How far will the shift in power to individuals go?


A few weeks ago I gave the keynote at the Asian Forum on Enterprise for Society in Manila, Philippines. The conference began as Asian Forum on Corporate Social Responsibility in 2002, this year celebrating the anniversaries of the convenors, 50 years for Asian Institute of Management (AIM) and 60 years for Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation (RMAF).

I was honored to give the opening address on How Different Will the Future Be?, immediately preceding the keynote by the Vice-President of Philippines, Leni Robredo, who drew on her background as a social activist lawyer to present a powerful view of possibilities, in fact echoing many of my themes of platforms and cross-boundary collaboration.

One of the themes of my keynote was the massive trend of the shift in power to individuals.

Power has been and continues to shift from institutions to individuals, including from governments to citizens, companies to consumers, employers to employees, health institutions to patients, and media organizations to audiences.

In my keynote I delved into this powerful shift, and some of the many implications for business and society of this shift and accompanying rise in expectations that institutions are facing.

However, as all trends, there are counter trends and exceptions.

Some governments in both West and East are digging in and fighting, providing pointed counter-examples to the trend with the legal and military forces at their disposal.

Non-governmental institutions have fewer weapons in their arsenal, given global regulatory shifts are broadly tending to empower individuals, however some are endeavoring to protect data, block collective action, and use capital to monopolize value creation.

In any structured study of the future, a key question to apply to any identified trend is how far will the trend go? What may slow, stop or reverse that trend?

While the answer will be different in each nation (though the power of nations may itself be eroded over time), the outcome remains highly uncertain.

Will power continue to shift to individuals from institutions, eroding their traditional predominance?

Or will regulation, capital distribution, and a reversion to information asymmetries keep institutions in front and individuals disempowered?

At a macro level, this is one of the most important questions for global society over the next decade and beyond. I will return to delve into this question in more detail later on this blog.