How do “new people” get access to Power once denied?

Power informs the fundamental conditions for prosperity.

When you understand how Power works, you understand the world. It shapes society: dictating who participates, to what degree they can affect change, and how they can partici­pate in the economy. Many people think and write that social media shifts power while not drawing the distinction of what creates noise vs actual new outcomes. To understand power, you have to ask the real question of “new power”: under what conditions do “new people” get access to power previously denied.

Power has traditionally been vertical, while potential horizontal. At the intersection lies the opportunity —  a construct I’ve named onlyness. While ideas have no gender, race, disability, sexuality, age or religion, they often get filtered out based on who brings them to the table based on gender, race, etc. Established, entrenched power precludes the creation and development of new ideas based solely on the “newness” of who has them.

This matters a lot. Solutions to some of our more persistent and complex problems are not going to be algorithmic, but people-powered. Solutions will come from new ideas, but only if we let them.

I’ve been working on a set of ideas around this for some time, as you all know, but in a more “formal” capacity when I accepted a fellowship with the Martin Prosperity Institute last fall on “new power”.

Download this paper (here: Merchant_New-Power_V2) if you’re interested in knowing the 3 big shifts of how power is changing in modern times — by authority, alignment, and accountability — that will enable those on the sidelines to have a seat at the table. Despite it being a PDF format, this is very much a work-in-progress. Always interested in your ideas…

Then, anyone, quite possibly everyone… will be able to contribute, create and build prosperity. And that is how we have new power.

8 Responses:

  1. Justin. May 25, 2015 at 3:26 am  |  

    Your analysis is highly floored. Whist the Occupy Movement failed to achieve its publicly stated goals it may have achieved the unstated goals of the few notable investors who financed it (same goes for uber).

    I interpret you definition of “new power” to mean a new way of transacting power. Your example of “new power” is not new at all, for example there are no prerequisites for solving the unsolved math problems. In your example of “new power” no transaction of power has occurred. The power is maintained in the hands of the decision maker, not the puzzle solver(I would appreciate further clarification on this point).

    • Nilofer Merchant. May 26, 2015 at 11:08 pm  |  

      Thanks for your commentary, justin. I’m not sure what is meant by floored, or how the occupy movement worked, so hard to build on it… So maybe let me know more? Maybe autocorrect got this note before posting.

      • Justin. June 2, 2015 at 11:45 pm  |  

        Hi Nilofer,

        Thanks for replying. Since you asked, I will clarify my point about the occupy movement.Leaders appear to believe in their own religion, they project the image that they possess superior decision making instincts without any scientific evidence to support it (only anecdotal evidence and experience).

        Essentially the occupy movement enabled citizens to identify and express themselves as victims of the “economic climate” in a collective way. In my opinion that was it’s only purpose. It offered no legitimate democratically agreeable real world workable solution, either did the Arab Spring. Bertrand Russell put it best “The problem with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent full of doubt.”

        The problem with your concept of “new power” is that it does not address existing structural problems. An inclusive workplace would only serve workers that are well versed in politics, therefore productivity would suffer. How would you go about structuring an organisation?

  2. Kerra Bolton. May 25, 2015 at 11:56 am  |  

    Thank you for sharing this. I love the Fold It example and have been thinking about how it can be applied to and transform existing organizations that currently operate from the “authority” model. How can one change/dent the culture of those organizations that rely on traditional power?

    NB: I’m a new “fan” and (I hope) member of your community. I’m part of Jonathan Fields’ Good Life Project Immersion program and listened to your fascinating conversation.

    • Nilofer Merchant. May 26, 2015 at 11:06 pm  |  

      Thanks for joining in, and glad you came.

      People ask me all the time how one can change the culture of organizations relying on old power. Usually if it’s the leadership team, they’ll say something like, “I would do things differently if only *they* would change” and the more middle managers say, “we’re not allowed to do that by our leadership team” and more junior people implore others to change….

      After way too many years doing transformation work, all I can say is start with what you see, as you are. Maybe with the idea that what is currently being done isn’t working, so let’s try something new. The fold it team arrived there because they really really wanted to solve the problem. It was their desperation that drove them. So the next time you see a super tough challenge, ask, how can we stop using an old way to get to a new result… Let’s do this, or this. Or that… There’s a great graphic in my first book that gets to this. I’ll see if I can dig it up one of these days and blog on it.

      • Kerra Bolton. May 27, 2015 at 5:02 am  |  

        Thank you for your response. I’m working with a new leader of an organization who desperately wants change. One thing I’m finding in this and other organizations is that people say they want change, but they’re not sure how to get there.

  3. Rohan Light. May 29, 2015 at 1:41 am  |  

    Hi Nilofer,
    When I first read your idea of onlyness, my mind went (naturally) to loneliness. Which for me is an absence of self. Having had more time to understand your message, onlyness can only be a fullness of self. Fullness is generative, expansive and communicative. So onlyness becomes about communication. Yet communication is enacted by the receiver. Which involves a choice about meaning. Choice leads to permission and permission is what confers power… in societies with sufficient freedom. Freedom enables people to meet more of their potential. And the most powerful freedom is that of speech. So we have more people communicating.Yet communication doesn’t guarantee coordination. Coordination needs inspiration, so onlyness becomes about inspiration. We seek causes. Solving human problems at scale involves choosing to enrol in a cause. Onlyness is selflessness at scale. Economies of scale becomes humanity of scope



  1. How do “new people” get access to P... - May 26, 2015

    […] Power informs the fundamental conditions for prosperity. When you understand how Power works, you understand the world. It shapes society: dictating who participates, to what degree they can affect…  […]

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