I appreciate the message about the potential for social change through disruptive new business models and technology platforms discussed in HBR article “Understanding New Power”. However, one of the biggest factor of power in our society is money, which is missing from this highly optimistic power analysis. Also, one of the most important factors of social change at the organizational level is an organization’s social impact, which is obscured by the new power vs. old power analysis. Instead of analyzing these different types of organizations as examples of new power vs. old power, I would analyze them in terms of their: A) organizational form, B) business model innovation and revenue, and C) social impact.
1. Apple, Google, Facebook, Linked in, and Amazon (owns Zappos): Publicly-held and owned by some of the world’s richest technology billionaires: . These big players have become extremely powerful and wealthy by innovating and monetizing interdependent technology platforms and products for consumers to share our data and content, for free and with minimal privacy. Apple products wouldn’t be nearly as wonderful without Google, Facebook, Linked In and Amazon. That said, the ubiquity of the platforms and products of these companies has enabled greater connection, and even sometimes resource deployment, to some places of crisis, poverty and injustice around the world.
2. AOL Huffington Post Media Group, The Guardian: Publicly-held and struggling large media companies . Both of these companies are struggling with the common challenge of making money in advertising in the new digital media world, while attracting and engaging consumers to “participate” through sharing mostly free content. And they are public conveners of new ideas, news, and dialogue on important social topics.
3. Kickstarter, Uber, and Etsy: Privately-held small successful technology companies. These companies have had some success by creating innovative technology-based business models that have disrupted their industries in still small but powerful ways. Kickstarter has funded some socially impact efforts, and Etsy has given makers a source of online income. These companies certainly have exciting new business models, and they invite new forms of consumer participation. But either they are not disruptive enough or they are not large enough to have a substantial impact on major social issues.
4. Bitcoin, Lyft, Sidecar: Technology start-ups: . Ditto on the the small companies above, but these start-ups are still too small to tell.
5. Office of President Obama, NSA: Government organizations: . These traditional hierarchical organizations have benefited from new forms of media and technology without changing their fundamental power structures. But their traditional organizational form is not what determines their social impact.
6. Occupy, Tea Party, Obama Campaign: Popular movements and campaigns: . These grass-roots political movements have gained much of their power and momentum through new media platforms and communication technologies. The Obama campaign is one of the most notable examples of “new power” media technologies enabling the large social impact of Obama getting elected.
7. Non-profits: Wikipedia, TED, Xprize, and Nobel Prize. Wikipedia and TED have created new platforms for consumers to share our data and content for free. Wikipedia works through volunteers and donations, while TED reinvests conference revenue back into its other platforms. Both of these technology platforms have enabled greater collective and individual knowledge-sharing that has certainly increased awareness of global social issues among those who have access and time. Xprize provides a bottom up alternative to the Nobel Prize. Yet the Nobel Prize has been powerfully changed by new media platforms and technology. For example, 17 year old, Malala Yousafzai, the youngest-ever Nobel Prize recipient and a Pakistani activist for female education, would never have been known, let alone selected, without new media platforms and technology.
The examples of new power in this article certainly demonstrate that the nature of consumer behavior, mass communication, and social movements have been altered by technology business innovation. Yet, the underlying economic reality of a few people getting very wealthy as a result, while many entrepreneurs compete much less successfully, has not fundamentally changed the nature of power in our economy or society very much. Nor have we systematically put these technology innovations to work in service of solutions to our biggest social problems, such as global climate change, pandemics, poverty, and inequality. Perhaps those of us who can afford the platforms and products of “new power” are too busy on our devices, giving away our data and content.
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