The internet has changed the power dynamics of our world. Increases in information, connectivity and high populations of enabled individuals forces us to review the system and reconsider whether it still operates in this brave new world. This is a world where we are all empowered and responsible for defining its future.
A system can be defined as “a set of interacting or independent components forming an integrated whole”. All systems have some level of structure (defined by its component elements), behaviours (such processes, required resources, information etc) and relationships (how the components fit together to allow the system to fulfil the behaviour). Some systems are unconscious such as the universe system. Other, smaller intelligent life designed systems, such as our political, economic, education, social systems have a level of consciousness as provided by the very nature of the human condition. At every level there is a system within a system within a system. It is the dynamic interplay between these systems which results in change (which is neither positive nor negative — just different).
Historically this model has been clear. The rich, by definition, have the best access to information, resources and process control. Conversely, the majority (typically poor) lacked the ability to exert as much influence on the system for the reasons mentioned above. The result is that the poor are pushed around by the rich “top dogs”.
The internet (read: reduced cost of communication) is however changing this dynamic. Through the highly connected and social nature of the internet, its ability for information to be equally available to all users and the ability for fragmented economies to be grouped into scale means that anybody who cares (and has support) can exert as much, if not more, pressure on the system than the current “top dogs” can (read: business, politicians etc).
There is enormous evidence to support this — Kickstarter, the resistance to various pieces of legislation and the united nature of consumers in their response to corporate decisions all point to a change in the way that relationships are negotiated.
The high levels of fibre cables coming into Africa, the reduction to smart phone costs, the overall community education about the internet and the roll-out of Metropolitan Area Networks (as is happening in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban) will see a dramatic expansion in the number of individuals who are highly connected and therefore able to “collude” in order to exert force in their collective self-interest.
The implications are potentially enormous. Not just for the top dogs but for all components within the system itself.
As a public we will increasingly have an opportunity to define the future in the way that makes the most sense to our needs (negotiated, through collusion, with much bigger systems than previous possible). Similarly, the top dogs will increasingly receive pressure to behave in the interests of their consumers who validate their existence (be that voters, clients, customers or friends).
Sadly, few top dogs see the advantage to this level of public honest and ongoing development and a stand-off has been created. Brands are seen to be fighting with their supporters — the exact antithesis of what they aim to do as “customer centric” businesses. The result is decreasing levels of trust and enormously losses in supporter retention rates. Unsurprisingly, this is one of the largest issue facing businesses in the 21st Century — one which is expected to get worse as the Millennials come of age and power.
We sit at a precipice. On the one side is an enormously positive opportunity for fully integrated, open and honest decision-making — with the collective interests in mind. On the other is revolution against the existing model of power — as has been seen during the Arab Spring, London Riots and South African civil disobedience.
A number of brands have achieved very positively through their efforts to integrate their supporters views on their vision. Helen Zille (and her use of Twitter Town Hall) is an excellent example of the public’s views being included in her political agenda. Ultimately, a shared vision with a broad support base is being shown to be the most powerful force of the fledgling 21st century.
At present far too many brands position their own short-term self-interest ahead of the longer-term system gain. Power is seen as the outcome and becomes a retardant on many systems where a win-win environment can be built through open dialog and flexibility around the principles which govern the system. We are missing opportunities as a result of ego driven decision-making. We need to come to terms with the fact that exclusive self-interest cannot save humanity.
This applies more broadly than just to the business environment. Consider your relationships with your friends. With politicians. With the legal system. With the environment? What would you change? Where? Do others agree with you? If so — what have you done to try change the system dynamic? (Nothing? Well… then I’m afraid you’re exactly where you want to be).
Ultimately, society needs to make a collective decision. Either we begin to work together to solve the broad inequality through negotiation or we allow the relationship to degrade to the point that nothing but revolution can solve it. This isn’t about power dynamics. It’s about a culture of collective behaviour with the aim of solving the broader environmental, political, military, economic and social issues facing our planet and the future of humanity. The clock is ticking — it’s time to act.