political movement with more than 40 million members) and AllOut (a global movement for LGBT people and their straight friends and family). 

Now based in New York, Heimans is co-founder and CEO of Purpose, a social business that builds movements and ventures that he says, “uses the power of participation to bring change in the world.” He and colleague Henry Timms, executive director of 92nd Street Y, a cultural and community center in New York, and founder of #GivingTuesday, are set to publish an essay in November 2014 examining new forms of power and their meaning. As Heimans puts it, “Old power downloads and commands; new power uploads and shares.”

The World Economic Forum at Davos named Heimans a Young Global Leader and in 2011 he was awarded the Ford Foundation's 75th Anniversary Visionary Award. In 2012, Fast Company named him one of the Most Creative People in Business, and in 2014, CNN picked his concept of "new power" as one of 10 ideas to change the world

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