The New Power Structure

Then along came the internet. Suddenly, information was dispersed across self-organizing, open-source networks of citizens who had the ability to collaborate, share and shape their world. Hierarchies were smashed, the wisdom of crowd was applied and transparency reigned.

O.K. That didn’t really happen. The first dreams of the tech revolution didn’t come true. Sometimes it seems power was just redistributed from one set of massive organizations to others — Amazon, Facebook, Spotify.

.. If power in the Greatest Generation looked like Organization Men running big institutions, and power for the boomers looked like mass movements organized by charismatic leaders like Steve Jobs and Barack Obama, power these days looks like decentralized networks in which everyone is a leader and there’s no dominating idol.

.. Even more than technology, what’s changed is people’s attitudes toward authority. They don’t trust it. They want to see people who look like them running things. Any movement that earns legitimacy has to spread ownership around. The Ikea effect applies: People value what they helped build.

.. These organizations are often founded by what you might call disappearing organizers. Somebody comes up with a compelling concept, like TED or Black Lives Matter. The concept gives people a sticky group identity; many people think of themselves as Tedsters. The core idea is spreadable, actionable and connected — it allows participants to subcreate in local and flexible ways. Tedsters organize and attend over 20,000 local TEDx events. The founder doesn’t dominate the network so much as manage the community.
.. But the successful organizations also feature some structural innovation. They tend to have very low barriers to entry — no dues, no loyalty pledge up front. But they have ways to incentivize members up the participation ladder, offering premiums for super-participants who adapt, organize and share. The Lego company sets up special events and an ambassador network for its highly dedicated AFOLs (Adult Fans of Lego).
.. At the Dutch news organization De Correspondent, journalists share story ideas with subscribers before they write them, so they can harvest community knowledge.
..  Donald Trump also blends old and new power. He may talk like an authoritarian — only I can fix this — but his actual campaign structure was a loose network of self-organizing activists. Trump is what they call a “platform strongman” — someone who marshals dispersed participants on behalf of centralizing ends.
.. The last few decades have been a social trust apocalypse. The only remaining bonds of trust are local and particular.
.. I realize my column these days is bipolar, wildly optimistic or pessimistic. But I guess that’s appropriate, since the forces tearing society apart are powerful and the people bringing it together are, too.