New Power by Heimans & Timms

3 minutes estimated reading time

New Power by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms was recommended to me by a friend of mine who works with a number of campaigning organisations. It took four years after it was published for me to take it down from the shelf and get stuck in.

New Power

Since then, we have had the Hong Kong protests, January 6 disturbances in the US Capitol building where both of their legislative houses operate from. We’ve also had movements around cryptocurrency and the infamous OneCoin scam.

The book promises to reveal:

How Power Works in Our Hyperconnected World – and How to Make It Work for You

Front cover of New Power by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms

Jeremy Heimans

Heimans is an ex-McKinsey consultant who now runs a social impact agency called Purpose. So one could think that New Power is basically part of Heiman’s marketing strategy. Make of that what you will.

Henry Timms

Timms heads up the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York and has been heavily involved in promoting philanthropic donations.

Old Power and New Power

Heimans and Timms provide a model for what they think old power is. A top down power structure, think everything from mainstream advertising, government responses to the COVID-19 epidemic, authoritarian regimes like China’s crushing of dissent or the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

By comparison, new power is participatory in nature and more of a peer to peer relationship. Examples include memes, crypto bros, the leaderless movement that fuelled the 2019 Hong Kong protests, support for populism and ISIS. ISIS recruitment is actually used as an example in the book.

How power works in our hyperconnected world

Heimans and Timms provide an analysis on the general thinking behind how campaigning works in a way that would be most familiar to anyone who has run a social media marketing campaign. I would describe it as a primer for typical corporate management types.

How to make it work for you

I personally think that this is where the book falls down. New Power isn’t replicable in the same way that a business process rengineering exercise might be. Sometimes these things take off, sometimes they don’t. They talk about some of the factors in the book, but movements often need a catalysing event like the recent apartment fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang that sparked anti-zero COVID lockdown protests in China.

You can try and create a catalysing event, but too often it’s astro-turfing that no one ever sees, particularly if you are relying on a dominant platform algorithm. Your new power is actually reliant on old power held by the likes of Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk. Instead these platforms have been successfully mastered by authoritarian regimes including the Chinese government who manage to demonetise and have content taken down on western platforms.

Secondly, the authors try to claim showing a bit of moxie is new power. The example they give is a junior employee speaking to a senior executive that they manage to meet by chance.

Finally, the book lacks the intellectual rigour and scientific method of Mark Ritson or Byron Sharp’s work, instead relying anecdotal evidence, similar to Malcolm Gladwell’s body of work or Paul Polman’s  Net Positive.

So, should you buy this book?

If you like TED talks model of learning a little bit about a lot of things and are reading for your own personal interest or to get a high level understanding of campaigning organisations might work, buy New Power. If you are thinking about changing your business into a more purposeful organisation, read this first instead (and its free).

You you can find out more about New Power here, find the rest of my book reviews here, and the books that I find most useful here.