Leadership in Social Change Jeremy Heimans

Jeremy Heimans on How New Power Catalyzes Impactful Social Change Movements

 

About This Episode

We kick off 2019 with a quick sit down with Jeremy Heimans, Co-Founder & CEO of Purpose and author of New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World–and How to Make It Work for You. We get his take on new power and it’s potential as a catalyst for social movements. During the conversation, Jeremy cites examples of how new power is being leveraged in the world around us and its powerful impact on creating change.

About Jeremy Heimans

Jeremy Heimans is the co-founder and CEO of Purpose, a global organization headquartered in New York that builds and supports movements for a more open, just, and habitable world. Purpose has advised organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Google and UNICEF. He is co-founder of GetUp!, an Australian political organization with more members than all of Australia’s political parties combined, and Avaaz, the world’s largest online citizens’ movement, now with nearly 50 million members worldwide. Heimans is a recipient of the Ford Foundation’s 75th anniversary Visionary Award for his work as a movement pioneer and chaired the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Civic Participation. He has been named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business and The Monthly has observed that Heimans “might be the most influential Australian in the world”. With Henry Timms, Jeremy is co-author of the 2018 bestseller “New Power”, praised by the New York Times’ David Brooks as “the best window I’ve seen into this new world” and by The Guardian as “a manual on how to navigate the 21st century”. Their thinking on “new power” has been featured as the Big Idea in Harvard Business Review, and Jeremy’s TED talk on the topic has been viewed more than 1.4 million times. Heimans was educated at Harvard University and the University of Sydney and began his career at McKinsey and Company. He lives in New York.

In his words…

“New power is all around us and it’s a new way to think about the exercise of power. We often use the comparison of Harvey Weinstein, the icon of old power, someone who used power ruthlessly as a currency in order to protect himself, to punish his enemies, to reward his friends, and therefore maintain this position despite all of this abuse and harassment. Contrast that to the Me Too movement, which is an expression of new power. The Me Too movement is a kind of power that works less like a currency and more like a current. It’s the kind of power that surges, it gets stronger the more people get involved- no one person can capture it or hoard it, but instead people learn to channel its energy.”

“New power dynamics allow people who have been traditionally marginalized to combine their voices much more effectively, at much greater scale, much more quickly and across geography- in such a way where they can start to counterbalance institutional power. You see that dynamic playing out within organizations where it would’ve been more challenging for employees to rise up against the company in another context. You also see it in the wider world, with movements like Me Too and Black Lives Matter.”

“You think about a movement like Black Lives Matter, or a movement like Me Too: they see their movements not as leader-less, but as leader-full. There are many leaders, that leadership is distributed and if you want to talk to the leader of Black Lives Matter, you can’t. Because there are too many of these leaders, there’s leaders everywhere. And no one is an appointed leader with authority over the rest. And so, there’s an interesting new capacity that more traditionally structured organizations need to develop- how to work with those new movements and how to harness their energy.”

“I think a lot of the work here is really learning how to use new power and old power together and when to use each one. So you think about an organization like the NRA, they are very good at both old and new power and know how to use them in combination. So they have this old power brand, everybody quivers in their boots at the very thought of crossing them, they’re perceived to have a lot of old power— a lot of that traditional top down ability to affect outcome. At the same time, they are very good at mobilizing. Not just their members but actually this whole world of gun clubs and activist groups and message boards and blogs that are kind of cementing this gun rights ideology, creating intensity at the grass roots, that they can then harness at these critical moments. One of the reasons they’re effective, is they don’t try to control or reign in a lot of that grass roots activity.

“You’re not going to have all new power replace the old. You’re going to have this kind of battle and balancing of the two forces. So, what we argue is not new power: good, old power: bad, but rather, if you want to be effective in the 21st century as a leader, you need to learn this set of skills. So really, a lot of our book is about what it takes to survive and thrive in this new environment. And that doesn’t just mean throwing out everything you’ve learned about the old power world. It really means learning a set of new power skills and a new power mindset to work effectively alongside a world that is still dominated by institutions, is still dominated by the trappings of old power.

Questions Answered on this Episode

  • As we are exploring concepts about leadership this season, I really wanted to talk to you about power. You and Henry Timms have a book out, called New Power: How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World–and How to Make It Work for You. The concept of it really resonated with me. It represents a shift from the old guard thinking of power, in which it’s held by only a chosen few. Explain to us what new power is and what it looks like it today’s world.
  • Leadership is traditionally connected to power. Do you think that organizations can be more successful by being open to new power?
  • Can you give share any examples of what new power can look like in a traditional workplace?
  • I’ve seen some people shy away from the term “power” because they are viewing it from the concept of “power over,” but I like to think of power as more collaborative and transformative as in “power with” or “power to.” New power seems to embrace this approach. From a social change perspective, should nonprofit organizations be more open to this as a path to solving social issues quicker?
  • Right now we are having a lot of conversations about diversity, inclusion and equity. Do you think new power has the potential to solve any of those challenges?
  • What are your predictions about leadership structures in the next 5 to 10 years?

Transcript

Vanessa Wakeman Welcome to The Social Change Diaries, the show that looks behind the curtain at everything you want to know about the social justice nonprofit landscape. I’m your host, Vanessa Wakeman.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Hello and welcome to The Social Change Diaries. We are almost at the end of our season on leadership, just two more episodes, and I hope that you enjoy today. Today, we are speaking with Jeremy Heiman. Jeremy is the co-founder and CEO of Purpose, a global organization headquartered in New York that builds and supports movements for a more open, just, inhabitable world. Purpose has advised organizations such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, and UNICEF. He is co-founder of GetUp, an Australian political organization with more members then all of Australia’s political parties combined. And Avaaz, the world’s largest online citizen’s movement, now with nearly 50 million members worldwide. Heiman’s is a recipient of the Ford Foundation’s 75th Anniversary Visionary Award for his work as a movement pioneer, and shared the world economic forum’s global agenda council on civic participation. He has been named one of Fast Company’s most creative people in business and The Monthly has observed that Heiman’s might be the most influential Australian in the world. With Henry Timms, Jeremy is co-author of the 2018 best seller, New Power. Their thinking on New Power has been featured as the big idea in Harvard Business Review and Jeremy’s head talk on the topic has been viewed more than 1.4 million times. Jeremy was educated at Harvard University and the University at Sidney and began his career at Mackenzie and Company.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Jeremy, thank you for joining me on The Social Change Diaries. I first learned of your work through an article in the Harvard Business Review about the concept of New Power, which you created with your partner, Henry Timms, and I really see so many opportunities to sort of explore the concept of New Power in the nonprofit sector which is where we work primarily. So thank you so much for joining me.

Jeremy Heiman:  It’s great to be here.

Vanessa Wakeman:  So, Jeremy I know that you have been talking, I’m sure, a lot about the idea of leadership. You along with Henry Timms, have a book out called New Power, How Power Works in our Hyper connected World and How to Make it Work for You. That idea, that concept, really resonated with me as I think about how we see power shifting and so some of the conversations I’m having with leaders or with professionals just about how they can really have impact and effect change in the work that they’re doing. So, it really represents a shift from the old [inaudible 00:  03:  07]. Can you explain to us, what New Power is and what it looks like in today’s world?

Jeremy Heiman:  Yeah, well look, you know, New Power, I feel like is all around us and it’s a new way to think about the exercise of power. We often use the comparison of Harvey Weinstein, the icon of old power, someone who used power ruthlessly as a currency in order to protect himself to punish the enemies, to reward his friends, and therefore maintain this position despite all of this abuse and harassment, and contrast that to the Me Too movement, which is an expression of new power. The Me Too Movement is a kind of power that works less like a currency and more like a current, right? It’s the kind of power that surges, it gets stronger the more people get involved, no one person can capture it, can hoard it, but instead people learn to channel it’s energy. And so that’s what we think of as new power, and the reality is that these are just two ways to get things done in the world today and you see very positive, but also very negative manifestations of both forms of power. So, you think of Me Too of one manifestation of New Power, but you can also think of the way that terrorist groups, like ISIS is spreading their ideology in this very peer to peer way, as a very negative manifestation of new power.

Vanessa Wakeman Right. So thinking, our season is focused on leadership, and to me, leadership is traditionally connected to power. You know, there’s this sort of, the small group of people where they’re controlling what’s happening. And so, do you think that organizations could be more successful if they were open to the concept of new power and what those structures could potentially look like in their organizations?

Jeremy Heiman:  Yeah, well, thinking about leaders right? Clearly, the leaders that are learning these new power skills are the ones that are getting ahead. So you know, you think about Obama but you also think about Trump. So to think about these two figures. Obama became President because he understood how to rally a crowd, he was incredibly effective at raising all of that money in these small donations. You know, he got millions of us to volunteer, he inspired so many people. Now, I think he used new power to get elected, once he became President, he was a little bit trapped by the old power dynamics of his office. I think one of the limitations was that at the end of those eight years, even though he was still very popular with the people who’d elected him, the movement he built didn’t quite move without him. So he was unable to transfer a lot that energy to peer success of Hilary Clinton.

Jeremy Heiman:  And then I turn you see a guy like Donald Trump who is using new power in a different way but he’s kind of creating this anarchic crowd, this crowd of people spreading his ideas, spreading ideas that he feeds off. You can think of it as kind of a decentralized social media army that creates this kind of engine of intensity for him right? Where people are kind of worked up and made more and more intention of support to him. And that’s a use of new power but he’s actually doing that in service of a very old power get at value. So, he’s saying, “Look I want all my supporters to fan out in a very distributed way in support of my ideas to unleash their urgency and creativity, but ultimately I’m the strong man, I’m here, I alone can fix it and I’m here to restore order and hierarchy, or a particular kind of hierarchy.”

Jeremy Heiman:  So, it’s really interesting these different leadership strategies we’re seeing in the world today and that I think, is the opportunity for leaders today to think, “How do I rally a crowd,” right? “How do I not just rely on my formal authority? How do I not just rally the people inside my organization, but develop the capacity to mobilize?” If you’re in business, it might be your consumers, it might be your suppliers, it might be this whole ecosystem around you, in service of what you’re doing. And so, in the book we talk a lot about leadership and the kind of leaders who are doing that well, interestingly in the early years of his patriarchy, Pope Frances did that very well in many ways, in terms of challenging the power of structures of the church, maybe less well at the moment.

Jeremy Heiman:  You see business leaders doing it in interesting ways and so it’s a set of skills. And again, as I just showed you with Donald Trump and Barack Obama, it can be used for good or for not so good, depending on your political views. So either way, Donald Trump is using new power, unleashing very negative outcomes. But it’s never the less very important for us to reckon with it.

Vanessa Wakeman:  So, Jeremy, are there particular elements that are needed, if we were doing a new power sort of stew, what needs to be involved. Does it start with that one person who sort of gives, has the vision, and then allows other people to buy into it and support him. Like, what needs to go into it? I think in some of the more formal leadership structures, there’s a very sort of, structured, sort of organization about, “Okay these are the steps and we have this one person,” and you know, then there’s the people under them. How does one sort of take the new power and make it grow? What does that look like?

Jeremy Heiman:  Yeah, well I think it’s really interesting isn’t it, the way, we’re used to a world of institutions, but a lot of the new forms of leadership are divorced from big institutions. So you think about a movement like Black Lives Matter, or a movement like Me Too, you know, the Black Lives Matter Foundation, we talk a bunch about them in our book, they see their movement not as leaderless but as leader full. There are many leaders, that leadership is distributed and if you want to talk to the leader of Black Lives Matter, you can’t. Because there are too many of these leader, there’s leaders everywhere. And no one is an appointed leader with authority over the rest. And so, there’s an interesting new capacity that more traditionally structured organizations need to develop but how to work with those new movements, how to harness their energy, right?

Jeremy Heiman:  So, ’cause it is a different kind of structure and a different kind of energy. Now, we didn’t establish organizations, you can still bring some of these leadership principles into the way you operate. You can really try to do this work of pushing power down into your institution and out beyond your four walls. You know, four walls. And that is a set of skills that’s a little different to what the Black Lives Matter founders are doing. But nonetheless, [inaudible 00:  09:  44].

Vanessa Wakeman:  So I have so many thoughts and questions running through my head just as I’m listening to you talk about new power, and thank you so much for those great examples. When I’m having conversations about power, I’m noticing how people often shy away from the term. Often times people are looking at power from the concept of power over. But I like to think about power as more collaborative and transformative as in the power to or power with. New power seems to embrace that actual approach, power with, how do we do this and create transformation together. From a social change perspective, shouldn’t non profit organizations be more open to this as a path to solving socia issues quicker? And so, I know that a lot of the organizations that we work with sort of operate within a traditional power structure. So I guess the bigger question here is, can traditional power and new power coexist?

Jeremy Heiman:  Yeah, and I think a lot of the work here is really learning how to use new power and old power together and when to use each one. So you think about an organization like the NRA, and again, unfortunately wearing my undies on my sleeve, they are very good at both old and new power and know how to use them in combination. So they have this kind of [inaudible 00:  11:  05] old power brand, everybody quivers in their boots at the very thought of crossing them, their perceived to have a lot of old power. A lot of that traditional top down ability to affect outcome. At the same time, they are very good at mobilizing, they’ve kind of lodge more and more grass for it’s ecosystem around them. So not just their members but actually this whole world of gun clubs and activist groups and message boards and blogs that are kind of cementing this gun rights ideology, creating intensity at the grass roots, that they can then harness at these critical moments. And one of the reason’s their effective is they don’t try to control or reign in a lot of that grass roots activity. In fact, they kind of, they encourage this kind of, relatively unconstrained, even sometimes chaotic, kind of taboo of activity that strengthens their organization even though they can’t fully control the forces that surround them.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Got it, got it. And then shifting gears a little bit here, there’s been tremendous amount of dialogue happening around this idea of diversity and inclusion and equity in pretty much every sector. Where do you think new power has a potential to play a role there, if any. I’m just thinking abut again, you mentioned Me Too and we’ve definitely seen how impactful that has been. But in, sort of going back to this organizational, this traditional organizational, institutional model, where most people are working. How do you think those issues around equity and how we are making sure that we have diversity and inclusion in the workplace, how do you think new power plays a role in that?

Jeremy Heiman:  Well I certainly think you’re seeing these dynamics so, you’ve got this generation of people with an expectation that they’re gonna participate, they’re gonna shake their world, when they see a company like Google with the recent scandal around the payout they were making to executives who had been accused of harassment. You know, you saw this incredible response by the employees, to literally walk out in response to this. And so, companies would basically just try to throw lawyers at problem or issue a carefree worded statement or anything like that, those companies are going to be very vulnerable in these moments. And so, I think that is an example of these dynamics at play. I [inaudible 00:  13:  42], to be clear, we, power dynamics in society will be replicated everywhere. So they’ll be replicated online, they’ll be replicated in movements. So we can’t get around some of those things so easily. However, new power dynamics do allow these people who have been traditionally marginalized, to combine their voices much more effectively, at much greater scale, much more quickly and across geography. In such a way where they can start to counterbalance institutional power. And you see that dynamic playing out both within organizations where it would’ve been more challenging for employees to rise up against the company in another context. But you also see it of course, out in the wider world with movements like Me Too and Black Lives.

Vanessa Wakeman:  And Jeremy, last question, what are your predictions about leadership structures? What do you think we’re gonna be seeing in the next five to ten years? Will we sort of have embraced new power, will there be some sort of hybrid of different models? What are your thoughts?

Jeremy Heiman:  I think the reality is this is gonna continue to be a dialectic right? You’re not gonna just have all new power replace the old. You’re gonna have this kind of battle and balancing of the two forces. So, what we argue is not new power good, old power bad, but rather like, if you want to be effective in the 21st century, as a leader, you need to learn this set of skills. So really, a lot of our book is about what it takes to survive and thrive in this new environment. And that doesn’t just mean throwing out everything you’ve learned about the old power world. It really more means learning a set of new power skills and a new power mindset because works effectively alongside a world that is still dominated by institutions, it’s still dominated by the trappings of old power.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Where can people find out more information about you and your book and the other things that you have going on?

Jeremy Heiman:   People can go to the website, this is new power dot com, this is new power dot com, and to find out more about my work, which is movement building around the world, and helping organizations create movements and create new power, they can go to purpose dot com.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Beautiful. I thank you for taking some time out, I know we had an abbreviated interview, but really excited to talk to you and I’m sure that a lot of our listeners will appreciate your insights about this topic.

Jeremy Heiman:  Thanks Vanessa, it’s been great talking.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Today’s episode is a call to action to every listener. I hope that New Power becomes the norm, and I do believe, as Jeremy shared, that New Power and traditional Power, or Old Power, can coexist, although I’d like to see more New Power in play. As I think about the non profit sector, I see a number of ways that New Power can be used as an accelerator for solving social issues. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback about opportunities within your organization, or for causes that you care about where New Power can be asserted. As always, if you enjoyed today’s episode, please leave us a review on iTunes and tell a friend about The Social Change Diaries.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Next week is our final episode of the season, so make sure you tune in. I will be joined by Patrice Tanaka from Joyful Planet, and I can’t wait to have that conversation.

Vanessa Wakeman:  Thank you.