"For the first time in a long time, people are running the world." That ad-campaign concept brief recently came over my email transom at Havas PR North America, where I'm CEO, and got me thinking.
This isn't a post to plug my colleagues at Havas, or their client PayPal, for which they had created this concept. Although I'm proud of the brains at my sister agency, I'm sharing it because I think they homed in on a truth that's much bigger than one project, one client or one communications company. They identified and encapsulated a major trend that's behind many of the smaller trends I've been looking at, like über-empowered consumers and the end of gatekeeper culture:
People are ruling the world.
You can say that's always been the case--kings, presidents, CEOs, autocrats and despots are indeed all people. But these individuals have far less influence command than they did in the past. Now the power lies with the people, a collective noun that includes millions upon millions whose names we'll never even know.
Three years ago a Tunisian fruit vendor set himself on fire and changed the course of history. In the Arab Spring that followed his act of defiance, we've seen democratic elections in places once ruled by potentates. People are taking to the streets to protest Middle Eastern strongmen, Brazilian bus fares and more.
And it's not just the developing world, historically home to millions of the oppressed and voiceless. Consider the effects of the resolutely populist Occupy Wall Street protests and Tea Party on American politics. And speaking of unabashed populism, the new mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, made it a campaign platform, promising to raise taxes on the city's elites in order to fund universal pre-kindergarten and to himself be the antidote of 12 years of being governed by the powerfully patrician Michael Bloomberg. (Full disclosure: I am a big fan of former Mayor Bloomberg and not very optimistic about Mayor de Blasio, but the people spoke and so it goes.)
The new pope, Francis, who assumed the role more than a year ago, is known for his populism as well, softening some of Catholicism's autocratic strictures and even connecting with the faithful through Twitter. His policies and practices are shaking the very foundations of the Vatican.
Twitter, of course, is one of the new tools that have made this radical populism finally possible. Everyday people are now ruling the world because finally we all have a voice. You don't need to have money, you don't need to have a prestigious job, you don't need to have family connections. You just need a (free) Twitter handle and you can make yourself heard. Not only can Everyday Joe (or José or Giuseppe or Jozef) get his own customer service needs taken care of; he can also broadcast his opinions in a way that can have a real effect on a company's business and bottom line.
People are more empowered now than they've ever been. And they're having their say in ways they've never had before, heard by wider audiences and taken ever more seriously. They're demanding a world that works for people, not the other way around. They're creating a world that puts people, not institutions, first. They're building a future that includes more of the things they want and less of what they don't. This unstoppable trend has been fueled by technology, and mobile is the driving force. We all now have in our pockets the tools to--well, if not change the world--at least make institutions pay attention and change their ways. President Obama's strong digital strategy is one of the things that led to his presidential victory in 2008. Social media put the images of the Arab Spring in front of the world and served as a practical tool for protest organizers to connect with their constituents in places that were otherwise hobbled by censorship.
But now social media is just the beginning. The sharing economy and the technological tools that have grown out of it drives this revolution. Anyone can be a company. Crafty types can sell their wares on Etsy. Everyday homeowners can become profitable hotels with Airbnb, Onefinestay, VRBO and others. (I have become an annoying advocate of monetizing every asset we have, and thus you can find my second house--make that my beloved small biz--on Airbnb and Homeaway, for now. My long-suffering life partner, Jim, has killed my idea of taking in nightly guests at house No. 1, but I think he's wrong and every bed counts.) Regular drivers can become entrepreneurial taxis with Uber and Lyft. And we can leave major financial institutions out of the equation, paying one another more directly with services like PayPal, Square and, in the developing world, M-Pesa and other mobile-banking technologies. And if bitcoin succeeds, it will be the ultimate populist currency.
The fact that everyday people are in charge like never before is thrilling. As a trend, it's fascinating. The course is still being charted: It's messy, imperfect and sometimes chaotic, but there's no turning back. The people have gotten a big taste of being in control. And who would sacrifice that?