From “Yes we can!” to Airbnb, Kiva to Etsy… In just a matter of years, we’ve seen the digital revolution transform business, politics, media and society right across the world. But just how deep and positive is that transformation?
At Davos earlier this year I took part in a panel exploring the idea that this revolution is driving a shift from ‘old’ to ‘new’ power. It was based on a really interesting paper by Jeremy Heimans of Purpose and Henry Timms of 92Y. As they say in the report: “We all sense that power is shifting in the world. We see increasing political protest, a crisis in representation and governance, and upstart businesses upending traditional industries. But the nature of this shift tends to be either wildly romanticized or dangerously underestimated.”
This ‘new power’ world is characterised by a shift away from unthinking consumption to people being ever more involved in creating, sharing, funding and owning products, services and ideas. Where old power business models are defined by what one company has that others haven’t, new power models are renewable because they are driven by the passions and energies of the many.
I’m proud to be an investor in some of these ‘new power’ businesses. Indiegogo, one of the first crowdfunding platforms, have a wonderful phrase that captures the idea of new power: ‘Together do anything’. The Indiegogo community have come together to support gay rights in Singapore, fund films and plays, develop products like home security device Canary, and support Parkinson’s research. I’ve also invested in Bitpay and Blockchain, which are shaking up the banking industry by giving more people access to a new currency in a secure way, without the permission of governments and institutions. And Sidecar with their true marketplace experience are challenging Uber and Lyft to get people moving.
New power doesn’t necessarily mean for the better, and whilst I think the shift will force old power models to adapt, I also think it will lead to interesting collaborations between old and new power models. Is this the era of businesses without borders? With so many disruptive collaborations between people, business and government in development, it certainly looks that way.
“The battle ahead, whether you favour old or new power values, will be about who can control and shape society’s essential systems and structures,” say Heimans and Timms. Let’s face it, many of our systems need a real shake up. Why wouldn’t you upload the power and talent of billions to do it? In all of the issues I care passionately about and engage with through Virgin Unite, whether that’s ocean conservation, climate change or new ways of doing business, I never fail to be amazed by the ideas, passion and insight of the people and communities I meet. The solutions are to be found by empowering these brilliant people to seize these new opportunities.
It’s an exciting prospect. Together we can make the products, services, businesses, ideas, and politics for a better future. In this ‘new power’ world, we are all makers. Let’s get making.